John DiPietro , Automotive Editor
Part of the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe's personality is reflected in its front seatbelt presenter. No, Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White doesn't magically appear to hand you and your copilot your belts. Rather, upon start-up, a clever device automatically pushes the belt toward you on the outboard side so you can easily take it and buckle up. But the E350 doesn't stop at extreme technological pampering. It also possesses the key quality a classic grand touring car must have: the ability to effortlessly cover ground -- be it curving or straight -- at a rapid clip while insulating its occupants from the harsher elements of the outside world.
Adding to this pleasant motoring experience is the E350 coupe's unique-for-the-segment hardtop body style. This design features frameless windows and no B-pillar (the vertical support usually seen between the front and rear side windows). More than simply giving the car's greenhouse a cleaner look, it provides an open feel to the cabin when the windows are up -- a feeling magnified by the E350's standard glass roof. Roll the windows down, of course, and you're treated to a very airy experience thanks to those large, unimpeded openings. Mercedes-Benz is one of the few carmakers to still offer this aesthetically and functionally attractive form of automotive architecture.
Beyond that, the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe (which is comprised of components from both the C- and the E-Class) is everything you'd expect from a car wearing the three-pointed star. Effortless acceleration, confident braking and sure-footed handling are standard fare, as is impressive construction that makes it seem as if the car is carved from a block of solid steel.
In short, the E350 coupe should pack plenty of appeal for the majority of those shopping the luxury sport coupe segment. Its most direct rival is the Audi A5, which likewise tips the needle of the luxury/sport scale toward the former. Ardent driving enthusiasts looking for a sharper connection between themselves and their car would be better served by the BMW 3 Series or the Infiniti G37 coupe, both of which trade off some of the E350's coddling nature for a more visceral drive. The greater majority, however, would likely be as happy as big winners on Wheel should they buy this Benz.
Powered by a 3.5-liter 268-horsepower V6 running through a seven-speed automatic, the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe can scamper to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and sails through the quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds. The V6 dishes out the thrust in an effortless fashion, and power delivery is very smooth, with the gearchanges going virtually unnoticed. Mercedes also offers a V8 version of this car (the E550 Coupe). Still, unless you're looking to challenge kids at the lights in their Camaro SSs and Mustang GTs, we can't imagine this refined six not being enough.
In Sport mode, the transmission holds lower gears longer, keeping the power on tap, and downshifts quickly for swift passing. The gearbox defaults to the less aggressive (and more fuel-efficient) Comfort mode upon start-up, in which it upshifts earlier and requires a firm foot to the throttle to enact a downshift. The manual shift function downshifts nearly as quickly as you can flick the lever (or paddle) but upshifts are not nearly as on point -- there's a noticeable delay between when you flick your finger and when the gearchange happens.
In terms of fuel-efficiency, the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 averaged 20.5 mpg during our time with the car, against the EPA's combined average of 20. This is a pretty strong showing considering the fact that our staff doesn't exactly drive with mileage in mind. For comparison, the E550 we tested averaged 16.2 mpg. Braking performance was solid as well, with the E350 coming to rest from 60 mph in 122 feet. Pedal feel is firm yet progressive, inspiring confidence.
Take the E350 through your favorite serpentine section of blacktop and you'll discover this nearly 2-ton coupe has the handling grace of a smaller, lighter car. Overall, the E feels poised when changing direction, and it's easy to find yourself going at a spirited pace. Our one complaint -- voiced mainly by the more serious driving enthusiasts on staff -- is that the steering effort is too light. We appreciated this when performing parking maneuvers, but wished it would weight up more as speed increased. Push it harder through the tighter turns and the non-defeatable stability control will come into play before you may think it's needed. But unless you're an expert driver who plans on autocrossing this luxury coupe, this will be a nonissue.
Even with the misnamed Appearance package (seems like more like a Sport package to us), our 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 delivered a supple ride over broken pavement. Bumps are absorbed in stride, with no excess body motions. The cabin is impressively quiet when sealed up -- there's no penalty paid here for the frameless windows. And even with the windows down, there's no uncomfortable wind buffeting.
The optional, multi-adjustable front seats (with power side bolsters and thigh support) accommodated staffers with body types ranging from 5-foot-5 with a medium frame to 6-foot-3 with a large frame. Out back, it's another story -- for those over 5-foot-7, anyway. Although the individual rear seats are well-shaped and supportive, the sweeping roof line robs headroom.
The E350's most commonly used controls are fairly easy to work. The climate control is intuitive, with large buttons and a clear display. And unlike some other German cars (you listening, BMW?) one simply hits an "off" button to shut it down, as opposed to having to toggle down the fan speed. You can operate the audio system through either the COMAND multifunction control knob/display screen or dedicated hard buttons, and you can figure out the navigation system without having to crack the owner's manual. Road trippers should like Benz's cruise control setup, which doesn't require a separate on/off switch (you simply flick the stalk to set it) and allows 5 mph increases/decreases via pushing the stalk through a detent.
As we noted in our test of the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe, there is a generous amount of stowage space here, both inside the cabin (large center console bin and glovebox) and within the trunk. The latter easily accommodated our large rolling suitcase and a golf bag without our having to angle said bag. Should you need more space, the 60/40-split folding rear seat is at the ready. There's ample space to install a rear-facing child seat in back, but doing so will require some contorting on the part of the installer.
Design/Fit and Finish
With its aggressively flared fenders and more angular headlights and front end, the E350 coupe's sheet metal reflects Mercedes' new styling direction. The car's makeover elicited strong feelings on both ends of the spectrum. Some editors liked the new clothes, feeling that the midrange coupe now looks more substantial. Others thought it incongruous, with too much going on stylistically, especially in the rear quarter panels.
The cabin wasn't nearly as controversial, and was uniformly praised for its clean styling, tasteful wood accents and top-notch build quality.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe would be a fine choice for those who want a refined luxury car and who enjoy performance but are not necessarily hard-core driving enthusiasts. In other words, it's a great fit for most folks shopping the luxury sport coupe segment.
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