The heyday of the coupe is long gone, but that hasn’t stopped Mercedes-Benz from continuing to invest in building them, including the forthcoming 2018 E-Class coupe, with its most advanced dynamics and design so far.
Sales of two-door sports cars are declining in the U.S. as customers opt for luxury SUVs and crossovers, but Mercedes still sees its E-Class coupe, based on its mid-size E-Class sedan, as integral to the brand's image as a leader in the luxury segment. Mercedes, which has more coupe and convertible variants than any other car company, also makes two-door versions of its compact C-Class and large S-Class.
“They are such brand shapers and beautiful cars,” said Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG’s Board of Management and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, noting that the automaker still sees a “reasonable business case” for making coupes despite the market’s waning interest. The next-generation E-Class coupe, which is currently on display at the Geneva Motor Show, will arrive in dealerships this summer, with pricing to be announced.
Coupe sales have fallen nearly a full percentage point over the last four years, now comprising only 2.4% of overall new vehicle sales in the U.S., compared with 3.3% in 2012, according to analytics firm IHS Markit. Last year, sales of the E-Class coupe fell 43%, to 2,283 units, though that’s likely due in part to customers postponing their purchase until the new model launched.
The new E-Class coupe sits longer, lower, and wider than the previous generation. Its wheelbase has been shortened to increase the vehicle’s agility. “It’s not too aggressive, but it has a very athletic shape,” said Christian Fruh, the car’s director of development. Its frameless windows are uninterrupted by a supporting pillar, a distinctive design feature that gives the next-generation model a sleeker and more modern appearance.
Its 329-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6 biturbo engine provided enough power during a drive along the ribbon-like roads of Spain’s Catalonia region. Its shortened wheelbase made darting through Barcelona’s gridlocked streets and gracing the curves of its countryside more manageable. Its nine-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly, but the car – still more fun to drive than most performance-oriented coupes – sometimes seemed shy about showing its full capabilities on the open road.
Inside, the E-Class coupe gets a 12.3-inch display screen with crisp graphics. An available second screen of the same size creates a cockpit-like experience, assisting the driver in finding key information quicker. Ambient lighting lining the cabin is available in 64 shades. The front seats are comfortable, but the back row felt claustrophobic. However, the typical E-Class coupe customer – who skews younger and female in the U.S. market – likely won’t be traveling with a full passenger load.
Even though the market for coupes is shrinking, specialty cars like coupes and convertibles are important because they help maintain customers’ emotional tie to the brand, said Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at marketing research and consulting firm AutoPacific.
“Coupes have never sold in massive numbers, but they have always brought a bit of sex appeal to Mercedes-Benz's usually very serious mid-size lineup which of course today is known as E-Class,” Kim said. “Coupes, being inherently somewhat impractical, are still seen as reward cars that are meant to please the owner first and foremost. And in the end, isn’t that the point of a luxury car?”