There was a point in automotive history when the sedan was the predominant form of family transportation. To buy a coupe was to make a statement — you were consciously trading some amount of practicality for style. Maybe you didn’t have kids to truck around, or you were enough of an an enthusiast to make the two-door lifestyle work anyway, or you were rich enough for it not to matter.
At least that’s how your author imagines it went down — he was born in the Age of the Minivan. Today, crossovers and SUVs rule; opting for a traditional sedan over any of those jacked-up hatchbacks makes a statement not entirely unlike buying a coupe would have in an earlier era. The mass-market coupe’s long-term prospects aren’t, quite frankly, rosy, especially given the all-important Chinese market’s near-total lack of appetite for the things.
Don’t tell the Germans, though. They’re busy devising coupeified versions of everything they build. Some of them, like the 2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe, actually have two doors. And, at least in this case, they’re doing their best to make the format more practical — and dare we say sensible? — than ever before.
To start, there’s the extra room. The new E-Coupe is longer and wider than its predecessor (it’s also a touch wider than today’s E-Class sedan), with more rear volume among the chief benefit of this growth spurt. Yes, you can actually fit two adult humans back there, though headroom gets tight for anyone around or above 6 feet tall. You don’t even need to contort yourself into a pretzel to squeeze into the back seats, either. We’d say they’re genuinely usable, and for this class, that’s hardly faint praise.
Then, the tech. All of the E-Class Sedan’s eerily advanced gadgetry transfers over, including the semi-autonomous features. No, it won’t drive itself. But it will follow cars around curves at speeds of up to 130 mph (this car’s limited top speed), though we don’t recommend taking your hands off the wheel. Or you can let its cameras read road signs and keep things at the legal limit automatically.
There are also “Magic Vision Control” windshield wipers. Rather than blasting the windscreen with fluid via cowl-mounted nozzles, each blade is dotted with fluid outlets and inoculated against frost by a strip of resistive heating foil, to boot. These blades are emblematic of the entire car: The systems works more or less as advertised, but it can come off as terrifyingly complex for the sake of terrifying complexity.
Then again, maybe we’re just old-school.
A streamlined E-Class Coupe lineup is heading to the American market later this year with one engine — a turbocharged 3.0-liter, 329-hp, 354 lb-ft V6 — a nine-speed automatic transmission and your choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. It’s known as the E400. The 4Matic cars get fancy wipers as standard. All of the detailed specifications (fuel economy, curb weight and so on) will be released closer to the on-sale date, but we’ve been told the price shouldn’t be much more than the outgoing coupe. Figure something around $56,000 for the rear-wheel drive car and $58,250 for the 4Matic version.
An eventual performance variant seems inevitable, but Mercedes hinted that a less hardcore AMG E43 version is the most we can hope for; the AMG C63, which comes in both coupe and sedan forms, has evolved to fill the place in the market a two-door E63 AMG would once have occupied. And with the E-Class Coupe larger and more tech-laden than ever before, the smaller, more focused C-Class alternative might make for a better enthusiast pick anyway.
The E-Class Coupe seems to be designed to do two big things well: Span great distances in near-S-Class comfort, and look great moving through the landscape and on arrival. In its E400 incarnation, at least, it’s a comfy tourer, not a taut sports car. Hence, power from the V6 is adequate, consistent and smoothly delivered, but it won’t catch you off-guard — not that it’s supposed to.
Sport and sport-plus drive settings are amusing, for a while at least, on tight, winding roads. Paddle shifters give you a degree of control over gear selection. But the powertrain, like the car itself, seems more comfortable loping along in comfort mode; the toned-down throttle response and easy, imperceptible shifting are more in line with the vehicle’s character.
Even with the optional sport package, which adds an AMG steering wheel, the cabin is designed to be a roomy, airy place to hang out while the car whisks you along with minimal input, not a Altantara-wrapped cocoon. Instead of grippy sport seats, you get massage-equipped thrones. Adjusting them is a process, involving both door panel-mounted switches and bolster and lumber settings accessed through the infotainment screen, but it’s worth taking the time to tailor them to fit you properly (those seat position memory switches are there for a reason). The all-important cabin air scent system, just like you’d find in an S-Class, is tucked away in the glovebox.
American buyers will be able to choose between a standard adaptive suspension and Benz’s Air Body Control air suspension system. We tried cars equipped with both options, but on smooth (and surprisingly well-maintained) Spanish roads it was difficult to tell the difference between the two; the air setup may have felt a little cushier, and seemed to permit a little more roll, especially in the most comfort-oriented setting. Until we can try out both setups on the pothole-ridden streets of Detroit, however, we’ll reserve judgement.
As for looks: Design quality is a subjective thing, obviously, but this is the E-Class Coupe’s strong suit. The E-Class sedan is a handsome, purposeful-looking car, and there are elements of it here, but it also benefits from a good dose of S-Class Coupe from nose to tail.
Our stylistic quibbles are minor. There’s a panel positioned aft of the panoramic sunroof that, from certain angles, looks like it’s been stuck there as an afterthought. Once you notice this body panel-colored yarmulke, you can’t unsee it; better to just paint it black to blend in with the sunroof and let it disappear. The pillarless hardtop effect is marred, if only mildly, by a rear quarter window that doesn’t retract — since it sits above the rear wheel, there’s no place to roll it down into.
Plus, you need to choose carefully when designing your car’s interior. Available metallic dash trims make it easy to craft a borderline-tacky cabin at odds with the flowing lines of the dashboard and the elegant exterior; Coupe-exclusive bright metallic “turbine” air vents don’t help. There are more classic options in the range — we really like the high-gloss and the natural-grain wood veneers. But again, style is subjective — and as we said, we’re probably just old-school.
The E-Class Coupe is a stylish tourer, not a sports car, and with no 4.0-liter V8-powered variant on the way, it seems destined to remain so. But if you’re looking for a driver-oriented two-door, don’t cry for want of an E63 Coupe. Not until you’ve tried the C63 alternative, at least.
If, however, you’re simply looking for a stylish way to get around — whether you’re crawling through gridlock, cruising to dinner or wafting across great distances — the new E-Class Coupe makes the sort of personal statement only a well-designed two-door can. That it also happens to be a supremely comfortable and more than slightly practical personal statement are all pleasant bonuses.
Why aren’t people buying coupes, again?