Rush-hour traffic, roadworks and bad weather all conspire to jangle the nerves of motorists, none more so than those behind the wheel of sporty machines.
2010 Mercedes E350 Coupe
Rush-hour traffic, roadworks and bad weather all conspire to jangle the nerves of motorists, none more so than those behind the wheel of sporty machines. Mercedes-Benz's striking new E-Class Coupe is one such sporty machine, sharp of line and aggressive in nature. Surprisingly, as I quickly discovered upon taking possession of the E350 variant, it also has a very calming effect on those frayed nerves.
And it was not a fleeting panacea, diminishing as I grew more familiar with the car. The positive vibes stayed strong during my time with it - an extremely rare occurrence. There's nothing inherently magical about the E350. It is composed of metal, plastic, glass and rubber, the same as every other car on the planet. But the sum of its parts somehow adds up to a greater whole. The coupe makes a statement, its overall design commands attention whether viewed head-on or in profile. There's a hint of street brawler in its sharp-edged creases, notably the sweeping lines that flow from the front bumper over the radiator grille to the hood. The optional AMG Sport Package ratchets up the look with 18-inch, low-profile tyres surrounding chic twin-spoke alloy rims, plus a styling package consisting of a front apron, side skirts and rear apron. Interior elements include sumptuous multi-contour front seats (more on them later), a sport steering wheel and appearance upgrades.
Yet, if from the coupe's outward appearance one supposes some sort of supercar that will out-muscle Porsche 911s and Audi S4s when jockeying for favoured position in traffic, the result could prove disappointing. The E350 has a hint of the cruiser to it, being quick rather than fast, composed as it accelerates - that is, unless you switch the seven-speed manumatic transmission to manual mode (Touch Shift in Mercedes-speak).
If you bring your inner gamer to the fore and get busy with the paddle shifters, then the 3.5L V6's 268hp and 350Nm of torque make their presence known. When put to the test, the E350 takes 6.4 seconds to top 100kph from a standing start. For those with the need for speed, Mercedes always keeps something in reserve, satisfying those cravings with the E550 and its 382hp, 5.5L V8. Realistically, the V6 will prove perfectly acceptable for most needs, with enough power to cover most driving situations. Besides, it is creamy smooth in operation, and the 7G-Tronic autobox clicks off the shifts with flawless precision. Also worthy of praise is the steering, which has a muscular heft to it without being artificially heavy. One can also send thank-you cards to Mercedes' engineers for creating the standard 4Dynamic Handling package. This allows the coupe's performance characteristics to be altered between comfort and sporty settings at the touch of button. Vehicle damping, speed-sensitive power steering, traction control, accelerator response and speed of gear changes can all be modified.
Mercedes doesn't take a back seat in the safety department, and the E350 Coupe reflects the company's care and attention. Along with the usual assortment of safety nannies is the intriguing Attention Assist. When driving, Attention Assist monitors and evaluates more than 70 different parameters in order to recognise driver drowsiness and "to provide warning in advance of critical moments of micro-sleep." Apparently, research by Mercedes shows drowsy drivers make tiny steering errors they frequently correct very quickly and in a characteristic manner. This steering behaviour is recognised by a special steering wheel angle sensor that sends an audible and visual display (a pictogram of a hot cup of coffee) to the sleepy driver.
While the coupe's driver-centric vehicle dynamics are pleasing and the surfeit of safety backups reassuring, it's the E350's cabin environment that seals the deal. Remember what I said earlier about the car's ability to soothe frayed nerves? First, the available interior colours and materials are soothing. I have grown weary with the traditional overabundance of black interiors that seem to be the norm with upmarket German cars. Thus, the test car's Flamenco Red upholstery, which brightened the seats and door panels, was a breath of fresh air, offsetting the dark panel pieces. Second, the multi-contour seat moulded to my body shape, providing unparalleled support and comfort - as well they should, with their inflatable chambers at the front of the seat cushions and in the centre and side panels of the backrests.
The instruments are sharp and well lit, and the controls are large, properly marked and fall easily to hand. Finally, the cabin's sound deadening allows just enough of the outside world to intrude so as not to seal the occupants in tomblike silence. The only fly in the ointment was the audio system's front speakers, which sounded a little tinny when I was listening to a new station. On the other hand, when I had the volume cranked up for Led Zeppelin, the songs came across crystal clear.
The E350 Coupe is not only one of the most pleasurable rides I've driven, it's not absurdly priced, starting at less than $58,900 (Dh216,339). Overwhelmingly, those who asked its price were astounded it wasn't more. In my opinion, that would make it a bargain. email@example.com