In a strange reversal, Mercedes-Benz—the company that led the current trend toward the coupification of the sedan with its CLS—is heralding the sedanification of the coupe via the 2010 E350. This is a two-door in body only; its spirit is that of a sober four-door, and it and the CLS appear to be converging on a single point: buyers who want a sedan but without all the space and convenience.
Like a poker player, the E350 has a visual “tell, ” a cue that signals its intentions. Here, it is the small quarter-windows in the rear side glass. These allow the rear windows to go all the way down into the bodywork, but their presence also suggests rear doors. Once you mentally draw the cut-lines for two more portals, phantom openings keep insinuating themselves onto the sides of the car. Pull back, and it’s less of an issue. From a distance, the E coupe can be confused with the larger CL coupe, which is clearly a two-door but also—ahem—fully sedan-sized.
A Tidier E-class
Dimensionally, the E coupe is smaller than the E sedan. Its wheelbase is clipped by 6.2 inches, and the coupe is almost seven inches shorter overall, losing about one-quarter of the four-door’s rear-seat space. But despite the mildly less graceful ingress and egress (the car’s pillarless-ness helps in this regard), you hardly feel the squeeze from the back seat, where head- and legroom are almost as gracious as the sedan’s. The car feels far more luxurious overall than the CLK it replaces in the lineup, thanks to the rectilinear dash and interior theme from the E-class sedan. The features list befits a car in this segment, too—burled-wood trim, a central info screen, 11 airbags, drowsiness warning, and leather—and the options list includes the requisite high-end audio, a sport package, and more leather and wood.
Both lengths of E350—coupe and sedan—feel cut from the same bolt, sharing as they do a common C-class–derived suspension. This is also due to the character of the cars’ 268-hp V-6 engine and seven-speed automatic transmission combo, which conspires to keep both 0-to-60 times at 6.3 seconds, despite an almost 200-pound difference in curb weight. You’d think the coupe would be faster, not only because it’s lighter but also because a two-door ought to be.
That sprint, although respectable on its own, pales quickly when compared with the similarly hefty Infiniti G37S coupe’s time of 5.2. Even the down-on-power Audi A5 2.0T Quattro—cheaper, sportier, and better-looking—eked out a 10th on the Mercedes in our testing. And the 230-hp BMW 328i sedanalso sportier and cheaper—gets the job done almost a half-second quicker, as it’s more than 400 pounds lighter. Stopping distances from 70 mph are similarly out of whack. The Benz’s 170-foot squawk is 15 feet longer than the Audi’s and 10 feet longer than the BMW or the Infiniti needs.
So the E350 coupe isn’t bringing the heat performance-wise, but as noted above, that doesn’t appear to be its mission. Its virtues are the classic Mercedes sedan virtues: rock-solid straight-line stability, long-haul comfort in the seats, and a throttle pedal calibrated to hold a given speed unto eternity.
It gets a little confusing, then, when you start optioning the E350 coupe as though you wanted a sporty car. Check the box for the $1950 Appearance package, which includes 18-inch wheels, shift paddles, and a sport suspension, and the car feels strangely bipolar. The sport suspension’s springing is too stiff for all but the smoothest of roads and jostles the car and its occupants around in misery over broken pavement. The harder suspension does help the car settle quickly into turns, but the steering, so nonlinear off-center, doesn’t want to hear about it. Its laziness is at odds with the directness of the car’s newfound body control.