It's easy to look at the 2018 Mercedes E400 Coupe as, simply, an E-Class with two fewer doors, but that's selling it short. For Mercedes, it represents a return to building the sort of car it abandoned in 1996–the mid-size luxury coupe. The previous generation E-Class coupe and the two generations of CLK that preceded it were built on modified, smaller C-Class platforms in an attempt to give them sporting credentials. This one, though, is a proper E-Class.
A real four-seater that, yeah, handles well enough given its size, but is really meant for covering distances with uncanny effortlessness. And signaling to the world that you've arrived, but you're not about to make a big show of it. Detroit automakers used to call this sort of thing a personal car.
When's the last time you saw one of those? No American automaker makes them anymore, and the closest thing from Germany is the larger, more expensive BMW 6-Series. In carrying the old-school coupe mantle, this E-Class stands alone.
You'll notice one of the best things about the E-Coupe before you even open the door. Even among Mercedes' very attractive current lineup, the exterior styling on the E-Coupe stands out, by, well, not really standing out. Unlike the smaller C-Coupe and the decadent two-door S-Class, the E-Coupe features very minimal sculpting on its body panels and fairly subdued fender flares. The result is a simple, elegant-looking car that recalls the austere Mercedes coupes of old.
You can tell Mercedes chief designer Gordon Wagener and his team spent a lot of time studying the iconic designs of Paul Bracq and Bruno Sacco in working on this car. Wagner and co. have achieved an excellent result. The new E-Coupe isn't a flashy, but it looks better the more you spend time with it, and will certainly age well.
Inside, the interior is nearly identical to the E-Class sedan and wagon, with the exception of a slightly lower driving position and turbine-shaped air vents. If you look hard enough, there are some cheap materials here, but for the most part, it's top-notch quality.
The interior design is stunning, especially if you opt for one of the wood trim finishes. It's also supremely luxurious, with beautifully comfortable seats and an excellent Burmester audio system. Mercedes likes to make a big deal of the fact that the E-Coupe is a true four-seater, and I can confirm that all five-foot seven-inches of me fit back there fine. But really, who buys a coupe for the rear seats?
On the move, you get almost exactly what you'd expect from a Mercedes two-door this size–a comfortable high-speed cruiser. The E400 Coupe excels on wide, open highways, where it maintains speed effortlessly. It's very apparent this car is developed by people who commute on Germany's high-speed Autobahns.
Power comes from a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that makes 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque in the E400. This is a detuned version of the motor found in the 396-hp AMG E43, and goes about its business in a perfectly competent–if perhaps bland–way. The sound won't inspire you, but it's got plenty of power to get to (and beyond) highway speed in a jiff. It's paired to Mercedes's now-familiar 9G-Tronic nine-speed auto, which works seamlessly. This gearbox even downshifts under braking in Sport and Sport+ modes, so there's no real need to use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
This six-cylinder suits the E-Class much better than the four-cylinder we get in the E300 sedan, but it's not perfect either. In Sport+ mode, the throttle mapping is puzzling sharp, to the point that it's difficult to apply power smoothly–leave it in Comfort or Sport mode for a more natural feel. It's also easy to want a more special engine here. A V8 is off the table, unfortunately, but version with a hotted up straight-six. While the performance of the V6 won't leave you wanting, it might be worth waiting for the straight-six for that old-school Mercedes charm.
Mercedes will offer the E-Coupe with three different suspension systems–Direct Control, which utilizes fixed dampers, Dynamic Body Control, with adaptive dampers, and Air Body Control, which brings three-chamber air springs. We didn't have a chance to spend any time with the non-adaptive dampers, but the Dynamic Body Control seems to be the way to go here.
Where the self-leveling Air Body Control works a treat if you have the car loaded with people and cargo, the adaptive dampers offer a more cohesive driving experience in normal conditions. Even in their softest setting, the adaptive dampers are slightly firmer than the air suspension, but they bring more sure-footed handling and stability. Of course, the smooth Spanish roads where we tested the E-Coupe may have been more suited to the firmer adaptive dampers. We'll have to see how they cope in New York or Detroit.
The E-Coupe's steering doesn't offer a lot in terms of texture or nuance, but it's admirably accurate and the weighting feels natural. This car stays very composed when pushed on tight country roads, even though it's clearly better suited cruising around town or eating up highway miles.
Our tester also came with all of Mercedes' latest semi-autonomous driving features. Theoretically you can let go of the wheel for brief periods of time with Steering Pilot engaged, but it works much better if you maintain a light grip. These features definitely add to the E-Coupe's GT credentials, but they'll probably be pricey add-ons, just like in the E-Class sedan and wagon.
The E-Coupe also gets Mercedes' new dual-screen gauge cluster and infotainment system, both of which can be controlled by touch pads on the steering wheel. It takes a little while to get used to the system, and you'll probably get lost in its plethora of sub-menus–try to adjust the passenger-side lumbar, for example). Once you've figured out a configuration you're happy with, the system mostly stays out of the way–it's just getting to that point which is difficult.
The E400 Coupe gives you almost exactly what you expect, but that's no bad thing. It's comforting to know that as Mercedes diversifies its offerings–pickup trucks! F1-powered hypercars!–it can still make the sort of car it built its reputation on. Not a sporty car, necessarily, but a beautiful machine that feels more solidly built and engineered than nearly everything else on the road.
If you're a fan of big old-school German coupes, but you want modern safety and tech, you'll like this car.