Sunday May 28, 2017
By Richard Bosselman
EXPENSE doesn’t really come into with the new E-Class Coupe – quite the opposite, almost.
No, really. The premium this new two-door shape carries over its sedan donor is, where applicable, a mere $3000 at most.
Moreover, although the top of the three-strong line, a 3.0-litre V6 come with a gilt-edged tag of $151,900 (or $2k above the sedan) before accessories are considered, Benz here reckons this top dog variant might not necessarily be a highly favoured pick.
That’s because they figure this sleek, low-roofed version of its award-winner will be judged every bit as much on pleasing pose value and any performance potential; for the moment at least, it’s very much a case of customers putting style ahead of sizzle.
Hence why there are two other models with a common four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol engine, with different power and torque outputs.
The 135kW/300Nm E200 and 180kW/376Nm E300 editions don’t have the wallop of the 245kW/480Nm flagship, but in pricing respectively at $122,900 and $102,900 neither do that smash the wallet as heavily either.
So, when you ask what’ll this car do, in a sales sense, the response is that, potentially, the E300 could well become the volume leader followed by the E400, but there is every chance that entry car might deliver the biggest surprise.
Confidence in the fours coming to the fore is a comfortable call, given a now defunct model, the 2.0-litre E250, was the best seller.
“The E250 and E400 in the old range always did well for us,” product spokesman Matt Bruce says.
"We think (with the new range) there is some great opportunity for the E300 and E400 … but we also see some great opportunity for the E200 as well.
“We think that entry level priced car is going to create some growth; obviously all the E-Class cars carry a high level of standard spec so we think there will be a buyer for the E200, that’s why we decided to go with this model as well as the others.
“It’s still a bit of an unknown, because we have not had an E300 previously, but I think (with the E200) it will come down to it being seen as a high value equation.
“To get into such a beautiful-looking car for just under $103,000 makes it pretty exceptional value, we feel.”
Obviously, they’re not talking big counts however the splits play out: Even though Benz holds comfortable leadership of a strong-performing premium car sector, coupes are a niche product – the German big three cumulatively accomplished fewer than 1000 sales between them in 2016.
Nonetheless, Benz reckons the coupe – and the cabriolet coming late in the year – might each achieve up to 15 percent of total E-Class volume this year. Potentially, too, the two-door models might clash for customer attention, but not too much, Bruce believes.
“Historically, both those shapes have been very similar (in sales share). It’s sizeable and we think it will be the same again.”
Sedan, coupe and cabriolet is as far as the body styling reach will go for E-Class here. The Auckland-sited distributor has already decided not to bring in the wagon model because they sense it would only compete with the GLE sports utility.
The E200 Coupe was absent from the media launch drive out of Melbourne because it’s one of two variants that are not shared by Australia and New Zealand. The other is a E220d – New Zealand just doesn’t see the potential for a diesel coupe any more.
Restricting to the E300 and E400 still allows excellent opportunity to decide between cylinder counts. Conceivably, if money were no object, then you’d naturally gravitate to the six-cylinder. It sounds sportier, with even a hint of snap-crackle from the exhaust on over-run when positioned in the Sports settings, has lots of mid-range torque and is very smooth.
At the same token, the E300 is no bunny prize; it retains the same high levels of civility, comfort and ease, seems just as desirable at the kerbside (cannily, the editions carry no obviously signatures of different status) – there’s just less sizzle and the soundtrack is more subdued. But as a city and long-distance cruiser and a status symbol? Well, it’s just as effective.
The sense of this being a car that does best as rapid but relaxed runner is enhanced mainly by engines’ interaction with the new nine-speed automatic.
The main appeal of having such a mass of ratios is to accomplish decent fuel consumption, but it also enhances the level of refinement so important to this class of car. The imperceptible manner in which this car juggles though the cogs is genuinely impressive, so much so that the need or desire to ever take over via the steering wheel-mounted paddles is rare.
Stepping back from how it drives, the first impression from experiencing this car is that it delivers more metal for your money. Unsurprisingly, because even though this is not the first E coupe, unlike the last (which was C-Class-derived) it is built atop the E-Class platform.
