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Range-topping version of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class two-door turns on the style, pace and comfort, but can it overhaul the BMW 6 Series and Porsche Panamera?

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There has long been a Mercedes-Benz executive-class coupé, but during the past 20 years, you wouldn’t necessarily have known it as a true E-Class Coupé.

There was a coupé version of E-Classes, sure, plus coupés based on the more obscure model names that Mercedes gave its executive cars in and before the 1990s.

‘Twin-blade’ design, which creates one bar across the grille, separates it from saloon and estate E-Class models, which have two bars

But it was from 1997 that the car got its own identity. It was called the CLK and looked to all intents and purposes like an E-Class Coupé but actually rode on a C-Class platform. Ditto its replacement, a car actually called an E-Class Coupé even though it shared its underpinnings with its smaller sibling.

Step forward this new executive-class coupé, now both called and factually an E-Class Coupé – although, given that Mercedes from the C-Class to the S-Class share the same architecture, the links with sister models are as strong as ever.

Initially, there will be five derivatives of the E-Class Coupé: two diesels, and three petrols, of which this is one.

The diesels are the E220d (powered by a 2.0-litre making 192bhp) and the E350d (with its 255bhp 3.0-litre V6). The two lower-powered petrols are both 2.0-litre turbo units, too, making 181bhp and 242bhp. Each engine is paired to a nine-speed automatic gearbox.

Our E400 test car is powered by a 328bhp 3.0-litre V6 and is the range-topper until a full-blown AMG version arrives. It drives through the nine-speed gearbox, too, but as standard to all four wheels.

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It’s available only in AMG Line trim, which, perhaps obviously, calls on the glamour of the AMG name but doesn’t come with a snarling V8.

What it does come with is a list price of £50,820, which has been raised to £58,820 on our test car, but in its pre-options list price form looks keenly matched against its Audi A7 Sportback and BMW 6 Series rivals.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé rear

Take a straw poll in the Autocar office and you’ll find a bunch of commentators who largely think that the E-Class Coupé is quite a handsome machine.

BMW It’s perhaps less rakish than a 6 Series, but there’s an elegance to its lines, with fairly conventional proportions given a sense of grace by the rising waistline and hidden B-pillar.

Out of 64 available colours, there isn’t one I like on the car’s optional ambient cabin lighting system. There are lots I really don’t like. Plain white is the least bad

Underneath the bodywork is the Mercedes MRA (Modular Rear Architecture) platform. Mercedes, like most car makers, has set out to reduce the overall number of different architectures it uses, because developing an entire architecture is expensive.

Spawning a new model off of an architecture is slightly less expensive, so the MRA joins a front-drive architecture, a tall vehicle architecture, a sports car one and an electric vehicle one.

Proportionally, the new E-Class Coupé is larger than its predecessor in every major dimension, which is no great surprise given their origins. This, then, is a 4.86m-long car that’s 1.86m wide in the body (2.07m including mirrors) and has a lengthy, 2.87m wheelbase.

The suspension is a multi-link set-up both front and rear. Whereas most E-Class Coupé variants get coil springs as standard and air suspension as an option, this E400 has air suspension across the board. There are three air chambers in each spring strut at the rear of the car, and two at the front, with three levels of spring rate selectable from the driver’s seat. There’s continuously variable damping, too.

As well as selecting the suspension stiffness, the E-Class’s drive modes let you choose how angry you want the engine, transmission and steering response to be.

The V6 will always make its 328bhp and the 354lb ft it generates from just 1600rpm (and holds to 4000rpm), but in more dynamic drive modes, the hardware is more responsive to inputs.

That’s all backed by ventilated and perforated front brake discs (just ventilated at the rear), tasked with bringing this 1845kg coupé to a halt.

INTERIOR

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé interior

Precisely where you sit, the seat you’re sitting in, the details of what you’re looking at and the view you have of the world outside: all these things separate the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé from its immediate siblings.

The seats are more shapely and decoratively trimmed than those of the E-Class saloon. In the coupé, they taper more as the squabs give way to the headrests.

It’s worth setting aside at least half an hour to take in all of the leather and trim combinations before you order. I particularly liked the ‘flowing lines magnolia’ veneer — very ‘antique speedboat’

The seats of our test car were quite comfortable but, in a car so singularly intended for easy long-distance cruising, they could have been more softly and thickly cushioned and a little less deeply bolstered.

Nonetheless, they adjust generously for cushion height, angle and length and squab angle, and they gave none of our testers cause for complaint over prolonged use.

