Marketing does funny things. Recently the word "coupe" has been rendered null and void of meaning by crafty marketing types behind cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLS, BMW X6 and Volkswagen CC, while the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo has sucked every last ounce of truth, honesty and passion from the term "Gran Turismo." It's now just advertising flim-flam. The BMW 8 Series was a grand tourer. The 535i Gran Turismo? We hear it's very practical...
We mention co-opting of the terms "coupe" and "Gran Turismo" because marketers pulled a similar stunt back in the early '70s with the phrase "Personal Luxury Car." Some cars did fit the definition well (roughly, a luxury coupe exists where practicality and efficiency are traded in favor of style, plush and image), others did not. For example, in the U.S. where we like our luxury by the yard, a 1971 Buick Riviera is a perfect example of a personal luxury car. An AMC Matador Brougham complete with Oleg Cassini interior isn't. Regardless of reality, by 1973 every car with two doors and faux-vinyl seats got tagged with the PLC label. As such, the phrase "personal luxury car" became meaningless.
Apropos of all that, Mercedes-Benz was kind enough to let us test its two-door version of its new W212 E-Class, the 2010 E350 Coupe. The new model marks the first time in three generations that Mercedes has offered a coupe version of what's generally considered to be its sauerbraten und spätzle. You'd have to go back to Bill Clinton's first term (that's pre-Lewinsky) to find the two-door W124 E-Class. Obviously, the B-pillarless two-door qualifies as a coupe, but a personal luxury car? Or, dare we say it, a GT?
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Interestingly, this two-door E-Class costs less than the four-door version ($550 less, $48,050 for the coupe versus $48,600 for the sedan). That's the complete opposite of a sacrifice and actually pretty rare. Looking at just Mercedes, the four-door S550 starts at $91,600 while the two-door CL550 goes for a cool $110,400 with no options. Additionally, even though prices have yet to be announced, you can be damn sure that Cadillac's new CTS Coupe will carry a premium over its four-door brethren. Why then is this new E350 Coupe less expensive than the sedan?
Because it's not actually an E-Class. Well, it is, but it isn't. Despite any history, the E-Class Coupe is actually replacing the CLK in Mercedes' lineup. And the CLK is built off of the C-Class chassis, not the E-Class. And the new E-Class Coupe is seven inches shorter, four inches narrower and three-and-a half inches lower than an E-Class Sedan. For its part, Mercedes hasn't admitted that the E-Class Coupe rides on a C-Class platform, but when asked point blank if the E-Sedan and E-Coupe rode on the same chassis, one PR official answered, "I wouldn't say that." Regardless, that's why two-doors costs less. But are you getting less car?
We'd answer no. And while we're aware that you're in fact getting 400 pounds or so less car, that's a good thing in this case. Mechanically, you get the same motor with the same tune – MB's 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at a wonderfully-wide 2,400–5,000 rpm. Suspension-wise, the two cars share the same three-link McPherson struts up front and five-point multi-link setup out back, along with Benz' Agility Control stroke-dependent damping (though part of an option pack on the Coupe, standard on the sedan). Again, the Coupe really just weighs less.
This fact pays big dividends on the road. We were instantly impressed (and remained so over the course of our testing) with the power supplied by the V6, especially considering the Coupe's curb weight is a considerable 3,683 pounds. While it certainly lacks the thrust of the more powerful E550's 382-hp V8, we were never left wanting for power – a neat trick, for sure. Are we saying that more power would be unwelcome, particularly from a 500+ hp E63 AMG Coupe? Absolutely not. But the simple fact is that E350 Coupe owners will have no trouble whatsoever attaining fast highway cruising speeds, and then some. The seven-speed slush box is further proof that Mercedes-Benz builds the best pure automatics in the business.
