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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - coupe range

Our Opinion

We like
A true coupe with pillarless side windows, laid-back seating, striking styling, healthy and efficient engines, high technology and A-grade safety
Room for improvement
Phoney E-class looks and positioning, foot-operated park brake, fussy design, not as good to drive as the real E-class (W212 sedan)

21 Jul 2009

IS IT a blatant deception, or is only we who are troubled by Mercedes’ confusing and misleading nomenclature for its latest coupe range?

Back in 1997, when the all-new CLK replaced the last true E-class coupe, the W124-sedan based C214 E220C Coupe, the telltale ‘C’ in the CLK badge informed us that a C-class car lurked somewhere under the E-class-like exterior.

And although the resulting CLK’s price was far higher than that of the W202 (and subsequent W203-generation) C-class sedan sibling that sired it, we were comforting in the knowledge that the ‘C’ in CLK for the two generations that the model existed meant that Mercedes was not attempting to dupe us at all.

Now even that has vanished with the arrival of the third-generation C-class coupe that drops the CLK moniker for E-class Coupe.

Based on the W204 C-class released in Australia in 2007, the C207 E-class Coupe reaps the rewards of the highly engineered, and award winning, Mercedes compact sedan range by being an enjoyable-to-drive, comfortable and refined four-seater passenger car.

And looking at the exterior, there is no way at all of telling that this has any sort of relationship with the W204, thanks to the very W212 E-class-esque square headlights, bulging rear wheel arches and copycat interior architecture.

Not pretty to some, and those fussy lines are a world away from the sober and elegant look of the original E-class coupes from the 1960s through to the mid-1990s, but at least there is no doubt that the fastback-style two-door right in front of your eyes is a product from the three-pointed star brand.

But if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck …

Jump from the proper E-class (sedan) to the imposter E-class Coupe, and the much narrower cabin width is the first thing you discover.

It irked us that Mercedes’ designers went to the trouble of styling a 90 per cent reduced Xeroxed version of the new E-class sedan’s W124-esque dashboard, complete with skinnier-everything. This is doubly so when you realise that the C-class fascia is actually the prettier of the two.

Happily, it all works well, from the sumptuous front seats in the upper-range E350 and E500 Coupe cars we sampled over Victorian country roads this week.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the driving position (foot operated park brake notwithstanding), and we have to say that we prefer the floor-operated (automatic) gear lever to the E350 and E500 E-class sedan’s column shifter.

The ambience inside the Coupe is appealing, particularly as there are no B pillars so that all the side windows can be lowered for that American hardtop ‘pillarless’ look that goes such a long way to making us forget that there is a run-of-the-mill C-class sedan lurking underneath.

An intuitive controller knob operates myriad vehicular and entertainment functions, a la BMW’s iDrive, while a panoramic sunroof that floods the nicely presented cabin with plenty of light.

The rear seats are fine for short trips if you are tall, but this really is a kids-only zone.

Mimicking the quiet and refined interior is the driving experience.

We are yet to sample the promising low-emission/high economy diesel engine option arriving late in 2009, but the 200kW/350Nm 3.5-litre V6 petrol provides more than ample performance, particularly since it is paired up with Mercedes’ excellent 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox.

Shifts are treacly smooth and instantaneous, so the E350 Coupe flies with an urgency that is not really commensurate with its luxury car styling.

The C-class underpinnings ensure smooth and reactive, but not especially tactile, steering, as well as accurate and surefooted handling, but the E-class Coupe lacks the absolute finesse of its dynamically more accomplished E-class sedan big brother.

Moving on to the E500 Coupe, the performance is strong, and quite sonorous, thanks to that husky 285kW/530Nm 5.5-litre V8/7G-Tronic duo, but the nose feels heavier and so the car corners with more of a lead-tipped-arrow feel compared with the lighter E350 Coupe. So we’d choose the V6.

Actually, we might even go for the E250 CDI or E250 CGI direct-injection turbo model when they come on stream by years-end, since they promise to feel even livelier dynamically than the larger engined E-class Coupe, and significantly cheaper as well.

For many buyers in this price bracket, the fact that the new E-class Coupe does not look like any other cheaper model in the range inside and out is enough to make them overlook the fact that it is really just a costlier C-class. A Mercedes, after all, is a Mercedes, through and through.

But, for better or worse over the years, the E-class nomenclature has come to mean a certain standard of vehicle from the Stuttgart firm, and the E-class Coupe – for all its refinement and pleasantries – is not at the level of the fine new E-class sedan.

As a result, we are left feeling distinctly uneasy about what Daimler is doing here, no matter how good this coupe is.

Indeed, you need to ‘C’ to truly understand what the E-class Coupe is all about.

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