Despite rough economic times and a focus on carbon footprints, the automotive industry has shown great vitality in the latter half of this decade, looking beyond the boring model updates of the past to deliver truly exciting new cars. That trend is clearly in evidence at Mercedes-Benz, which showed renewed passion in its designs for the CLS-class, the S-class, and the C-class. The company's energy continues for the 2010 model year with the all new E-class, the midsize sedan of the family.
As a strong demonstration of that passionate design, Mercedes-Benz didn't just launch a sedan when it unveiled the new E-class, but simultaneously came out with a new coupe, in many ways a substantially different car than the sedan. We got the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe and subjected it to our myriad tech tests, finding an impressive new generation of comfort and convenience, along with a couple of Mercedes-Benz quirks.
Where the E-class sedan incorporates stately lines and a tall cab, the E550 Coupe has a distinctly sporty look, its contour lines dynamically pointing forward. The coupe sports a new face, a nicely balanced arrangement of grille, headlight casings, and fog lights, every element seeming to point toward the big tri-star logo. The roof is designed without a B pillar, making for long strips of glass on the sides. The A pillars come up into dual ribbons curving sharply back toward the trunk, supporting a big sheet of glass for the roof.
Gentleman's sports car
As in other Mercedes-Benz models we've driven with this V-8 engine, the E550 Coupe was ready and willing to go, leaping forward when we gave it even just three-quarters throttle. That power is fed through a seven-speed automatic transmission, something Mercedes-Benz has done a good job of refining. In its manual mode, shiftable with the stick or paddles on the steering wheel spokes, gear changes feel surprisingly precise. Much of the slushiness from the torque converter has been eliminated by incorporating an electronically controlled clutch.
The E550 Coupe defaults into comfort mode, but its reflexes can be considerably sharpened by pressing the sport button on the center stack. In comfort mode, we found a car that cruised the roads easily. Soaking up the road imperfections, the suspension is also fairly firm, a good compromise between luxury and sport. Stomping on the gas, it takes a few moments to downshift. Giving it just a little throttle, it almost feels sluggish.
Sport mode gives it a different character. The throttle becomes a well-tuned engine speed controller, letting the driver modulate performance precisely. The transmission gets aggressive, downshifting when the brakes are tapped and holding lower gears to keep the engine speed high, perfect for powering out of a turn. The suspension also tightens up, although it never gets jarringly rigid. In sport mode, the car becomes tossable, an impressive feat for this long and heavy coupe.
Even with this performance technology, the E550 Coupe never becomes hard-core, maintaining the character of a gentleman's sports car. On suitably winding roads to test the car's performance, it proved a lot of fun, with the handling and power working well together, but it does lean a little bit and seems a little too luxurious for the really tough roads. As we slewed through corner after corner, we found great amusement in watching the traction control continually light up.