Mercedes-Benz E-Class

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Mercedes-Benz E350 CDI

Road Test

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

Driven May 2009

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The coupe might be the current comeback kid, but in Mercedes-Benz welt it never went away. Our favourite cuddly Swabians may have embraced a few odd niches in recent years, and invented a few others that were odder still, but there have been elegant two-door Mercs since before the dawn of time itself.

And now there's another. The CLK name is history, for this new mid-sized coupe gets to wear the E-Class badge instead. Having spent a decade undermining its own fearsome USPs - impregnable build, resolute engineering, virtuous rather than sporty behaviour - here's further proof that Merc is learning to love itself again rather than wanting to be the rakish cad who gets all the girls. This is a car that's comfortable in its own skin, aimed at people who are much the same.

Interesting-looking thing, though. A Cray super computer would have trouble totting up all the lines, creases and little detail flourishes that bedeck this car. Chiselled at the front, more rounded and protuberant the further back your eye travels, the new E-Class coupe manages to look like the entire Mercedes range distilled into one vehicle. (With the rear wheel arch kick of the Fifties 220S Ponton coupe chucked in for good measure.) This is a major ambition which it just about pulls off, but key rivals like the Audi A5 and BMW 3-Series coupe are easier on the eye.

It's longer, lower and wider than the old car, inevitably, and also fiercely colour and wheel dependent. Retired bank manager or Docklands drug dealer: the choice is yours. (That apparently superfluous line on the rear window: that's there to allow the windows to drop completely. It's the location of the fuel tank that stops it being a genuinely pillarless coupe). Clever aero, though: a 0.24 drag factor makes it the world's slipperiest car.

Further signs that Mercedes' preoccupations - like everyone's - are changing comes with the news that the E-Class coupe is apparently all about ‘exciting efficiency'. Exciting ‘Blue Efficiency', in fact. This is Merc's vaguely comical name for its package of eco measures, including reduced rolling resistance tyres, the clever aero stuff, and power for the steering rack, the fuel pump and alternator only when needed. On top of which comes a range of engines whose numbers make for eye-popping reading.

Take the latest 2.1-litre turbodiesel, which has a compression ratio of 16.2:1, delivers 204bhp at 4200rpm, 369lb ft of torque at 1600rpm, a combined average of 55.3mpg, emits just 135g/km, yet sprints to 62mph in 7.2 seconds. (It also runs a rehab centre for displaced polar bears in its spare time.) There's also a bigger, 231bhp 3.0-litre turbodiesel (badged 350 CDi), and three petrol units; a 204bhp turbocharged 1.8-litre direct injection unit (badged 250 CGi), a 292bhp 3.5-litre V6 (350 CGi), and a 388bhp, 5.5-litre V8 (500). Getting your head round this wilfully odd naming system is one of Mensa's new IQ tests.

Naturally, there's a vast suite of options and safety innovations, most of them shared with the new E-Class saloon. With its pre-safe technology, ‘attention assist' (which constantly monitors 70 different factors to determine driver alertness), and distance warning, the E-Class coupe simultaneously makes you feel very safe indeed but also makes you wonder whythe hell you'd do something as dangerous as drive a car in the first place. Crashing is never pleasant, but imagine what kind of a berk you'd feel if you stuffed one of these.

Not that the E-Class coupe invites reckless enjoyment. This is a lovely, soothing, deliberately unsensational sort of car, a mix of C and E-Class bits underneath. Mercs are slow burners at the best of times - unless there's an AMG badge around - but this is a seriously smooth operator. The E 350CDi is silent but for a bit of wind rush around the A-pillars and door mirrors, the engine note relegated to a distant thrum. As a motorway tool, it's incomparable. That clever four-pot diesel grumbles much more vociferously, though the one I tried had a manual gearbox which threw me for the first five minutes (a manual 'box in a Merc coupe? Apparently five per cent of customers prefer them so equipped, the weirdos). As smartly efficient as it is, this engine is actually slightly at odds with the rest of the car.

Blue efficiency is all well and good, but it probably won't surprise you to learn that the old-school petrol V8 is the one to have if it's excitement you're after. That it features the dynamic driving package - beefier steering, adaptive damping, paddleshift - as standard helps liberate what is a surprisingly adroit chassis. Big-engined, non-AMG Mercs have always had a beguiling subtlety to them. In truth, nobody really needs anything more powerful than this.

Available in the UK in either SE (golf-club spec) or Sport (big wheels, AMG bits, lap-dancing club spec), the E-Class coupe is a reassuring arm around the shoulder in a world gone mad. It's also expensive, well-engineered and extraordinarily comfortable. In difficult times, people tend to stick to what they know. After its lost decade of model proliferation and greedy expansionism, Merc is back to what it does best.

Jason Barlow

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