Back in the 1980s, Mercedes sold its midsize E-class in both four-door and two-door form, the latter with either a fixed steel roof or a convertible cloth top. It wasn't a particularly sporty car, but it-like all 124-chassis Mercedes E-classes-was built like a nuclear bunker. And priced accordingly.
The W124 E-class sedan was replaced for the 1995 model year, and a few years later, the E-class coupe's spiritual successor of sorts debuted in the form of the 1998 CLK. Mercedes' new nomenclature reflected the fact that this coupe was no longer simply a two-door variant of the E-class; indeed it was based on the smaller C-class, but styled more similarly to the E-class. And it was far, far less expensive than the old E coupe.
The CLK enjoyed two generations (the 1998 C208-chassis and the 2003 C209-chassis), the second being the far better car, with interior materials again befitting a vehicle wearing a three-pointed star. (If we're being honest, the C208-like many late 1990s Mercedes models-wasn't quite up to the quality and reliability standards that buyers of Daimler-Benz vehicles had come to expect.)
Thankfully, Mercedes has cleaned up its act considerably-in terms of quality, and now it's cleaning house in terms of its naming scheme. The CLK name proved confusing to customers, not by virtue of the particular three letters, but because there are so many other vehicles in the Mercedes lineup. Quick quiz: what's the difference between a C, CL, CLK, and CLS?
You get the point. To help customers keep track of what Mercedes is what, the CLK is being renamed the E-class coupe for the C207-chassis. Unlike the old C124, it's not merely a two-door version of the sedan. In fact, it's not really based on the sedan at all. Mercedes insist that sixty percent of the coupe's structure and parts comes from E-class, but of course that means that the other forty come from somewhere else. In this case, it's the C-class.
Sure, Mercedes could have called the new coupe a D-class, as D is halfway between C and E in the alphabet. BMW did something similar with the 6-series coupe (based on the 5-series sedan) and so did Audi (the A5 is a two-door based on the A4). But since the company wants to simplify its naming scheme, the coupe reverts to E nomenclature.
The 2010 E-class coupe goes on sale this summer in two forms: the V-6-powered E350 and the V-8 E550. In both cases, the powertrain is familiar from the current E-class sedan, which the coupe is styled to look like. In terms of size, the coupe is still C-class.
The E350 will start at $48,925, about $50 less than last year's CLK350 coupe. Despite the price reduction, the E includes a substantial amount of standard equipment that wasn't included in the CLK350, such as a sliding glass panorama roof, three additional air bags (two pelvic bags and a driver's knee bag), Bluetooth, auto dimming mirrors, and the COMAND user interface. Also included is Mercedes' new Attention-Assist system, which warns the driver that he or she may be losing concentration due to fatigue. It monitors seventy factors to make its decision to scold the driver with a coffee-cup and a message on the instrument cluster display.
The E350's 3.5-liter V-6 produces 268 hp and is matched to a seven-speed automatic, propelling the coupe to 60 mph in a claimed 6.2 seconds.
The second E-coupe is the $55,525 E550. Under its hood is the torque-monster V-8 we know and love from other 550-badged Mercedes, producing 382 hp, 391 lb-ft of torque, and two strips of black rubber on the asphalt, if asked to. It uses the same seven-speed automatic, and can scoot to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds, according to Mercedes.
Replacing the E350's conventional suspension, and in place of the Airmatic air suspension found on the E550 sedan, the E550 coupe uses a new system called Dynamic Handling. It uses computer-controlled adjustable shocks to allow both a smoother ride and better body control than the E350's. Mercedes says it chose this new system instead of Airmatic because it provides a more sporty driving experience. We suspect cost--the air-spring system isn't cheap--played just as important of a role in that decision.
The two E coupes share their steering gear--a rack-and-pinion layout that has an overall ratio of 14.7:1, much quicker than the E-class sedan's 17.0:1. Indeed, the quicker steering helps to make the E coupe feel lighter and smaller than the sedan-but then again, it actually is smaller and lighter than the sedan. Over the road, though, it doesn't feel small at all: road and wind noise are unusually well hushed. In fact, the E coupe seemed to provide near S-class levels of quietness on the open road, even at its 130-mph speed limiter.
The E coupe is more of a high-speed grand tourer than it is a sports car. The seven-speed automatic is smooth in normal driving, but can be slow to react and clumsy in manic driving. Typical of most Mercedes, the steering is devoid of feedback on-center, where there's an appreciable amount of play in the system. In crosswinds, the E requires more input than one would expect to keep it traveling in a straight line. Unfortunately, there is also a substantial amount of lateral compliance in the rear (C-class-based) suspension, which results in an unsettling yaw moment as the rear takes a set.
There are no complaints about the E's cabin, which is filled with first-rate switchgear and very high-quality materials. It lacks the E-class sedan's ambient lighting, but it uses the sedan's new, straightforward climate control, which operates effectively and quietly. The front seats (optionally heated, ventilated, and highly adjustable) are aggressively bolstered and very comfortable. The rear seats are also buckets, and there's plenty of legroom, but the low roofline restricts headroom for passengers approaching six feet tall. Headroom is tight up front, too, for very tall adults. The optional Harmon/Kardon stereo plays well with iPods and offers excellent sound reproduction.
It's the interior's feeling of quality that's the E-class coupe's best attribute. Like the CLK, this two-door will sell on emotional appeal rather than logic. (In other words, people will buy it because of the way it looks.) It's in that area that the new C207-chassis is a little awkward. It's a mish-mash of styling cues from all over the map, including rear fenders that have a modern interpretation of the rear flare from 1950s Ponton-fendered Mercedes. Not only do the fenders look a little out of place on a vehicle with such an aggressive face (especially on the E550, which gets standard AMG body-styling), it's obvious that they were flared to help distract the eye from what would otherwise be a big ol' expanse of plain steel. The relatively short doors leave an emormous rear quarter panel. And the LED taillight treatment-though pretty-isn't particularly distinctive.
As with most modern Mercedes-especially the S-class-the E coupe looks best in motion, painted in a dark color. Under such conditions, the eye notices less of the awkward details and more of the traditional Mercedes cues-the trapezoidal grille, CLS-like arching roofline, and get-out-of-my-way headlights. It's then that the new coupe becomes glamorous enough to proudly wear its E-class badge.