Front seat heating and electrical adjustment come as standard, but if you want seat heaters for the rear chairs or memory seats, you’ll need to dig into the options list. Our test car was fitted with the £3895 Premium Plus Pack (which adds, among other things, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive LED headlights and Burmester surround audio system as well, so it’s not as bad value as it might look).

Although if you crave memory seats most, then the £2795 Premium Pack may be the better option, while the heated rear seats are also available as part of the £795 Warmth Comfort Pack, but you will need to opt for leather and the Premium or Premium Plus pack as well.

The fascia is a sweep of leather, plastic and wood veneer that other E-Class owners would recognise. It is dominated by the twin widescreen digital displays backlit by LED strips and therefore seeming to float in front of the rest of the dashboard.

The options for customisation of the look and feel of the interior are increased by the addition of two new wood fascia trims, and by new leather upholstery combinations also unique to the coupé. But what you’ll certainly notice, regardless of your chosen trim, are the coupé’s eye-catching metallic air vents, which are not only larger than the equivalents on the saloon but also more imaginatively designed.

Few could quibble with the E-Class Coupé’s standard on either material richness or perceived quality, both of which are excellent and give the car a tangible edge over its rivals from Audi and BMW on luxury ambience.

And on usability, there’s another advantage to be enjoyed by E-Class Coupé owners. This being a relatively large car (and considerably larger even than its immediate predecessor), it’s also quite a practical one. Although access to the back seats remains a squeeze, there’s certainly enough room in them for the average adult to travel quite comfortably and with a decent view out of the side window. The boot is also usefully wide and long, although fairly shallow.

Go for either of the E400’s less powerful range mates and you’ll get Mercedes’ Audio 20 infotainment system as standard.

It features an 8.4in central display, Garmin Map Pilot navigation and DAB radio. In either car, you can pay to upgrade to the widescreen Comand Online multimedia set-up for £1495.

However, if you buy the E400 4Matic, you get the bigger system as standard. It means you also get a built-in wi-fi hotspot, live traffic information and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.

Our test car also had Mercedes’ 13-speaker Burmester surround audio system onboard. The system costs £750 on its own or is included as part of the Premium Plus Pack.

The premium hard-drive-based navigation system is excellent, displaying mapping at a helpfully large scale and with good clarity and showing live traffic information particularly clearly. The stereo sounds very impressive as well, with powerful range and a laudable level of detail.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

3.0-litre V6 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé engine

Large grand touring coupés from Mercedes built throughout the 1970s and 1980s were cars so dedicated to opulent ground-covering that few cars before or since have been able to equal them for refinement and comfort.

Car making has become a much more complicated and competitive business since then, of course, and tastes have changed sufficiently that even this E-Class Coupé comes with a downsized turbocharged V6, two driven axles and 19in wheels with low-profile run-flat tyres; all of which would have troubled the makers of Mercedes’ legendary W123 and W124-generation coupés, you suspect.

Nine-speed gearbox has plenty of intermediate ratios for steep climbs

But although it would be nice to be able to exempt cars like this from the influence of modern emissions regulations and the need to produce competitive modern fuel economy, we can’t.

And thankfully, at least as far as the job that Mercedes has done on the E400’s engine is concerned, this car feels modern while still honouring the tradition of big-engined classic Benzes.

The twin-turbo V6 engine  is quiet, smooth, stout and rich. It idles almost noiselessly; produces greater low and mid-range torque than the atmospheric V8 this car might have had 10 years ago; and sounds sweet enough in its harder-working moments that you wouldn’t guess it was turbocharged.

Neither would you really wish for something more mechanically exotic. The power and torque to accelerate this big two-door to 60mph in 5.6sec has to be deemed sufficient in something not primarily intended to go fast – and the readiness to do it with such silken reserve only confirms this engine’s fitness for purpose.

At a cruise, the shifts of the E400’s automatic gearbox are beautifully smooth and judiciously timed, and the fact that there are nine ratios in all makes the top one so long that the engine can spin well below 2000rpm at any sensible UK motorway speed.

Leave the Dynamic Select controller in Comfort mode and you can pick up speed effortlessly through early upshifts, leaning heavily on that turbocharged torque.

Select Sport instead and the gearbox will downshift and let the motor’s revs rise. The gearbox has a decent manual mode, but it doesn’t take long to realise that this is a powertrain configured for relaxed but swift progress – and it’s quite good at it.

RIDE & HANDLING

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé cornering

Mercedes’ particular mechanical specification for the E400 puts the car on low-profile run-flat tyres and air suspension as standard (whereas its less powerful range mates can be had with steel coil springs if you prefer).