Furthermore, the ride and handling balance is excellent. Put simply, the E-Coupe just feels right. Put a little bit more laboriously, the car's road manners are exemplary, owing in large part to its "proper" front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. Not a corner carver by any means, the E350 Coupe does follow in the aforementioned European tradition of a GT – a car that's able to enthusiastically soak up mile after mile while providing the driver with a sporting amount of feedback, feel and fun. Put up against an Audi A5, there really is no comparison. The Mercedes is a driver's car, whereas the Audi lacks some directness in the steering and gets rather tiresome during long drives.
As much as we enjoyed driving the E350 Coupe, we actually enjoyed just being inside more. The past decade or so has seen an explosion of entry-level luxury rides, and it was refreshing to experience some actual luxury. Just situating yourself inside the E is an event, as a smart extending guide hands you your seatbelt. The chairs themselves are superlative; many-way adjustable and the driver's seat feature four controls to inflate/deflate various air bladders that provide all sorts of bolstering and support. The passenger seat has three and the quality of leather is without peer for the price point.
The gauges are beautiful, especially the oversized speedo with its trick floating dial. An unnecessary bit of bunting perhaps, but it made us smile. The heated steering wheel features intelligently grouped buttons, as well as the thickness and heft that all vehicles with sporting pretensions should and therefor must have. We were particularly enamored with the simplicity and usefulness of the HVAC controls, specifically the little bars used to raise and lower the cabin's temperature. It's the little things that we came to appreciate, and on a long journey, the driver's ability to remain comfortable might just be the most luxurious thing of all.
As far as the exterior design is concerned, it's simply good. To take that a step further, as far as Mercedes' contemporary designs go, it's this writer's favorite. Pulling back a bit, the E-Class line comprises the best-looking cars in Mercedes' stable. The S-Class, while stately, remains rather goofy, what with those swollen arches and Hooydonked butt. Meanwhile, the C-Class – admittedly quite similar to the E-Class – looks a little shrunken, especially when viewed in profile. The E-Class then, is the Goldilocks of the bunch: not too tiny, not too outlandish. We're suckers for pillarless anything, and in our estimation, this raises the Coupe's good looks up over the four-door's. Pity about the Coupe's chunky rear fender, the lone misstep.
Surely no car's perfect, particularly at this price point. Going over our notes, we found a few minor niggles. For instance, getting into the rear seat is more of a chore than it should be. When you flip either front seatback forward, a motor smoothly moves the entire seat towards the dash – a small thrill to experience the first time or two, bothersome and slow (it takes about eight seconds) each time thereafter. And the rear accommodations are snug, one of the sacrifices made because the Coupe doesn't share the same (large) chassis as the sedan. In fairness, the trunk is mammoth for any car.
Then there's the matter of price. As no one actually purchases (and no dealer actually stocks) base models of any Benz, our car's $48,050 sticker swelled to $59,945 with just two option packs and a few additional add-ons. Could we have done without the $6,350 Premium Package (COMAND interface, Sirius, rear-window sunshade, LED daytime running lights, keyless start) and the $1,950 Appearance Package (18-inch AMG wheels, MB logo front brake calipers, gearshift paddles)? Maybe, but we somehow doubt we'd be as pleased. And while we were impressed by the V6, we'd be derelict in our journalist duties not mention that the E550 Coupe starts life at $56,300. We have it on good authority that the V8 is much better, and just to restate the obvious, the E-Class Coupe with the 518-hp AMG miracle motor would land on any top 10 list you could think of.
That said, we didn't like it when Mercedes took their coupe back. Not only was it a willing and likable companion on two out-of-town road trips, it proved itself to be worthy of the title "personal luxury car." Getting back to our initial point, the E350 Coupe can be thought of as a 1971 Buick Riviera when compared to competing rear-wheel-drive V6 coupes that find themselves playing the role of Chevrolet Monte Carlos, Ford Thunderbirds and gaudily decked out Matadors. They're good, sure, but the Benz is better. Good enough to be called a GT? Not quite (real, real close), but there's always the E550...
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.