First Drive: 2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

CATALONIA, Spain – Nestled among the Pyrenean mountains in the north-east corner of Spain, Catalonia is a vibrant hub rich in artistic and political history dating back to the 11th century. Although it fell under Spain’s rule when absorbed by the Kingdom of Aragon in the 15th century, Catalan is a proud and distinct society that has spent the last hundred years working towards full autonomy.

Uninterrupted by extraneous lines in the sheet metal, the new design moves in one smooth, continuous flow.

It’s a region of cultural and biological diversity; a melding of sea, light, wind and rock inspiring literary great Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and artists like Pablo Picasso and Miro. The twisted, barren landscapes and surreal, wind-shaped stone depicted by surrealist Salvador Dali sprang not from his wild imagination, but from Catalonia’s own unique landscape.

Into this rich, dream-like tapestry Mercedes-Benz launched one of their most minimalist designs to date in the latest interpretation of the E-Class Coupe.

It’s a lovely car, eschewing the aggressively sculpted, knife-sharp edges of most of its competitors, and indeed its predecessor, for refined subtlety. Uninterrupted by extraneous lines in the sheet metal, the new design moves in one smooth, continuous flow. Frameless side windows with no B-pillar not only contribute to this sleek line, but also create a large teardrop-shaped greenhouse.

Slim, horizontal LED taillights accentuate the car’s wide stance and tidy rump and their innovative crystal optics impart a stardust effect. Coupled with Mercedes-Benz’s sparkly signature “Diamond Grille,” it’s a look that may be impossibly kitschy in a few years’ time, but for now it’s fresh and clean and adds a whimsical touch to the coupe’s solemnity.

Where the previous E-Class Coupe shared much of its architecture with the smaller C-Class, the latest iteration is based on the E-Class sedan. The larger, wider platform allows more cabin space, better stability and increases the car’s overall sense of gravitas. That extra length and width translate to 74 mm more rear legroom, and 50 mm front and 34 mm rear shoulder room.

My driving partner was well over six feet and even he found the rear seat space quite accommodating.

Though the cabin is derived from the E-Class sedan’s, the coupe receives its own exclusive elements, including unique seating, and turbine-inspired air vents and start-stop button. As expected, there’s the requisite fine leather available in a variety of colour combinations, and attention to detail befitting of the German luxury brand. Everything feels well-executed, well-insulated and utterly squeak and rattle-free.

The cabin’s one concession to overt modernity is the enormous 12.3-inch screen replacing  the traditional gauges, coupled with another 12.3-inch display – all behind one continuous glass screen giving the cockpit an overall “command central” appearance.

As with the sedan, the E-Class Coupe is loaded with comfort features, but some sporting ones as well. Standard are automatic start-stop, agility control with cornering assist, AMG exterior styling, heated power folding mirrors, panoramic sunroof, COMAND navigation with touchpad, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Magic Vision Control (Benz’s unique rain-sensing wipers with blade-mounted nozzles), and ambient lighting. Standard safety features include not only the ubiquitous rear-view camera and blind-spot assist, but also the autonomous Parking Pilot function, Pre-Safe accident mitigation, active brake assist, adaptive brake, crosswind assist, and attention assist.

Optional equipment comes bundled in packages and includes a Premium Package: Burmester Sound System, the 12.3-inch Instrument cluster mentioned above, heated armrests, hands-free access, easy-pack trunk closer, keyless go, and more.

Sport Package includes massaging contoured front seats, Dynamic Body Control and 19-inch AMG wheels.

Technology Package includes head-up display, 360-degree camera, active multi-beam lighting and high-beam assist.

The Intelligent Drive Package features all the autonomous driving technology that debuted with the S-Class and includes active blind-spot assist, active-lane keeping assist, Pre-Safe plus, Drive Pilot, Distance Pilot Distronic with Steering Pilot and Traffic Sign Assist.

There are a few standalone options available – these include climate comfort seats, rear window sunshade, 23-speaker, 1450 watt Bermester 3D Surround Sound, heated rear seats and Air Body Control.

Although the E-Class debuts with four different engine choices, including two diesels, for now Canadian cars will receive only the E400 4MATIC all-wheel-drive version. It’s powered by a 3.0L twin-turbo V6 with 329 hp and 354 lb-ft, mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

We departed Barcelona’s congested core with its three-lane traffic circles, and headed towards Villa Calonge – 150 km of windswept coastline and ancient villages. Our Designo Diamond White E400 Coupe had the optional Dynamic Body Control suspension – an upgrade over the standard Direct Control Steel suspension, but one step below the multi-chamber air suspension.

Although it’s a quick car – boasting a 0–100km/h sprint time of 5.5 seconds for AWD-equipped models – it’s not a car that one is compelled to flog in the corners. Part of this is due to the multi-layered invasiveness of the safety technology, which is reluctant to give over complete control to the driver. The E-Class Coupe is more of a grand tourer, extremely well-composed and utterly serene, it glides unruffled while the world rushes soundlessly by the well-insulated windows.

Steering is well-weighted, and if it lacks the chatty feedback of some of the more performance-oriented European coupes, it’s sharply accurate and has a nice on-centre feel.

Switching cars for an air-suspension-equipped model, we enjoyed the extra damping ability through the various drive modes. While the car felt a bit lazy in “Comfort” mode, “Sport” ramped up the throttle and shift response nicely, firmed up the handling and added a delicious crackle to the exhaust note while downshifting. There’s a “Sport Plus” mode as well, but we found it just a bit too frantic and touchy for the roads we were on.

Overall, the E-Class Coupe is a grander vehicle than the one it replaces, and one of the most stylish choices in its segment. Slightly roomier than competitors Audi A5, or BMW 4 Series Coupe, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe is well-poised to succeed when it arrives here this summer.

Mercedes-Benz subtracts two doors and eschews straight lines 3/10/2017 6:30:00 AM