Beast Benz coupe seeking rival

·5-min read

In the animal kingdom they're called 'apex predators'.

The privileged few that can strut around the jungle without a care in the world, safe in the knowledge that they have no natural rivals.

They exist in the motoring world, too - cars that have so dominated a segment, or that are so darned good, that the opposition simply doesn't bother competing.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe is such a car.

Sure, BMW has competitors that sit above (8 Series), and below (4 Series) the Mercedes, but the 6 Series, once the E-class coupe's main rival, has evolved into the X6 SUV.

Similarly, Audi has a slightly smaller option, the A5 coupe/cabriolet, while Jag and Lexus don't play in the two-door segment.

Which leaves the Benz as the apex predator.

Ironic, I suppose, because the E-class sedan, upon which the coupe and cabriolet variants are based, plays in perhaps the most highly-competitive new car market. That of the executive sedan.

There, the E-Class goes head-to-head with a who's who of automotive excellence - BMW's 5 Series, Audi's A6, Jaguar's XF and the Lexus GS.

Yet when it comes to a two-door version, the Benz stands alone.

The E-Class is the best-selling vehicle ever to wear the famous three-pointed star (more than 15 million cars sold and more than 400,000 of them last year).

The E-Class has built a loyal following. Buyers for whom a new car generally means another new E-Class, with the biggest choice being colour, and perhaps whether to indulge in the slinky coupe or the ultimate accessory, an E-Class with a folding cloth roof.

But that kind of loyalty brings with it an expectation that each new model - and the updates of ensuing years - will be 'the best or nothing', as Benz likes to say.

Clearly, that's a challenge the folk from Stuttgart don't take for granted.

The updated model brings a long list of technical enhancements, not to mention a restyling which has kept this vehicle at the cutting edge of design.

It's beautiful, inside and out.

Interestingly the latest model offers less choice than perhaps any E-Class on record, with the customary three body-shapes accompanied by a choice of four engine packages, two of those of the AMG high-performance variety.

Diesel models have not made it to Australia, leaving just two four-cylinder petrol variants (the E200 Coupe from $101,900 and the model tested, the E300 Coupe from $117,400) before stepping up to the potent and pricey AMG E53 and E63. The E300 will be a clear volume-seller.

A four-cylinder engine might sound a bit meagre for long-time E-Class owners, for whom six or eight cylinders have been the norm, but with 190kW and 370Nm it's no sheep in wolf's clothing.

A buttery nine-speed automatic transmission ensures the correct ratio for accelerating and overtaking. In turn that helps produce a fairly frugal 8L/100km thirst to go with its 6.4-seconds sprint to the speed limit.

The big coupe will primarily be driven by well-heeled empty nesters, mostly between the local restaurant strip and the golf club.

It certainly looks the part with ethereal, sweeping lines culminating in a shapely rear-end that's the equal of anything in this class.

The overall length of the E-Class means the two doors are fairly long and heavy, but that's the only barrier to accessing two plush buckets in the rear of this big two-plus-two.

A press of the button and the front seats fold down and forward to provide easy ingress; an electric 'hand' delivers the seatbelt to those up front before retracting into the B-pillar.

The Benz cockpit offers class in appearance, finish and appointments. There's the marque's flashy MBUX infotainment and multimedia interface and creature comforts such as privacy glass, a 64-colour ambient lighting system, heated electrically-adjustable leather seats, dual-zone climate control and adaptive air suspension. The 'vision package' in the test vehicle included a Burmester audio system, sunroof and head-up display.

The E-Class gets an all-new, five-spoke steering wheel with a bamboozling array of functions, initiated with the slightest brush of a finger.

It also answers to voice commands via a simple "hey Mercedes".

It's not without flaws - a little surprising for what is possibly the best-evolved car on the planet.

Because of its big-car dimensions and all-wheel-drive grip, the turning circle isn't great. That amplifies the fact it's an already difficult car to reverse-park - partly because that gorgeous raking C-pillar blocks the view, and partly out of fear of scraping the AMG 20-inch alloys. The all-round camera solved the first problem, at least.

Only other gripe was the level of cabin noise on inferior roads, which is not strictly Benz-like.

Beyond that, it's surprisingly practical with 425L of boot space (with an electric release) plus all manner of clever little nooks in the centre console for mobile phones, sunglasses and garage openers.

The flexibility of its drive modes, adjusting throttle response, transmission settings and that pillowy, air-suspension ride effectively adjusts this into several cars, not just one.

MERCEDES-BENZ E300 4MATIC COUPE

* HOW BIG? Surprisingly large, measuring 4942mm long and with a 1780 kerb weight, which means passengers are well accommodated in front and back. The boot is a reasonable 425L.

* HOW FAST? Sufficiently. Its four-cylinder engine gets to the speed limit in a smart 6.4 seconds.

* HOW THIRSTY? With its long-legged nine-speed automatic, the E300 sips a modest 8L/100km.

* HOW MUCH? Prices range from $101,900 for the E200 up to $250,400 for the E63 AMG. The E300 tested costs $117,400 plus on road charges.

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