We spent a morning riding in a pre-production prototype of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé with Peter Kolb, the man who has overseen the extensive test and development operations for the latest German two-door, which is set to make its world debut at the Detroit motor show in early January.
Within a couple of miles of setting off along a closed road to our destination at an altitude of 2500 metres, it was obvious Mercedes-Benz has delivered a much more compelling and rounded car than its predecessor, which has been on sale in the UK since 2010.
The prototype we’re riding in is the E400 Coupé. It runs the more moderately powered version of Mercedes’ M276 petrol engine, a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 kicking out 328bhp at 5250rpm and 354lb ft of torque between 1200 and 4000rpm.
Straight away, it is clear the initial range-topper doesn’t lack for straight-line performance, nor mechanical refinement in the most soothing of its four driving modes. Mated to Mercedes’ smooth-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission and with the optional 4Matic four-wheel drive system providing a nominal 55% of drive to the rear wheels, the 60deg unit propels the E400 Coupé along in a wonderfully effortless manner and is whisper-quiet at anything but manic revs.
It is only when we approach a series of corners and Kolb switches from Comfort into Sport mode that Mercedes’ efforts in imbuing the longitudinally mounted V6 engine with a hint of sportiness is exposed as a raspy crackle is unleashed through the exhaust on the overrun.
With a month to go before the new car makes its public premiere, Mercedes is holding back on official performance claims right now. However, Kolb says the E400 Coupé should be good for a 0-62mph time of about 5.0sec and a top speed limited to 155mph. That places it on the same performance plane as the old E500 Coupé, whose twin-turbocharged 4.7-litre V8 kicks out a considerably stronger 402bhp and 442lb ft of torque.
Kolb also reveals that the entry-level E200 Coupé will feature a six-speed manual gearbox, while all other models will be fitted with the nine-speed auto.
Improved handling and ride
Kolb says that along with a clear focus on performance and economy, the prime objective during the three-year development of the new E-Class Coupé was enhancing its handling and refining its ride in a bid to make it more attractive to a wider group of customers. “It started during the initial digital prototyping stage and has played a central role right the way throughout its development,” he says.
In a move he says has contributed to a heightening of its handling and provided the basis for increased comfort, the new model also receives a much stiffer body structure than its predecessor. No details are yet available, although the forthright test and development expert divulged that torsional rigidity, in particular, is better than that of the latest E-Class saloon despite the decision to continue with the pillarless design that has become a signature element of the car over the years.
As we continue our run along a valley road, Kolb also reveals a lot of work has been focused on broadening the characteristics of the standard Dynamic Select system, which provides the driver with the choice of four different drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. “The tuning is unique,” he says. “We have widened the range of settings so there’s now a greater spread in the steering, throttle and gearbox mapping in each of the modes.”
“Sheer agility and poise”
What immediately strikes me as we begin winding our way up the side of the mountain on more challenging roads dusted with snow and ice is the sheer agility and poise of the car.
Pushed along at speeds few potential customers are likely to ever experience, it corners with great enthusiasm and very little body roll. Fitted with 18in wheels shod with 245/45 Michelin Pilot Alpin tyres, it also delivers impressive grip and, in combination with four-wheel drive, terrific traction out of low-speed corners.
It is the quality of the ride that impresses the most, though. Despite sitting a nominal 15mm lower than the saloon, the coupé manages to soak up the worst of what the Austrian roads have to throw at it with great authority.
The prototype Kolb has brought along runs one of three suspension options that will be offered on the production version: a comfort-orientated set-up with Mercedes' latest Air Body Control system, which provides outstanding compliance. Also available will be a standard steel set-up with fixed-rate dampers and a so-called sports system with steel springs mated to adaptive dampers.
Also of note are the outstanding acoustic qualities. With a drag coefficient of 0.25, there is very little wind noise, even at high speeds. The real achievement, however, is the excellent isolation of road noise.
But if you’re after a more definitive verdict, you’ll have to wait until we get to drive the new E-Class Coupé for ourselves early next year. There is little doubt the new model is a vastly better and more rounded car than its predecessor. From the passenger seat, it displays all the endearing qualities potential buyers will surely be seeking; engaging performance, entertaining handling, superb ride quality and outstanding refinement.