VANCOUVER, CANADA—“One out of every four cars sold over $100,000 is a Mercedes-Benz.” So spoke Rob Moran, a spokesman for the company, at the introduction of the 400E Coupe, built on the platform of the high-tech E-Class.
The coupe, which debuts this summer, isn’t a $100,000 car. As tested, it’s just shy of that at $91,135, which means the loaded vehicle has a whopping $30,000 in options from a base of $61,400. These are the luxury E-Classes; the other one is a Cabriolet, with an identical drivetrain and many of the same styling cues, that will debut in the fall.
In running down the heritage of this car, Bernie Glaser, the head of Mercedes’ product management, started with the relatively square 1968 coupe, perhaps because that was the debut of what became the E-Class. But the high-end mid-60s 220SE to 280SEs (the latter featuring the low-grille style and a 3.5-liter V-8) were some of the most curvaceous large coupes and convertibles the company ever made—contemporary with the timeless Pagoda roof 230 to 280SLs. I’d start the history lesson there, or go back even further to the glamorous two-tone Pontons of the 1950s.
How does the new model stack up? Very well for the most part, especially from the side. It’s both five inches longer and three inches wider, which translates to—unique in stylish coupes—a usable rear seat.
The styling idea, Glaser said, was to get away from sharp creases, so the form is free flowing. In profile, it maintains coupe cues, but without sacrificing rear-seat headroom. The B pillar is banished, so the car faces the world with frameless windows. It looks a little like it should have an extra set of doors, but it works.
The front end is pure contemporary Benz, with spoilers and air intakes that make it look wider and more aggressive. Only the rear view lets it down a bit—you could think you were following a Benz SUV.
Inside, the E-Class shines, thanks to standard leather, wood strips that took craftsmen a week to make and polish, ingenious turbine-inspired eyeball air vents and the classiest speaker grilles I’ve ever seen. Some of this is optional equipment, including the high-end surround-sound stereo from German audio supplier Burmester—it’s $5,400 extra. Our car also had the Air Body Control air suspension, which gave a firm but cosseting ride on even the worst surfaces, but costs $1,900—a take rate of only 10 percent is anticipated.
The car bristles with technology, including my favorite—a “pink” noise that sounds through just before what the car anticipates will be a loud collision. The sound causes the stapedius muscle to contract, better protecting the inner ear from high acoustic pressures. As one Mercedes official put it waggishly, “An engineer must have been sitting around looking for something interesting to do.”
The E-Class Coupe has all the available safety tech from the E-Class sedans, which were introduced last year. On the road, the most noticeable is the active lane keeping, which yanks the car back into the lane when it strays across the white line on the right side. It’s a bit abrupt, in that German way.
Most buyers will want the Premium 3 package, which comes with active parking assist, inductive wireless charging for cellphones, active lanekeeping, rear-end collision protection, active brake assist, active speed limit assist and active lane change—hold down the appropriate turn signal between 50 and 130 mph, and the car will automatically switch lanes. The heads-up display is included, too, as is the cabin fragrance system. Yes, it’s $9,350, but it gives the car state-of-the-art safety.
Another nice option is air body control, which can literally lift up thee whole car to get up steep driveways, cross speedbumps or over tall garage lips.
One thing the E-Class Coupe owner can’t get is an alternative drivetrain—all the cars come with a three-liter biturbo V-6, producing 329 horsepower and 354 pound feet of torque (coupled to a nine-speed automatic). In the beautiful mountain roads around Whistler, British Columbia, the power and passing ability (in short windows) was really appreciated.
The car comes with a 12.3-inch screen, and a second one is optional for an electronic dashboard, which had three settings, from traditional to Star Wars.
It’s easy to get lost in the technology, but where the car truly shines is on the road. Without the air suspension the car had a little bit of body roll, but with it cornering was flat as a pancake. And it’s almost preternaturally quiet at highway speeds.
If you can afford a E-Class Coupe, go for it. The sunroof is standard. But if you prefer real al fresco driving, there’s a Cabriolet just around the corner.