We all know all about compromise. Life itself is a constant compromise between doing what you want to do and what you need to do. The cars we drive are a compromise among what we want, what we need, and more importantly, what we can afford. The 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe you see here is somewhere right in the center of the Venn diagram of automotive needs; so is it a good thing to compromise on a car?
I've always had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of large coupes. If I am buying a two-door, I want a sports car; if I'm buying something big enough for four or five people, I want four doors. The idea of a big, heavy coupe has just never made any sense to me. Luckily, I had roughly five hours of travel time to try and work it out on my flights up to Vancouver to drive the car.
Upon arrival at the airport, Mercedes product specialists were nice enough to give me a full walk-around of the vehicle. The coupe is built on the same platform as the E-Classe sedan and wagon. I only bring this up as the previous E-Classe Coupe was built on the C-Classe platform and even built in the same factory as the C-Classe. So from the outset, this new W213 E-Classe Coupe is a proper "E" and not a styling exercise.
It is, however, a styling masterwork. The interior is just shy of the S-Classe in terms of comfort, fit and finish, and even materials. It is worth noting that while the S-Classe Coupe is nearly 8 inches longer, the interior dimensions between the cars is nearly a wash. It's maybe not entirely a wash if you consider the E-Classe actually has four and a half more cubic feet of cargo space. We may have to discuss the S-Classe Coupe again later, but for now we'll get back to the E. I don't stare at the outside very long. I sit in the front seat almost immediately; it feels spacious and more lounge than cockpit. Only accentuated by interior lighting with 64 color choices. The car I'm in has the 12.3-inch digital cluster, which is essentially an iPad that replaces the traditional gauges in front of the driver. While I don't like these in some cars, it feels very appropriate here. Everything is smooth and the surfaces flow together. It's as if the top of the dash is sitting on one organic shape.
The product demonstrators are quick to point out the E Coupe doesn't have window frames and or a B-pillar. Well, that's not exactly true. Rolling down both the door windows and rear quarter-windows creates a pillarless coupe, unless of course you count the small windows that remain in place, just ahead of what we would call the C-pillar. I wasn't given a definitive explanation for why those are there, making it not entirely a pillarless coupe, but a mostly pillarless coupe. I was told everything from side-impact airbags to roof strength to not having enough room in the fender to accommodate the entire window that far back; whatever the reason, you really don't notice them sitting in the front seat. You do notice them in the rear seat, but you won't care. The back seat would be a fine place for short trips for average-sized adults sitting behind other average-sized adults. Luckily for the long drives we had planned, nobody was relegated to back.
As is Pacific Northwest tradition, the roads were glistening with fresh rain. Luckily, the cars I'm driving are all equipped with 4-Matic all-wheel drive and a whole host of safety features, including: Active Brake Assist, Pre-Safe Braking, Dynamic Cornering Assist, Crosswind Assist, Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Speed Limit Assist, and probably a few I'm forgetting along with Attention Assist, which reminds you when to stop and take a Tim Hortons break, which I happily obliged later on in the drive.
At the time of this writing, the E Coupe is only available as an E400, meaning the only engine choice is a 329hp twin-turbo 3.0L V-6. I'm sure we will see an E43 version and E63 in the near future as well. The all-wheel-drive cars weigh in at a not-at-all-svelte 4,200 pounds according to Mercedes. The car doesn't feel fast, but the performance is more than adequate for what it is intended, which is conveying you in comfort, with the enjoyment coming from touring through—instead of tearing up—countless miles of countryside.
Buyers have a choice of either traditional coil-spring suspension or Air Body Control, the latter being the choice for ultimate comfort cruising. The system is nothing like aftermarket systems you might be accustomed to; it uses three-chamber air springs that allow for independent ride height and spring rate along with active damping. The suspension is adjusted through Mercedes Dynamic Control interface. The driver has the ability to adjust everything, from throttle, transmission, and steering maps to ride height and comfort versus sport damping.
The drive from Vancouver to Whistler is roughly three hours with some time to enjoy the scenery. The road is more meandering than challenging; it washes left and right following Howe Sound before finally disappearing into the forest after the town of Squamish. The car is comfortable, quiet, and luxurious, but lacks "a spark." I'm still not sold on the idea of spending 80 grand on a car that doesn't thrill me—if I'm being totally honest. I arrived at Whistler Olympic Village feeling fresh and not at all worn out from the drive. Did I mention the available Multicontour Seats also have four different massage modes?
The next day, I started out early from the hotel to get back to Vancouver. The drive route was quite a bit longer than the previous day's with more variety to the roads. Heading north out of Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway has me passing Mt. Currie, which was covered in low clouds; I'm sure it's normally beautiful. It was right around this point that the road started getting more entertaining. The E400 4-Matic begins to prove itself as a perfectly adequate driver. I throw it through a few tighter corners and while it performs admirably, I still can't say either of us is particularly enjoying it. In the long sweepers, however, the car turns in predictably and settles into a constant arc. The grip is surprising and confidence building, even in comfort mode. The engineering that has gone into the chassis is very well done.
As the sun starts breaking through the clouds, the green of the forest is matched with the pixelated shine that comes off the course spring snow. The mountains have turned to sheer cliff faces and the road edges up against Duffey Lake, a narrow emerald green stretch of water with no discernable line of where the forest ends and lake begins. All of the turnouts around the lake have piles of freshly cut logs as if offloaded by overly optimistic lumberjacks who will come back for them at some point. With precious few passing areas, I have to dispatch slow-moving lumber haulers at any given opportunity. With 354 lb-ft of torque as low as 1,600 rpm, I realize the Coupe is faster than it feels. Like in most modern turbocharged cars, the acceleration is so smooth with no surge in acceleration, and speed comes on in an innocuous way—put your foot into it and it goes.
The weather outside is cool, especially to a Southern Californian, but I decide to put all the windows down and open the giant sunroof. Using the heated seats while allowing as much nature in as possible is like wearing a scarf with a T-shirt. For reference, that's two big steps below socks and sandals. With everything open, it transforms the car. It is surprisingly nothing like a convertible and not quite a Targa, either. You get all the fresh air and openness, but without the sun roasting the back of your neck.
After driving past Seton Lake, the landscape opens up and roads are no longer boxed in by canyon walls. I stop for lunch at a Canadian winery. Who knew there was such a thing? I have the S-Classe of cheeseburgers for lunch—no wine. I head south on the Lytton-Lillooet Highway toward Vancouver. The road is relaxed again and although I've covered some serious mileage—and had a pound of meat—I'm still excited about the drive. I feel like I have a greater appreciation for the E-Classe Coupe. The big coupe was once for business people who needed to travel long distances in the days before teleconferencing and cheap flights. This is that car. You could drive for three hours and still feel far better than if you'd spent 45 minutes in a flying cattle car.
Realistically, this car is sitting in a garage with at least one other car. If it were my garage and it was sitting between a big sedan and a sports car, I think I could be happy. My concern is, when I load up the E400 Coupe 4-Matic—and how else would you buy this—I'm looking at nearly $90,000. The S550 4-Matic Coupe, with a 449hp twin-turbo 4.7L V-8 and even more luxury, starts at $122,000. I get it, that's a third more in price; this argument will become far more valid when we see the higher-spec versions that are no doubt coming.
I am still not convinced I would ever drop this amount of money on a car that is very good at several things, but not amazing at anything—in fairness, maybe I should say none of the things I really value. Mercedes is still going to sell a fair number of these to some very happy customers who want exactly what I found in this car: the ability to melt away miles in total luxury while enjoying traditional automotive touring.