This is something of a regrettable combination because run-flats tend to introduce a little bit of harshness into any car’s ride compromise on account of their necessarily stiff sidewalls – and since air suspension is ill-suited to the dampening of that harshness, the chassis’s solution to the typical UK B-road dilemma can seem ungainly.

It takes its time to settle on the turn-in to tighter bends. The handling balance lacks front-end bite

Curiously, it is in Comfort mode where the mis-match tends to irk most. The coupé’s softest setting is well-meaning enough and its syrupy pitch and heave are obviously intended to keep you at an Mercedes-Benz E-Class-sized distance from the road surface. But it only works on motorways and the smoothest of A-roads.

Away from them, rather too obviously and often, the experience of the suppleness is thwarted by obstacles too tall, deep or sharp for the suspension to mitigate before gracelessly registering with the occupants above.

Better instead to drive in Sport mode, where the impression of a fast modern pseudo-performance coupé becomes far more consistent. True enough, the bristling response to B-road abnormalities remains, except now it occurs against the background of a much more closely damped attitude to body control. As well as making the coupé more purposeful, the difference causes a generous resetting of driver attitude, making the secondary infractions forgivable in the light of a sportier bent.

Ultimately, though, it does not elevate the model far above adequacy and nor does it deliver the sophisticated compromise of a properly sorted GT car. At normal road speeds, the E400 corners with decent grip, handling with respectable steering response and directional precision.

Press the car hard, though, and you’ll find it is quite willing to make its front tyres squeal before you’ve put them under much duress and it lacks the on-limit balance of some of its competitors.

But then you don’t expect handling brilliance here: for us, it’s the E400’s lack of ride sophistication that dulls what we’d expect to be the car’s cutting edge.

The E400 isn’t a car that responds well to being driven to extremes. It copes, and it can be driven fairly quickly, but it doesn’t take much provocation to plumb the depths of its reserves.

The car seems particularly keen to overwork its front tyres during hard cornering. Your speed needs to be only moderately high before the front tyres begin their howls of complaint, although the onset of noise comes much earlier than the ultimate exhaustion of grip.

The E400 resists roll quite well, but it takes a while to settle on its outside wheels and can seem a bit reluctant to turn in. It’s better mid-corner, although you need to saturate the front tyres with torque before the four-wheel drive system diverts torque away from them to the rear.

The power of the brakes also seemed slightly limited during our testing. It was a little too easy to trigger the ABS during urgent high-speed stops.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé

The simple five-car line-up of the E-Class Coupé starts with the E220d at £40,180 and goes up to £41,070 for the E300 petrol before this E400 model comes in at £50,820.

It’s offered exclusively in AMG Line trim, which means every model comes with a lengthy list of standard equipment, including cruise control, adaptive dampers and 19in wheels.

Very sturdy values compared with the more expensive 640i; likely to stand up well to the cheaper S5 Coupé, too

It’s excellent value in its class, being BMW several thousands of pounds cheaper than an equivalent 6 Series and Audi A7, while going toe to toe on equipment and space and, similarly, having a three-year warranty. It also matches rivals with respectable residual values and offers decent running costs.

This E400 is more about performance than economy, though: high CO2 emissions of 189g/km mean company car users are better catered for by the frugal E220d, but fuel economy for the 3.0-litre V6 is a claimed 33.6mpg, which is respectable for a car that can cover 0-60mph in 5.6sec and in line with its rivals.

Those wanting even more performance may wish to wait for the AMG-engineered E50 4Matic mild hybrid, which will be unveiled later this year, to join the line-up.

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VERDICT

4 star Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé

The ambience and aesthetic quality of its now prominently named coupé make good Mercedes’ perpetual claim to luxuriousness.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class aside, the manufacturer’s current synthesis of material distinction and progressive elegance suits the leisurely thrust of its two-door model arguably best of all – and without the swollen price tag of some big-name competition.

Priced, sized, equipped and trimmed well, but not perfect

Factor in the typically right-sized interior of a car still overtly concerned with genuine four-seat usability, and the E-Class Coupé ticks many of the boxes that its famous badge suggests.

However, the commendation comes with a sizeable reservation; one measured by the size of the car’s occasionally pronounced collisions with the kind of awkward road surfaces that are so common in the UK.

By being merely acceptable under such examination, the coupé has fallen short of its own nameplate’s standard. That leaves it good enough elsewhere to nudge above some less persuasive options, but beneath the standard required of a genuinely world-class GT.

With all that in mind, we can only place the E-Class Coupé in third place in our top five. It is comfortably ahead of the Lexus RC F and Audi S5, but lagging behind the BMW 640i and Porsche Panamera.

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Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé 2017-2023 First drives