Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Great Drives: 2010 Mercedes Benz E550 Coupe

Mercedes Benz E550
Here's a dirty little secret that isn't staying in Las Vegas: although it's similar in looks and pricing to the new E-class sedan, the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-class coupe isn't a two-door version of the E-class. Like the CLK it replaces, the coupe is a C-class in size - think of it as a C-class coupe with E-class engines, safety equipment, and interior materials.

Whereas Mercedes-Benz's primary competitors use slightly higher model numbers for their coupes (the Audi A5 coupe is based on the A4 sedan and the BMW 6-series coupe is based on the 5-series sedan), Mercedes has decided to reduce the number of model lines by dropping the CLK moniker and calling the new coupe an E. This may be somewhat of a stretch, but the simplified naming scheme helps Mercedes buyers keep track of which model is which.

Like the E-class sedan, the coupe comes with a seven-speed automatic transmission mated to either a capable 268-hp V-6 (E350) or a muscular V-8 (E550), which can happily produce 382 hp and two black strips of rubber on the asphalt. The E550 looks butch, too, with a standard AMG body kit that includes a more menacing front end, side skirts, and a black diffuser with dual trapezoidal exhausts.

Several aspects of the E-class coupe's styling are awkward, including rear fender flares inspired by the 1950s pontoon-bodied Benzes but which seem out of sync with the rest of the sculpted, modern design. The cabin, however, is elegant and modern, with outstanding ergonomics and four aggressively bolstered buckets. The rear seats offer lots of legroom and fold-down access to the sizable trunk.

The two-door E-class glides down the road in a hushed, relaxed manner that belies its size. The E550's computer-controlled dampers are more supple than the E350's conventional shocks, although both models suffer from numb steering and rear ends that always feel half a beat behind in corners. But there aren't many corners in the desert - and the Vegas Strip is as straight as an arrow. Let's face it, most people will purchase the E-class coupe for its appearance, not its canyon-carving ability or its chassis components. And when in Vegas, it's all about appearance. This is one place where nobody cares if your name is a bit of a fib.

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