For a considerable number of years, Mercedes-Benz fashioned a coupe variant off a short-wheelbase version of its E-class sedan. That was until the late 1990s, when the E-class coupe model name disappeared in favor of the CLK, which was based on the C-class sedan. In 2009, the E-class coupe moniker was launched again, but technologically, it was a direct successor of the CLK, with its track and wheelbase remaining identical to those of the C-class. For 2014, the E-class coupe and the open-top cabriolet have received face lifts; the sportiest variation, which we drove extensively, is the E550 coupe with its 402-hp twin-turbo V-8.
The changes for 2014 are more involved than they look. The overall shape remains untouched, but the headlamps and the taillamps—as well as the front and rear fascias—have been updated. The headlights feature four LED “torches.” They retain the four-eye look despite a new outer-headlamp contour. The front air intakes are aggressively styled, particularly on the E550, which comes with obligatory AMG styling. On the pre-face-lift model, there was a practical reason for this: The large air intakes of the AMG package were required to meet the airflow requirements of the twin-turbocharged engine. On the new model, the regular air intakes would have been large enough, but it was decided that the angry AMG look fits the E550’s image.
This look certainly fits the rather menacing growl of the M278 engine, which pumps 443 lb-ft of torque from a low 1600 rpm and 402 horsepower at 5000 rpm. The 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 is mated to Mercedes’ own seven-speed automatic, which deftly handles gearchanging duties in everyday driving but fails to excite when ultra-quick action is demanded. The ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic, as found in several Audi, BMW, and Jaguar models, shifts more rapidly, and so does Audi’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Nevertheless, the Benz’s straight-line performance is impressive, with a 0-to-60 time of fewer than five seconds. Passing maneuvers are executed effortlessly, the only challenge being to keep the car below triple-digit speeds. The top speed on U.S.-bound models is governed at an inexplicably low 130 mph.
Few changes have been made to the interior. The most obvious one is moving the gear selector from the center console to the steering column, which is yet another indication that this is no sports car. The COMAND system with full navigation is rather intuitive to operate. There is now an even larger number of assistance systems than before, with standard collision-prevention assist and attention assist now joined by optional Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control with steering assist, optimized lane-keeping assist, cross-traffic assist, and Pre-Safe Plus for rear-end collisions and pedestrian protection. Some, such as the lane-keeping assist, are so eager to intervene that you might want to familiarize yourself with turning them off before you set out for a concentrated high-velocity drive.
It’s Always Sunny in the E550 Coupe
The long list of standard equipment includes a panoramic sunroof with a sunshade that not only resembles low-grade chemical material but also lets through so much light that the use of sun protection is highly recommended for balding occupants. The room offered by the E-class coupe is adequate but not generous. We admired the clean look of the pillarless side-window opening, and low wind-noise levels are a great side effect of this coupe’s ultra-streamlined body.
Strong in personality, the E-class coupe should hold its own against the aging Audi A5 and Cadillac CTS coupe, as well as the upcoming BMW 4-series. For now, the E550 is the most attractive proposition in the E-class lineup, whether with the coupe roof or the extremely well-isolated convertible top of the cabrio. The 302-hp naturally aspirated E350 continues as the entry-level model. It falls short of the E550’s performance and character, but in the coupe, it will be offered with optional all-wheel drive. Of course, if you are seeking sheer power, check out the C63 AMG coupe as well.