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A small turbodiesel engine in a suave body; does this combination have appeal in our market?

It's a simple fact: the world’s most desirable cars have always been those equipped with two doors and Mercedes-Benz has a long heritage of designing and building some of the finest examples. For many decades now, the Stuttgart brand has been offering coupé versions across its sedan ranges, with the latest being this two-door E-Class.

In terms of size, it sits neatly between Benz’s C-Class Coupé and the top-of-the-range S-Class Coupé, with this E220d offering an engine type South Africans aren’t really used to seeing in larger two-doors. The Europeans might have been buying diesel coupés for years, but down south we have always preferred petrol engines powering our luxury coupés.

Before we get to the merits of the E220d’s small-capacity engine (2,0 litres, in this case), though, cast your eyes over the exterior design. The smooth, flowing curves are both attractive and familiar. We’ve praised the current Mercedes-Benz design language in both the C and S Coupé, and the E represents much of the same. At mid-distance you’d need to look twice before distinguishing the three; a side-by-side comparison reveals how the E is the mid-point between the stubby C-Class Coupé and the long, sleek S.

Climb inside and the driving position is spot-on, with good outward visibility thanks to the absence of B-pillars. As you would expect, all the controls fall comfortably to hand and you have perfect sight of both displays (the instrumentation one is optional). The seats are also sculpted to provide an excellent balance between supporting your legs and torso, and offering the comfort requisite of a luxury car. Those double infotainment screens are pure S-Class technology and the fact that you can configure each screen in multiple ways (and divide the left screen into two) means you can have your desired information visible at all times, or another level of information only a click away.

It is not secret this C238 (its internal model code) version has grown in size compared with its predecessor. The benefit is that cabin space has increased, too. Although the rear seats might not be ideal for adults on an extended trip, for most other journeys the rear quarters are capacious enough, and one 1,87-metre tester managed to sit behind his preferred driving position fairly comfortably.

Pressing the starter button elicits the expected diesel grumble as the engine winds up then settles. Once on the move, though, there is little in the way of audible giveaway to suggest to the occupants that there is a diesel mill under the bonnet. Performance, however, is another matter. The readily available low-down torque and relaxed nature we associate with turbodiesel engines are always evident. You can – if you floor the throttle – get the engine to rev past 4 000 r/min, but it is seldom necessary to visit that end of the rev spectrum.

Yes, 143 kW is a little pedestrian in a car of this ilk, but with maximum torque of 400 N.m available from just 1 600 r/min, you have access to the engine’s best feature when you are at the bottom end of the rev range. At motorway speeds, the rev needle sits at an effortless 1 500 r/min, perfect for when you want to accelerate.

The nine-speed transmission contributes to the effortless way in which the E220d goes about its business, selecting gears virtually without you noticing. It is only when you select sport mode and push the car hard that the changes become more perceptible. In line with the car’s persona, the steering is light but relatively direct, and the vehicle tracks true at highway speeds. While the drivetrain doesn’t quite come to the party when tackling a series of corners, the chassis is more than up to the job and the E220d handles remarkably well for its size, with far higher grip levels than expected.

Still, you soon find yourself selecting comfort mode and turning up the volume on the optional Burmester audio system. Drive the car as it was designed to be driven – cruising quietly and comfortably in a sophisticated, beautifully designed cabin – and the frugal nature of the drivetrain juts to the fore. We posted an impressive 6,6 L/100 km on our 100 km fuel route.

So far, so good, but we do have one bugbear with the E220d. While this model comes standard with much in the way of luxury and tech equipment, too many features are relegated to the options list. This exact E220d, for example, is loaded with more than R300 000 worth of options. Granted, Benz does equip its test vehicles with nearly every conceivable extra – how else would we be able to assess them? – but we do feel buyers might be surprised to note how much extra they’d have to fork out for items such as a rear-view camera (part of an auto-park package at R16 000), fully electrically adjustable seats (R14 200), sat-nav (R33 800, plus R15 300 for the widescreen cockpit) and various safety items such as lane-keeping assist and so on.

Options we would tick include the Burmester system (R15 800 for fabulous sound reproduction) and Air Body Control (R29 900) air suspension. This test vehicle’s ride proved quiet and absorbent, despite the presence of ultra-low-profile run-flat tyres (surrounding optional 20-inch alloys at R19 500 for a set), and the three-chamber suspension system should be credited.

TEST SUMMARY

The use of a relatively modest 143 kW turbodiesel in a luxury coupe may not appeal to many buyers in this market segment, and the CAR team still prefers a little more power underfoot over a wider rev range in this type of vehicle. However, for those who don't require strong acceleration, preferring the focus to instead be on luxury, comfort and a top-class cabin environment, the E220d won't disappoint.

There is also a substantial saving (more than R200 000) over the E400 Coupe 4Matic with its V6 petrol engine and, at just over R800 000, this Mercedes-Benz has a sense of occasion and interior quality that smaller two-doors such as the A5 and 4 Series simply can't match. Select the correct options and the E-Class Coupe is marginally closer to being a cut-price S-Class Coupe rather than a very expensive alternative to a highly-optioned C-Class Coupe. And that alone makes it an appealing proposition.

*From the October 2017 issue of CAR magazine

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