2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe: Beauty meets brawn with a splash of smarts

2017 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe 4matic
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe formula seems like a simple one: Start with the new 2017 E300 sedan that everyone seems to really like. Remove two doors. Bump the model year up to 2018. Profit. Only, it's not at all that simple really, because the new 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe is actually quite different from the sedan. It shares the same modular platform underpinnings and basic design language, but the proportions are different, the silhouette more sleek.

Then there's the business of the model number. The sedan arrived in America wearing an E300 badge and powered by Benz's new 2.0-liter turbo four-banger, but the E-Coupe sets a higher baseline. The sportier profile demands a sportier engine and the Coupe will, at launch, only be available in E400 trim with the automaker's 3.0-liter biturbo V-6 engine.

That powerplant is basically a detuned version of the AMG E43's 396 horsepower engine. Here, it sends a still-competent 329 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque through Mercedes' 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic gearbox and onward to the rear wheels or, as was the case with our example, split between all four wheels via the 4Matic all-wheel drive system.

Power is delivered confidently and smoothly, if not also a bit uninspired. It's not a spectacular setup, but the E400 has plenty of power for accelerating and the nine-speed manages to stay out of its own way with well-chosen shifts. I found that I enjoyed the Coupe's effortless and laid-back nature.

The Coupe is available with three different suspension setups: There's the fully fixed standard suspension, adaptive dampers for the Dynamic Body Control system and three-chamber air sprung Air Body Control system. A toggle on the center console allows the driver to choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus driving modes, affecting the steering and throttle mapping as well as the suspension settings.

Of the driving modes, I found the Comfort setting to be the most pleasing in most situations, which is odd because I tend to like my sports cars with a bit of a harsh edge. However, with the Benz E400 Coupe, the more compliant suspension settings and smoother shifts felt like a better match for the heavy sedan's more relaxed driving style. Even the gearbox managed to still feel sporty enough in the Comfort mode for a nice twisty bit of Spanish mountain road.

In particular, I avoided the Sport Plus setting. Its throttle mapping is too twitchy for the street and its too-aggressive shift program had the gearbox ripping off downshifts at odd times. The Coupe does have paddle shifters, but I couldn't figure out how to lock the gearbox into a manual mode to avoid those awkward blips. I did, however, enjoy the pops and burbles of the Sport Plus mode's louder exhaust note. This powertrain sounds simply fantastic.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe 4matic

Mercedes-Benz points out that the E400 boasts more second-row leg and headroom than the BMW 6 Series.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Within, the E400 Coupe's cabin is remarkably well appointed with chromed metallic trim and contrasting black leather on the dash and white leather seats. The multi-tiered dashboard features an array of striking circular vents that look great, but don't do a great job of directing air about the cabin, leaving me with mixed feelings about their form and function. I also had mixed feelings about the glossy carbon fiber material that formed the upper dashboard and the glossy piano black center console. I'm just not a fan of large swaths of piano black in car cabins -- it's either covered in fingerprints or showing swirl marks from constantly buffing away fingerprints. Fortunately, a range of interior materials is available including a gorgeous matte wood trim.

Externally, the E-Coupe's silhouette and details reminds me of a smaller CLS or S-Class coupe with its flowing roofline and pillarless side windows. The bold front end is exaggerated by the tapered and simple rear, giving the coupe something like a teardrop shape from the front quarter. The E400 looks good from nearly every angle, save for the rear. The Coupe has a large moonroof, so most of the roof is made of black glass. However, there's a body-colored panel between the large moonroof and the backlight that just seems awkwardly placed and takes away from the low-slung coupe aesthetic when approaching from the rear. If I were buying an E400 Coupe tomorrow, the very first thing I'd do is paint or wrap that roof all black.

Mercedes' Comand infotainment is back for this generation and better than ever with a truly impressive feature list. There are two 12-inch displays on the dashboard and a full color head-up display, with more electronic horsepower pushing the pixels on those displays. Maps are rendered crisply, menus transition smoothly and the system didn't stutter once as I bounced around it. Like the cabin and the body surrounding it, the new Comand system is gorgeous and impressive to look at.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe 4matic

Mercedes' COMAND infotainment is impressive, but its structure and interface is confusing.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Unfortunately, Comand is more confusing to operate than ever. I've never been a fan of Mercedes' odd combination of a control knob and touchpad. Now the automaker has added a pair of thumb touchpads to the steering wheel. Individually, each of these control schemes is brilliant, but together they are just too much. The simple acts of skipping forward a track while listening to audio or changing the radio station took at least two taps or clicks no matter how I sliced it.

The menu structure is equally confusing with multiple menus and submenus hiding many of the functions away from the driver. This generation of Comand features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, for example, but I could not easily find any mention of either in the menu system and never once got the technologies to work. It's not that the Comand system doesn't have desirable features, but its interface makes everything too hard to use and the learning curve too steep.

While the infotainment left me thoroughly confused and disappointed, the driver aid technology is more exciting. The Benz comes with the same suite of semi-autonomous tech that debuted with the sedan. There's lane-keeping assistance steering, automatic emergency braking, full-speed adaptive cruise control that can automatically adapt to posted speed limits, LED headlamps with automatic highbeams and more.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe 4matic

The E-Coupe is a handsome ride with confident performance, but that Comand dashboard is going to take a lot of getting used to.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

One of the most interesting safety features is Mercedes' crazy Magic Vision Control wipers which integrate the washer spray nozzles and heating elements into the wiper blades, which is just cool but also means that drivers can clean their windshields more quickly. It's a small touch that could make a big deal at highway speeds or on icy mornings.

The E-Class also begins to lay the groundwork for Car-to-X communication with smart infrastructure and roads. Though, until we start to see more smart infrastructure, it's unclear how North American drivers will benefit from this tech.

Editor's note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgements and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid content.

 

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