Less is more, more or less.
- 2009 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe Avantgarde; 3.5-litre V6 petrol; seven-speed automatic; coupe - $127,500*
- Panoramic Sunroof $4500
Coming soon after our drive of the E500 sedan, you notice immediately it's a brilliant translation from sedan to coupe. The quad headlamps and tail-lights are instantly recognisable as an E-Class, yet differ enough to envoke coupe lines. "Sinewy build" is how Merc has labelled it, and it's hard to argue. With its rounded rear end and low, solid chin, it achieves the remarkable drag co-efficient of 0.24CD - the slipperiest series-production car in the world.
Of course, that means little if it can't get up to speed. Mercedes-Benz's ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6 powers this car, and despite its slightly portly weight (1630kgs), the 200kW engine manages to shift the coupe to 100km/h in a very snappy 6.4 seconds. That, might I add, is half a second quicker than the new VW Golf GTI.
The deliciously smooth seven speed automatic keeps the V6 in its sweet spot a full throttle, meaning upshifts always land the revs in power friendly territory. The semi-parabolic power delivery of this engine also means that on light throttle it's quiet and unfussed, but a quick prod of the right foot awakens the driveline and its ready for action. At idle, however, you'd be hard-pressed to tell that it's running - it's that smooth.
You'll notice, too, that the gear selector has shifted from the steering column to the conventional centre console - a more familiar layout for some. Curiously, though, despite being a coupe (and the inferred sporting pretentions), there are no paddles for shifting gears on the steering wheel. To do that manually, you'll have to knock the lever to the left and use the push-pull technique.
Where the Coupe has it all over the E-Class sedan though, is in driver involvement. You feel much more connnected to both the car and the road. This is partly due to the steering, which is shared with the C-Class, on whose platform, the E-Class Coupe is based.
Compared with the E500 we tested a few weeks ago, the turn in is sharper, the weight through the lock heavier, and more consistent, and the feedback trebled. Also helping the Coupe's involvement is the Agility Control suspension.
With its better ability to catch the short, sharp impacts a lot quicker, it has a more pleasant ride, despite the fact that it's firmer overall. In fact, on the test car's 17-inch wheels, the balance between ride and handling is one of the best on the market we've experienced so far.
Sure, there's no getting around the mass of the Coupe, but the way it manages weight transfer and absorbs mid-corner bumps is nothing short of astounding. But the chassis isn't the only impressive thing about the car.
Inside, it's all about quality, and carrying the E-Class through into coupe form. Although the parts many not be interchangeable, the dash is an excellent translation between body styles. It may be narrower, but the Coupe's interior lines work a little better than the E-Class sedan's squared off look. For example, the supremely elegant brushed and burnished aluminium strips that stretch across the lower part of the dash, flow beautifully onto the door trims and through the sides behind the front seats.
The choice of constrasting leather front and black backed buckets in the test car sit perfectly with the light headlining and dark carpets. The seats not only have plenty of back support (lumbar adjustment is four-ways) but excellent lateral hold. The Easy-Entry function lives up to its name and remembers where the front seats were positioned after the seat has slid and tilted forward. Head room in the back is, as you'd expect, a little tight for tall people, as is leg room, but for the young 'uns it'll be fine - adults would only want to be there for a short stretch. Boot space is adequate, at 450 litres, and at least you get a spare wheel.
The quietness of the cabin is quite staggering, although there is a little wind noise from the mirrors at speed. The sound-deadening must be very good, because despite the variety of surfaces we traversed in the week of driving the E350 Coupe, it made little difference to the road-noise coming in.
Making settling into driving easy is the electronic arm which "hands you" the seatbelt upon closing the door, and automatically retracts moments later. All four windows retract fully, too, making the styling of the deleted B-pillar a highlight. All in all, the interior quality is impeccable.
The same goes for safety. Mercedes-Benz says this is the safest car in its class; with the myriad of active and passive aids, there's little reason to doubt that claim. Apart from the expected crumple zones and nine airbags, there's Attention Assist (which monitors driver activity), PRE-SAFE (a pre-emptive system that anticipates an accident), Intelligent Light System (five different lighting modes), Adaptive Highbeam Assist (automatically switches to low beam when detecting oncoming cars), and an optional radar-based cruise control which will brake for you if it detects an accident. Yet none of it detracts from the enjoyment of driving.
It's a funny thing; normally I like reserves of power, and plenty of space. But the Coupe's handling prowess, superior ride, driver involvement and (especially on the test car) colour choices made me forget all about what the E500 was like. "Less is more" never applied so aptly.
We may be spoiled for choice when it comes to luxury coupes, but if your choice is the E350 Coupe, you'll certainly be spoiled.
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