That delivers two immediate pluses. First, a car that was as long as its sedan equal previously but narrower is now, through being more generously proportioned all around – the length of 4826mm represents the single greatest improvement, being up 123mm, but width also grows (at 1860mm, it’s up 74mm) and the height has improved by 33mm, to 1430mm – now looks more pleasingly proportioned and has a more arresting appearance. It’s hugely handsome from the front, rear and in profile, but also reflects a nice balance in restraint and discretion.
There’s also benefit within. Though still bettered, of course, by an E-Class sedan for four adult comfort (the maximum here as the rear seat is shaped for two), the larger footprint allows for an increase in track width of 67mm front, 68mm rear, allowing Benz to attest to better leg and head room in the back – not just when comparing old with new but also when it is put up against the few rivals, notably BMW’s 6-Series.
This is not a miracle outcome - tall types will, as before, feel their hair rubbing the headlining and might have to splay their legs around the back of the front seats – and, for the lanky, access and egress is still a bit awkward (the trick to making it less so, I’m told, is to lower all the windows first) – but, with coupes, any improvement in this respect has to be welcomed.
It’s also a touch cosy up front, at least in respect to headroom, which is perhaps why a sunroof is part of the package. You might not feel compelled to use it, but will appreciate how the portal allows a few extra millimetres gap and also, of course, allows the interior to be bathed in natural light, which enhances the sense of spaciousness.
It provides a decent-sized boot, as well, which would enhance its chances of being considered a decent choice for everyday use, though one supposes the big challenge, as always with cars featuring big wide-swinging doors, is how it copes with being parked in congested areas; we didn’t, unfortunately, find a crowded supermarket park to test that side of things.
In terms of design, the interior layout mirrors the approach taken with the exterior, being obviously premium but not overly shouty. The one indulgence in overtness comes from the line of eight air vents across the console. These look like jet engine nozzles. That’s not as chintzy as it sounds - their sculptural quality is as appealing as their ease of operation. Otherwise, the layout is just as you find it in the E sedan, including that huge double-width screen that spans the dash.
Both Es on the drive kitted out to A-plus level; Keyless entry, leather trim, surround camera, self-parking and Comand Online is standard to all Coupes and the E300 steps up to multibeam LED headlamps, air suspension, 20-inch alloys and a sports exhaust system. At E400 level uou get the extras of a Burmester 13-speaker surround sound system, a panoramic sunroof and privacy glass at the rear. All the autonomous driving features of its sedan relation come into play, too.
The Coupe’s on-road demeanour reminds that, these days, a big car needn’t feel like a bulky one. The coupe’s body is made of steel and aluminium, with the front wings, bonnet and boot in aluminium, so while being slightly heavier than the sedan, while imparting a sense of solidity, it doesn’t feel heavy.
The chassis balance is fine and the steering weighting good - if light on what can actually be described as feel. The E300 is emphatically more laidback than the E400, which seems to have been set up to drive the fine divide of grand tourer and sports coupe. Though it lacks the aggressive edge that came with the AMG E63 S sedan I drove on some of those same roads just a week before this outing, it isn’t easily ruffled by a twisting road.
The V6’s edge is not simply because of the added adhesion from having fatter rubber (and four-wheel-drive) but also because the engine has more muscularity to gain benefit from the driving modes’ Sport and Sport Plus settings.
Exploit the latter and it becomes a capable, fast car; eager to prove that the 0-100kmh time of 5.3 seconds is truly real world. It performance is strong from low revs and it sounds good at the upper reaches of the needle's sweep, too. The only thing that might keep you from making the Sport settings the default for all driving is the ride discomfort. The air suspension adds a lot of brittleness in the pursuit of tautness.
Striking styling is a Coupe forte that this car utterly nails, but its strengths go well beyond being a smart sight. It’s well contented and Benz has been canny in also making it capacious enough to impress the idea that, if needs must, it could be used as an only car for everyday use, even in a household with a couple of children.
It’s a niche choice, for sure, but Mercedes’ confidence of this car being the king of its category is easily understood.