Luxury rear-drive coupé aims to appeal to keener drivers with a 329bhp twin-turbo petrol V6 and a host of AMG upgrades

What is it?

The E 400 AMG Sport Plus is the flagship version of Mercedes-Benz's revamped Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupé range.

It's designed to appeal to keener drivers, a fact emphasised by it being offered with a solitary choice of engine – a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 that produces 329bhp and 325lb ft.

Mercedes has not simply dropped a hotter engine in its staid coupé and left it at that, however. The high-performance powerplant is complemented by the addition of a 'Dynamic Handling Package', which adds electronically adjustable dampers and the option of more responsive throttle and transmission calibration.

As the car is based on the Sport model it also features upgraded front brakes, AMG body styling, a twin-exit exhaust system and leather heated seats.

Opting for the AMG Sport Plus further extends that specification with a range of other upgrades including 19-inch alloys, a rear spoiler, sports seats and an AMG steering wheel with red stitching.

Standard kit is comprehensive, as you'd hope given the Mercedes' £46,265 list price, and includes sat-nav, DAB radio, cruise control, automatic wipers and lights, front and rear parking sensors, auto-dimming mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity and a Harman Kardon 14-speaker sound system.

What's it like?

Fast – there's no doubting that. Mercedes claims that the E-class will sprint from 0-62mph in just 5.2sec and reach a limited top speed of 155mph.

What's interesting though is that the nature of the 329bhp 3.0-litre V6 doesn't necessarily correlate with what you might expect. Instead of offering a vast surge of torque from low speed – which is what the figures suggest, stating 325lb ft from 1400-4000rpm – it instead prefers to rev, and rev hard.

Above 4000rpm the V6 really gets into its stride, pushing on eagerly to around the 6400rpm mark. It sounds good too, emitting a refined but purposeful growl when the throttle's pinned, but its delivery feels at odds with the E-class's substantial nature.

Mercedes' seven-speed automatic gearbox does a serviceable job around town but when pressing on, or when prompted via the wheel-mounted paddles for a quick change, it can pause for an uncomfortable duration while it decides what it wants to do next.

This, coupled with the engine's seeming lack of outright low-down torque, means rapid acceleration often requires a committed and lengthy application of throttle. Consequently overtakes may require a little more consideration than they would in something with a V8 or a dual-clutch transmission.

Enthusiasts may further be frustrated to find the Mercedes' stability systems to be overly intrusive. Accelerate sharply out of a junction, or happen to put one driven wheel onto a slick surface while accelerating, and – besides an annoying audible warning – the E 400's power is cut aggressively, resulting in an unpleasant jolt through the car.

While it's understandable that the manufacturer would prefer people kept on the straight and narrow, instead of pirouetting across the road, others manage to stabilise their cars without such pronounced and aggressive intrusion.

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Hard acceleration also sees the Benz's economy tumble; our test car returned an indicated 20mpg during the road test and photoshoot, although it's likely that a figure nearer 30mpg should be attainable by most in everyday driving. A standard stop-start system, which operates promptly and without fuss, should help improve the Mercedes' fuel consumption for those who commute in heavy traffic regularly.

Through corners the E 400 proves suitably capable, with masses of front-end grip and good body control. There's plenty of traction on offer too and the substantial brakes bleed off speed with ease; the net result is a car in which it's easy to carry significant speed across country.

Only the steering lets the Mercedes down on the handling front. While accurate, allowing you to place the car on the road with ease, it frequently feels leaden and lacking in consistent weighting. At higher speeds, and with everything in 'Sport' mode, the AMG Sport Plus does feel considerably more composed and rewarding to drive, but suitable roads – and speed limits – are few and far between.

As you might expect, the Mercedes' more aggressive nature has predictably compromised its ride quality and refinement. Even with the dampers in 'Comfort' mode bumps and cracks in the road are transmitted into the cabin with a dull thud, and the Mercedes patters over broken surfaces. There's a notable amount of road noise on some surfaces too, although wind noise is pleasingly low.

While the exterior looks notably more modern than the previous generation, the interior still closely resembles that of the pre-facelift 2009 version and is distinctly lagging behind the likes of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. There's plenty of kit on offer but some of the finishing, for example the leather-trimmed dashboard that does little to conceal the integrated airbag, leaves much to be desired for such a costly car.

There are some notable ergonomic flaws too; front occupants get plenty of head- and legroom but the driver will find that the E-class's oversized seat bolsters jam against their elbows when applying any notable amount of lock – an obtrusive and annoying flaw. Furthermore, it makes finding a comfortable driving position difficult. Bumps can occasionally result in the odd bit of plastic rattling around too, although that particular fault may be unique to our test car.

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Despite the car's long wheelbase rear passenger room isn't particularly good, which may disappoint those looking for a practical coupé. Legroom is barely adequate, with taller occupants' knees regularly being pressed up against the hard plastic backs of the front seats.

Anyone near or in excess of six feet tall will also have to adjust a slouched and uncomfortable seating position in order to avoid clashing with the roof; consequently adults will only want to endure short trips in the rear of the Mercedes.

It's not all bad news on the interior front, however. Visibility is good and the E400 is easy to manoeuvre, while the long doors aren't excessively heavy and access to the rear seats is both quick and effortless.

The Mercedes' boot is of a suitably adequate size too and will easily accommodate large cases. Mercedes quotes 450 litres of storage space, which is five litres larger than BMW's dimensionally similar 4-series coupé.

Mercedes also equips the E 400 as standard with a spacesaver spare wheel, negating any concerns about suffering a puncture and then having to deal with the oft-useless tyre repair kits.

Should I buy one?

Probably not, as the Mercedes offers up somewhat of a confused proposition. It's a luxury coupé that doesn't ride particularly well, it's not as refined as it needs to be and – despite the sporting claims – it's not particularly engaging to drive. Nor does the high-revving nature of the V6 really suit the big E-class.

If you're looking for an upmarket petrol-powered coupé that's rewarding to drive then you would be better served by the recently launched BMW 4-series.

The BMW may not have the outright presence of the Mercedes but to many it's the sharper-looking car, it's better to drive, more comfortable and just as spacious. It also feels more modern, and is several thousand pounds cheaper.

If an Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupé is a serious candidate on your future car choices list though, perhaps it would be wiser to opt for a E 350 BlueTEC diesel. Without the sport trimmings and overly eager petrol V6, which aren't entirely suited to the car, it'll set you back £42,440 – saving you £3825.

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Besides the diesel has a more flexible nature, being more appropriate in the somewhat stately Mercedes-Benz E-Class; plus its claimed 50.4mpg could stand to save you a considerable amount on the running costs front.

It'll also serve to extend the car's range from a claimed average of 547 miles to a more long-legged 731 miles – although admittedly it won't be as refined as the spark-ignition alternative.

Regardless, unless you have a particular desire to have a large coupé bearing a three-pointed star on your driveway, we suggest you look elsewhere.

Mercedes-Benz E-class E 400 AMG Sport Plus Coupé

Price £46,265; 0-62mph 5.2sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 37.7mpg; CO2 176g/km; Kerb weight 1725kg; Engine Six cyls, 2996cc, twin-turbocharged petrol; Power 329bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 325lb ft at 1400-4000rpm; Gearbox seven-speed automatic

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Driving 25 April 2014


is that bono testing the car?