Small improvements, with the added benefit of all-wheel drive
GIMLI, Manitoba - The E-Class Coupe has been in the Mercedes-Benz stable for a few years, with 2012 being a year of minor refreshments. Minor if you only look skin deep.
New for this year is a 3.5L V6 that produces 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, and hidden away where you can't see is the fourth generation of 4MATIC all-wheel drive which has improvements on both the mechanical and software sides of the system.
Mercedes Benz's 4MATIC system does change the driving dynamics of the E 350 when compared with a rear-drive version of the E 350. First, the weight penalty for the system is about 165 lbs (75 kg); second, the system has a 60/40 rear/front bias, so the E 350 Coupe still has rear-wheel-drive traits with the benefits of AWD.
The best way to show off this bias is to go on a low-traction surface such as ice, since the wheels will try to spin at much lower speeds than in other situations such as sandy asphalt, gravel or rain. With the electronic controls of the fourth-generation 4MATIC system, slippage at an individual wheel can be detected and controlled in less than one wheel revolution.
On Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, Manitoba, Mercedes-Benz Canada showed off both the C 350 Coupe and E 350 Coupe with 4MATIC to Canadian journalists. Out on the ice, we learned how quickly the E 350 can go from understeer to oversteer with all the assists turned off and how controllable it is with the systems fully engaged.
Driving the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 Coupe to Gimli from Winnipeg was enlightening as well. The E-Class Coupe felt like driving in a very comfortable bank vault; the doors close with a solid sounding thunk. As you sink into the fully adjustable, form-fitting bucket seats, you feel as if the problems of the world have been left outside. On the move, the steering is firm and precise while throttle tip-in is long off the start, and then shortens up in mid and high range so that overall response is exactly what you need when you want it.
Mercedes-Benz may be known more for luxury than performance, and while the E 350 is an excellent performance coupe, it happens to be a great luxury car as well. The Coupe has the big items such as ride quality, comfort and quietness covered, but luxury is more in the little things.
In the E 350 Coupe, small things include a motorized seat belt extender that prevents you from twisting and straining your arm to reach the belt just like an old-time footman would do. This electronic footman also automatically slides the front seat forward to make rear-seat entry much easier. Return the seatback in the upright position, and it slides back to your original comfortable setting.
Seat position memory in the power-adjustable, heated and cooled front buckets makes sure that your electronic footman can get your seat back to your personalized setting at the touch of a button. Many vehicles do this, but not all take it to the point of adjusting the height of the headrest as well or putting all of the adjustment controls in a convenient panel located on each door.
Quiet and relaxing
Quiet may be the operative word for the E 350 Coupe, but you never feel disconnected from the road. Steering feedback is very good. Mirrors are large and cover all the blind spots when properly set, while aggressive, performance-style driving is as satisfying as loafing along like someone in a luxury car.
It is a good thing cruise control is standard because on the highway, you will need it if you wish to stay anywhere close to the speed limit. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 Coupe 4MATIC is so deceptively comfortable in town and on the highway that speed limits are just a number, not an event!
The E-Class Coupe with 4MATIC all-wheel drive is arriving in dealerships just about now, at a base price of $61,900.