It’s difficult to think of a car that starts near $75,000 as a bargain, but when you count up how few luxury-oriented V-8 coupes and convertibles are on the market for less than $100,000, you realize that Mercedes-Benz offers a unique, practical offering with its mid-priced two-doors in Canada, the E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet.
Granted, the V-6 versions of the refreshed 2014 E-Class two-door models will likely start closer to the mid-$60,000 range (low $70,000s for the cab). At that price, it faces many more six-cylinder, two-door, luxury rivals, although the three-pointed star brand also has the C-Class Coupe and its associated AMG go-fast offspring to challenge the sportier versions of Audi’s S5, BMW’s 3-Series and the Infiniti G37.
In effect, the smaller, lighter and more performance-edged C-Class coupe allows the larger E-Class Coupes and Cabriolets to take up a more spacious and comfort-oriented position in the marketplace, with the soft top of the convertible helping to give the E Cab one of the largest trunks on any luxury droptop this side of a much longer and pricier Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead convertible.
For nearly 20 years, E-Class models have been distinguished by unique separated front headlights, first round, then oval, then sharper trapezoid in the most recent versions. But that changed with the new E sedan earlier this year, as it will for the two-door Es now. Instead of two headlights, the two-door E will offer long twin LED “torches” that are straighter and produce more of a frowning high-tech face than the E-Class four-doors. Those looking to spot the 2014s can also look for chrome accents along the lower front and rear body clips that bling up the body like a celebrity jeweller on Oscar night.
The E-Class two-door models go to the front of the line when it comes to comfort and safety technology, because they offer Mercedes-Benz’s near-autonomous Intelligent Drive. This was developed for the all-new S-Class set to arrive in November, but happens to arrive first to Canada as an option on the much less expensive E-Class Coupe and Cab. Using its former advanced radar cruise capabilities and Steer Assist system that help keep the car within its lane on the highway, the new system will slow the car down to a stop on its own when it encounters traffic, and then will both accelerate and steer itself behind stop-and-go traffic without the driver intervening.
On our drive from Hamburg north to Sylt, a resort island off the northern coast of Germany, and then back south through some picturesque back roads in Denmark and back on to the German autobahn we didn’t encounter any traffic jams so there was no chance to try the advanced system. In the S-Class, it is programmed to give you a warning if you take your hands off the wheel for more than 10 seconds. But if it’s anything like Steer Assist, which sometimes “bumps” you back into your lane when you drift over the lane markers without signalling, but not always, you’ll definitely want to keep your hands on the wheel.
From a coupe perspective, our V-8 E550 tester – labelled E500 in Europe – was commandingly quick, with a deep baritone sound from its 4.7-litre V-8 that effectively hid any sign of extra turbo pressurization hissing or popping. The E550 is more luxury car than sports car, but it responds to throttle inputs immediately and with authority, especially if you’re willing to play with the standard paddle shifters. Mercedes-Benz pegs 0-100 km/h acceleration at 5.1 seconds, compared to the E350 Coupe’s 6.2-second time.
The Coupe is still distinguished by its B-pillar-less design, which creates a unique floating roof look, especially with all the windows down. Plus it means a powered arm automatically extends out from the door frame to hand you your seat belt, just as with its CLK predecessor. The rear seat is a touch tight on headroom, but likely fine for teens and folks shorter than 5-foot-8, if the driver is somewhat considerate.
A new E400 model with a twin turbocharged 3.0-litre engine – slated to arrive in Canada by July, 2014 – was under the hood of the convertible E-Class just in time for the sun to come out on our second (half) day of top-down cruising. It’s much less aggressive than the V-8, in both sound and oomph, but is a considerable power upgrade from the current 3.5-litre V-6 (333 hp), but not fuel economy, which is 0.3-0.5 litres/100 km thirstier overall, in Euro testing.
Specific 2014 pricing is set to arrive along with the first E-Class two-door models this summer.
But with the top down and the AirScarf neck vents ready, and the E-Cab’s awkward-looking but effective AirCap system (which raises the windshield header automatically to reduce wind noise), it will be tough to be the convertible for overall maximum luxuriating, which is what this car is all about.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet
Type: Mid-size luxury coupe and convertible
Base price: (estimated) $62,000 for coupe; $70,000 for cabriolet
Engine: 4.7-litre twin turbo V-8
Horsepower/torque: 402 hp/443 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with shift paddles
Drive: Rear-wheel, optional all-wheel (on V-6 coupe only)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.0 city/7.5 highway for V-8; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi S5, BMW 335i, Infiniti G37, Jaguar XK, Porsche 911, Volvo C70
Correction: An earlier headline on this story incorrectly referred to the vehicles as two seaters. They have two doors and a back seat.