Mercedes-Benz is no longer just a niche luxury brand. Starting in the early 1980s with the 190E (now the C-Class) Mercedes boosted sales volume in order to reduce overall costs, broaden the appeal of the brand to a new market segment and hook in those younger customers earlier to make them life-long brand loyalists. The Baby-Benz experiment worked and today the C-Class outsells every other Class of Mercedes vehicles.
But while the C-Class may lead volume, the E-Class fuels profit. Lesser versions of the E-Class, sold outside the US, are better known as taxis and livery cars. In the U.S., however, the E (Executive) Class – is a lovely mid-sized luxury sedan, best for mid-level executives and upper middle-class families. It’s the half-way point in the Mercedes line-up, until you can afford the flagship S-Class.
If you were expecting the E-Class Coupe to be just a two-door version of the sedan, you’d be wrong. The E-Coupe is smaller, more intimate and simply gorgeous. The pillarless design, (standard) panorama glass roof and fully lowing rear windows give the otherwise tight cabin a light and airy feel, not to mention unobstructed views from side to side. Expensive engineering is on display and we are all better for it.
The 14-way, 3 memory position front sports seats – also standard – have pronounced side bolsters. While my 6’1” 185 lb frame enjoyed being hugged by the $1,370 perforated Nappa Leather, I think larger people would feel squeezed. But maybe this car was designed like a high couture, tailored suit – it’s supposed to look good even if it’s a bit uncomfortable.
The interior is expertly and beautifully finished. Everything from the double-stitched leather seats to the brushed-chrome accents, soft-touch plastics, switch-gear and center analog clock, look and feel like fifty grand. The flat-bottom steering wheel, part of the $1,490 Sports Package, is an ergonomic work of art – I didn’t want to let go. So even if you’re uncomfortably stuffed into the cockpit, you still look marvelous!
Unlike the sedan, a center console divides the rear seats making the E-Coupe a strictly 4-person affair. And even then, given the steeply-raked roof and paucity of leg room, anyone sitting in the back seat either has to be a child or a contortionist. Full size adults not riding in front should find alternate transportation. Uber or Lyft anyone?
And speaking of rides, I found the E350 Coupe’s road manners a bit rude. I was surprised by the amount of road noise that soaked the cabin. We were driving on very well-paved streets and highways in the Coachella Valley and I expected the cabin to be quieter. I couldn’t feel the road – that was banished by the lifeless, if precise electric power steering – but my ears could hear any road imperfection and the constant tire drone. My ass could feel potholes and rough surfaces courtesy of the stiff suspension.
At least the drivetrain on the E350 isn’t a disappointment. The 3.5L direct-inject V6 makes 302 horsepower and 273 pound-foot of torque. Mercedes’ outstanding 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters is standard. Shifts are warp-speed and nearly imperceptible. Most of your driving will take place in the leisurely Eco mode, which starts the car in 2nd gear to avoid jack rabbit, gas-sucking starts. Sports Mode is much more entertaining, but it will also kill fuel economy, which is only class-average at 20/24/30.
And speaking of saving fuel, the standard Eco Start-Stop system was annoying. You really don’t notice the engine while driving unless you’re pushing it, so when it comes to a stop and shuts itself off, you really don’t notice. But when you release the brake or touch the gas pedal, it fires back up and you can feel a slight shudder. That I could live with, but I can’t live with the climate control going into eco mode when the engine shuts off. In hot weather – it was 96 that day – you need the cooling whether or not you’re stopped in traffic. You can shut it off, but it resets itself each time you start the car. Ugh.
In addition to the Sports Package and Nappa Leather Package, my tester came equipped with the Premium Package – $3,270, Keyless Go – $650 (which should be standard), Lane Tracking Package – $875 and Steel Gray Metallic paint – $720.
Almost any E-Class will come with the Premium Package which adds hard drive navigation (lovely 3-D maps!), upgraded Harmon/kardon LOGIC7 surround sound system, SiriusXM radio/traffic/weather and a rear view camera. At this level, I’d like these items to be standard – particularly the rear view camera – but this is how the option game is played. The Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist worked flawlessly and were mostly helpful, if sometimes annoying. All told, this car was $61,500 including the $925 transportation charge.
If you’re going to blow $60,000 on a German luxury car, I’d dump the $875 Lane Tracking Package and pop for the $2,800 Driver Assistance Package which incorporates adaptive cruise control (Distronic Plus) with advanced cross-traffic, blind spot, lane keeping, collision braking and pedestrian recognition capabilities. In short, it’s almost autonomous driving.
This E-Coupe feels like it’s trying too hard to be a BMW when it should simply give in and be a Mercedes-Benz. I’m buying an E-Class Mercedes because I want a more cosseting, wafting luxury experience. If I wanted annoying run-flat tires and a harsh ride, I’d get the new BMW 435i with the Sports Package – because at least it would be more fun and entertaining to drive.
I think E350 Coupe should drop the sports car pretense and just go for the personal luxury experience. It’s an extremely alluring, almost regal package, all wrapped up in taut sheet metal and sexy new headlight modules. The lack of a B-pillar is an expensive, defining feature not available at your BMW or Audi dealer in this class of car. If you want a more sporty version, opt for the E550 Coupe with the fire-breathing 402 hp 4.6 L biturbo V8. Otherwise, let the E350 Coupe be the lovely lady that she is.
For me, however, I’d go for the E-Class sedan. You get a significantly larger cabin, the convenience of 4 doors, seating for 4 adults and an accommodating trunk. All for less money.