First Drive: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

May 18, 2009

Even with the recession, Vegas hasn't changed too much. The big glitzy hotels are still lifting wallets from guests through slot machines, overpriced meals and $25 charges to use the gym. There's more unsold real estate here than Chernobyl and Love Canal combined, and still they're building.

Like Las Vegas, Mercedes-Benz, as their equally glamorous PR chief says, has chosen not to participate in the recession. Not in terms of sales--everybody's down, and so is Stuttgart--but in new products. This year alone, there's a new S400 Hybrid due, along with the new E-Class lineup of sedans and this, the new E-Class Coupe.

Coupe? Where's the CLK? Gone like the old Desert Inn that stood where the Wynn and Encore hotels now live--where TCC's Detroit bureau chief Rex Roy and I took off from, to figure out how the new E-Class Coupe lined up against some class favorites, everything from the BMW 3-Series and Audi A5 to the new Lexus IS Convertible and the Infiniti G37 Coupe and Convertible.

Right off the bat, you realize this new E-Class Coupe is no match for those smaller, less pricey machines. The Benz CLK always was slotted a bit above its German rivals--and even with a price cut this year for a base price just under $49,000, the 2010 E-Class Coupe still is a magnitude more expensive than all those other luxury two-doors.

With the name switch comes a rejiggering of pieces and parts, too. The old CLK was about 60 percent C-Class mechanicals and 40 percent E-Class; this time around, it's 60 percent E-Class, though it rides atop a wheelbase that's identical to the C-Class sedan.

In the process of switching teams, the E-Class Coupe's gotten larger and evolved into more of a traditional GT. We drove both E350 Coupe and E550 Coupe in a high-speed touring exercise through the Nevada desert, and first impressions remained throughout the day: the E-Class Coupe's an utterly stable, luxurious companion for 130-mph runs, while its size and tuning give up the true sportscar feel that's baked into the 3-Series and to some extent, the Audi A5.

The dramatic changes are all up front--the 2010 E-Class Coupe shucks all the soft, feminine, conservative shapes of the old CLK for crisp details and a big, bold star on the grille. Is it beautiful? That’s not immediately clear at first glance, but for sure, the new E-Class Coupe is engaging to see, especially on the road. There's no question about the cabin, though. Every texture and line fits the mission, down to the clear gauges and trapezoidal air vents that are the inverse of those on the 2010 E-Class sedan.

Underneath its skin, the E-Class Coupe carries over its powertrains. The 268-horsepower V-6 E350 slips to 60 mph in about 6 seconds and hammers to a 130-mph top speed, while the 382-horsepower V-8 edition drops that time to about 5 seconds. A paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic sends power from either engine to the rear wheels, and does it seamlessly.

Where you'll find the E-Class Coupe distancing itself from its smaller, cheaper rivals is in handling. The E-Coupe simply isn't as razor-sharp as in a BMW 3-Series or, say, the Infiniti G37 Coupe. Instead it excels in loafing—maintaining utter control in curves with a light touch to its steering and braking, especially in six-cylinder versions. The V-8 Coupe gets an electronically adjusted set of shocks that introduce some vagueness into the feedback from the tires and steerin, but it does have a raspy bark that elicits an AMG aura.

Elsewhere, there are few surprises. The front seats are a place of bliss, surrounding passengers with walnut and leather and all sorts of entertainment options as well as airbags. The back seats? Not so comfortable for tall adults, fine for smaller people. The E-Class Coupe's trunk is useful, too, so additional children--sorry, luggage!--can ride there.

It may no longer be a sporty competitor for the BMW 3-Series Coupe—and that may exactly be what Mercedes has in mind with the 2010 E-Class Coupe. As it’s grown, it’s taken some styling risks while keeping its more conservative driving character intact. It's in a class of its own, and while you might prefer the handling edge of a smaller two-door, there aren't many grand tourers as swift and stable as this one.

For more information, including 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe pricing, specifications and dozens of high-resolution photos, head over to our E-Class Coupe page.

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