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.
The glass roof opens in front, and provides a panoramic view for passengers.
As its model designation suggests, the E550 Coupe uses the 5.5-liter V-8 engine launched with the S550 in 2005. This big engine uses variable intake and exhaust timing to enhance its efficiency, making 382 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 391 pound-feet of torque from 2,800 to 4,800rpm. Mercedes-Benz claims 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds. With this big engine, fuel economy is only 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway in EPA testing. Our average came in at 18.6 mpg for mixed freeway and city driving. The Coupe is also available with a 3.5-liter V-6, as the E350.
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.
In manual mode, the automatic transmission shifts neatly between all seven gears.
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.
On our favorite mountain roads, the E550 Coupe proved a good sport, the traction control light flickering while it tackled tough corners.
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.
All of that performance tech is complemented by a considerable amount of cabin tech. This car came with one option, the Premium Package, which added the same hard-drive-based navigation system we previously saw in the , as well as other features. Quick and responsive, the navigation system refreshed its maps quickly, and accurately showed the car's position. It also showed quick responses when we entered destinations, loading a list of points of interest immediately as we searched by inputting a hotel or restaurant name. Likewise, entering in a standard address was satisfying, not forcing us to wait as it loaded city and street names.
The navigation system automatically finds routes around bad traffic, such as shown here.
This navigation system offers many advanced features, too. We were impressed to see Zagat ratings for restaurants, something previously only available in Honda/Acura models. But more impressive was the traffic integration, with traffic flow and incident information displayed on the map. We set the navigation system to use a dynamic route, and it automatically avoided traffic jams, taking us on quicker detours. The only things missing from this navigation system are weather and fuel prices, which are starting to become available from other manufacturers, and text-to-speech, where it reads out the names of streets.
A Bluetooth phone system comes with the E550 Coupe, and it's actually an upgrade over other Mercedes-Benz models. We paired an iPhone to it, then found the option to download our contact list to the car. On the car's LCD, the phone book uses a very attractive note card design for address entries. With the voice command system, we were able to say the name of anyone in our contact list and have the car call the associated number, an excellent feature we've seen previously on models from Ford, Lexus, and Kia.
The new Bluetooth phone system allows dialing by name with voice command.
Another part of the Premium Package is the upgraded Harmon Kardon audio system, which uses a 610-watt amplifier and 14 speakers around the cabin. Just looking at the speaker arrangement, we were impressed, as there are tweeters on the rear door sills, an area that usually gets left out. There are also the usual A pillar tweeters, door woofers, rear subwoofer, and front center channel, along with a variety of surround speakers. Although we've found Harmon Kardon systems generally very good in other cars, it really takes a big step up in the E550 Coupe. The quality is truly excellent, the Logic 7 system creating a surround effect while instituting clear separation. We could hear individual instruments placed precisely around the cabin, and dig into the many layers of heavily produced electronic recordings. Highs were clear without being shrill, and bass was heavy without being overwhelming.
There are quite a few audio sources feeding this system, beginning with HD and satellite radio. An in-dash six-disc changer can read MP3 CDs, and, better yet, can rip commercial CDs to the navigation system hard drive, which has 6GB reserved for what Mercedes-Benz calls the Music Register. Using a Gracenote database, it properly tags all the tracks, making for an in-car music library. Our only complaint about the Music Register is that it can only be browsed by folder, whereas the iPod integration offers lists of artists, albums, genres, and songs. We also have a minor quibble with the iPod integration; the cable is located in the glove compartment, not as accessible as a console-mounted iPod port. Unfortunately, there is no USB port, but, in a Mercedes-Benz quirk, there is a PC Card slot, suitable for an SD card adapter.
Ripping a CD to the car's hard drive, it labels tracks using its Gracenote database.
As mentioned above, voice command works very well with the phone system. We also found it very useful with the navigation system, providing a practical way to input addresses. It only offers basic functionality for the stereo, not letting you request artists or albums by name, which you can do with Ford's Sync system. For manual control, Mercedes-Benz includes its COMAND controller, a knob on the console that works with a generally usable interface on the car's LCD.
There are a few other tech features on the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe. Attention Assist is a standard feature that monitors drivers, and suggests stopping for a rest if it senses fatigue. It watches steering wheel input and takes into account how long the current trip has lasted and the time of day to make its driver fatigue determination.
Optional features not present on our car are adaptive cruise control, which uses radar to match the E550 Coupe's speed with slower traffic ahead, and a pre-safe braking system that also relies on the radar to protect car occupants when it senses an imminent crash. There's a new parking assistance feature that uses sonar-object detection to tell the driver if a parallel parking space is big enough for the car, and shows steering instructions on the instrument cluster to help drivers safely back into a spot.
Good looks and excellent tech make for a winning combination in the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe. The exterior design is striking, earning the car good marks. The interface design for the cabin tech is good, although not the best we've seen. For performance tech, we were impressed by the sport setting and the capabilities of the automatic transmission. The engine, while powerful and well-tuned, seems a little last century, making good use of valve timing but not really advancing the art in other ways. The cabin tech package leaves little to be desired, beyond maybe some other external data sources for the navigation system besides traffic.
|Model||2010 Mercedes-Benz E-class|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||Six disc with MP3 compatibility|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||HD radio, satellite radio, PC Card|
|Audio system||Optional Harmon Kardon 610 watt 14 speaker|
|Driver aids||Driver fatigue alert, parking assistance, adaptive cruise control|
|Price as tested||$60,125|