SYLT, Germany – When Mercedes-Benz replaced its CLK-class with the E-class coupe and cabriolet for the 2010 model year, it was a source of debate between the automaker and the critics. The new coupe and cabriolet were based mostly on the E-class, Mercedes insisted, while automotive journalists noted the similarities between the new two-door and the C-class sedan.
The company's stance was understandable, since shortly after the two-door E-class models came out, Mercedes introduced a proper C-class coupe. Like, for instance, the Honda Accord coupe and sedan, the E-class two-door models shares virtually no sheetmetal with the E-class sedan and wagon. And, like BMW's 3-series and 5-series, there's a good deal of component sharing between the C- and E-classes, anyway. Which platform is it, really, and does it even matter?
Now that Mercedes has upgraded the E- coupe and cabrio's interior for the 2014 model year, part of a mid-cycle refresh that also affected the E-class sedan and wagon, the question matters even less. The interiors are now more befitting a car that retails for between $52,000 and $67,000.
Unfortunately, Mercedes designers weren't able to do for the two-door E-classes what they did for the 2014 four-door models, which is to eliminate the ill-advised "Ponton" rear fender design. That retro cue looks even more out of place on the coupe/cabriolet than it did on the sedan.
The two-doors' Sport Package (the AMG Sport Package in Europe) adds more aggressive, "AMG-styled" front and rear bumpers, twin five-spoke 18-inch AMG alloy wheels with all-season tires, a three-spoke steering wheel, multicontour front seats, perforated front brake discs with painted calipers, and aluminum pedals with rubber studs.
The new E550 and E350 two-doors go on-sale this fall and carry on with the 402-horsepower, 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 and 302-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, respectively. A year later, in fall of 2014, the E350 two-door will be replaced with the '15 E400 two-door powered by Mercedes' new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6. Mercedes estimates the U.S. horsepower number will be about 333, but that's not final. Torque is 354 lb-ft. The V-8 and the old and new V-6s are mated to the 7G-Tronic automatic transmission; 4Matic all-wheel-drive remains optional on the V-6 coupe only.
Usually, it's best to start with the small engine and move up to the larger one, but it was sunny for our first day's drive from Hamburg to Sylt. Why tempt fate? First up was a rear-wheel-drive E550 cabriolet (badged E500 for the European market). This most expensive of the E-class two-doors is a popular model in North America, almost a relaxed, Palm Beach/Palm Springs alternative to the S-class, in that it's everything a Mercedes is meant to be, without sporting pretense.
The facelifted E-two door also previews the 2014 S-class's Stop-and-Go feature, which combines Distronic cruise control with self-steering on gradual turns for up to ten seconds, similar to the new Acura RLX's system.
With its standard Aircap, which rises above the front header at 40-plus mph, and the optional Airscarf, which blows hot air on your neck in the space between the seatback and headrest, the E500 cab is planted, secure, and comfortable, reaching 125-plus mph autobahn speeds with the top and windows lowered. The twin-turbo V-8 will push you back in the driver's seat, both literally and proverbially, if you floor the throttle pedal from 80 mph. The electronically assisted power steering, if lacking in feel and feedback, nevertheless exudes secureness at such left-lane autobahn speeds.
The E500 cabrio is more at home on the island of Sylt, which Germany describes as its version of the Hamptons -- a vacation site that provides old money ambience for the nouveau riche. The car's suspension is relatively soft and comfortable, although convertible cowl shake is detectible on severely damaged roads.
There's something special and intangible about the E-class cabrio, however. Even though most modern luxury convertibles have triple-layer soft tops like this one, this car is especially comforting and coddling.
The coupe is more businesslike. The next day's return to Hamburg turned out to be as sunny as the Hamburg-to-Sylt drive, but we chose an E400 coupe so we could test the full North American (future) range. The E-class coupe just looks too much like it should have four doors, like a CLS or even the not-for-U.S. CLS shooting brake wagon.
Driving back through southern Denmark, the coupe's body rolled moderately through a roundabout taken at a high speed. The car wanted to steer with the rear wheels, but the full stability control was on and it checked the tail. Back on the autobahn, where the twin-turbo V-8 is a true kick in the rear, the twin-turbo V-6 is merely adequate-plus. It is, however, plenty of engine for either body style when you consider the target market.
With no AMG variant, the E-class coupe falls short of, say a BMW 3- (soon to be 4-) series or Audi A5 (yes, the C-class coupe should be the competitor, anyway) in enthusiasts' eyes. The better-looking convertible has its own charms as a relaxed Benz boulevardier, one that needs no excuses.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-class
|On sale:||June 2013 (E550, E350); June 2014 (E400)|
|Price:||$52,000 - $67,000 (est.)|
|Engine:||3.5L V-6, 302 hp, 273 lb-ft; 3.0L twin-turbo V-6, 333 hp (est), 354 lb-ft; 4.7L twin-turbo V-8, 402-hp, 443 lb-ft.|
|Drive:||Rear- or all-wheel|
|Fuel Economy:||20/28, 19/28, tbd, 15/25 (E350, E350 4Matic coupe, E400, E550).|