Mercedes-Benz makes so many different cars that I pity the buyer who has decided on the brand but not on the model.
The German car company currently offers 27 different vehicles through its U.S. dealerships. That’s not counting the different trim lines, the high-performance AMG and Maybach variations, the different drive train options for each model or the plug-in hybrids.
From the CLA Coupe and the GLA SUV, in the $32,000 range, to the S-Class Coupe and the G-Class SUV, in the $123,000 neighborhood, Benz seems to have something for everyone.
Like their countrymen at BMW, who also offer a staggering array of vehicle choices, Mercedes seems to be saying there’s no way the car you want isn’t in their lineup — no matter what that car is.
Priced from $59,895 for the standard model, and $62,395 for the all-wheel-drive 4Matic version, the E400 Coupe sits in the high middle of the Mercedes menagerie in terms of comfort, performance and price.
With two body-hugging bucket seats up front and two sumptuous passenger seats in the rear, matched with a generous trunk space, it’s a compelling combination of sports car and grand tourer.
I enjoyed zipping it around town and in some local canyons. I enjoyed it equally on a long straight drive to Mammoth Lakes and back.
Part of the pleasure is under the hood. The E400 comes standard with a 3-liter V6 engine that’s turbo-charged and mated to a 9-speed transmission.
That engine puts out 329 horsepower and a whopping 354 pound feet of torque and, in the case of the 4Matic model I was driving, puts that power to all four wheels.
Power is managed by drive modes that start with the anemic but adequate Eco and climb through Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual.
That’s an impressive range. Eco is a gas-sipper that makes 30 miles per gallon fuel economy possible on long drives. Comfort allows for capable cruising and a gentle get-around-town pace. Both Sport settings get more interesting, sharpening the suspension and unleashing all the horsepower. In Sport+, automatic rev-matching downshifts keep the car right in the middle of the power band.
(Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, too, increase the sense of driver engagement, and make those Sport settings feel even sportier.)
The Individual mode allows the driver to customize engine and suspension specs, with a memory feature to hold them ready for the next dramatic drive.
With a zero to 60 pace of 5.2 seconds, this car is no dragster. But it’s no drag, either. The twin-turbo engine puts a lot of power to the wheels. If the car is wearing optional high-performance tires, as mine was, the E400 holds a lot of speed through the turns and snaps quickly out of them.
Comfort-seekers may be more aware of the pleasant environment that surrounds the sporty driving. The “Macchiato Beige / Espresso Brown” nappa leather upholstery is plush. The “Black Piano Lacquer” wood trim is elegant. The sound-deadening materials that keep out tire and wind noise allow the Burmester 3D Surround sound system — a $5,400 upgrade — to do its sonic best.
There’s a lot of technology wrapped inside the E400, too.
The improved infotainment touchscreen is luminous and easy to read, though I personally was confused by Mercedes’ multiple methods for manipulating it. They include buttons on the steering wheel, tiny touch pads on the steering wheel, a touch pad on the center console and an oversized dial next to that touch pad, as well as es all join the touch-sensitive areas on the screen. And you can also use traditional switches on the dashboard.
But the system does allow for some space-age customization. Entirely pointless but endlessly amusing is the infinitely tunable ambient lighting system, which allows the operator to choose different colors, tones and brightness levels for multiple areas of the cabin.
The car comes standard with safety features like a brake assist system, electronic stability control and crosswind stabilization.
The model I drove had been equipped with the “Premium 3” package, which included a suite of more sophisticated safety systems. This $9,350 optional package adds electronic assists for lane changing, lane keeping, blind spotting and one of the best adaptive cruise control systems I’ve ever experienced.
Midway up Highway 395, cruising along on a blistering hot day, with the seat ventilators on, and the massage function engaged, I had the curious sensation that I wasn’t driving at all — just enjoying the scenery and the pleasure of being moved by a fine automobile, while my traveling companion played with the ambient lighting.
The car is rife with smart additions. The front seats glide forward electronically to allow easy access to the back seats. Though the rear passenger area has no device plug-ins, no climate control settings and no buttons to roll down its own windows, the driver’s area is equipped with three plug-in spots. The rear camera offers a 360-degree overhead view. The windshield offers a head-up display. And, oh yes, the car parallel parks itself, and has its own adjustable “cabin fragrance system.”
Unfortunately, none of this information will help the mixed-up Mercedes buyer make up his or her mind. Almost everything I just said about the E400 could be said about almost every car in the Mercedes model line.
But if you want a two-door, hard-top performance coupe, with almost-S-Class specifications, but you can’t pay the big AMG or Maybach money — and it has to be a Mercedes — this might be your car.
2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic Coupe
Times’ take: The high-performing mid-range Mercedes
Highs: Sports-car speedy, but GT comfortable
Lows: Twin-turbo balky; too few rear-seat amenities
Vehicle type: Two-door, four-passenger coupe
Base price: $62,395
Price as tested: $86,155
Powertrain: 3-liter, V6 twin-turbo gasoline engine
Transmission: All-wheel-drive 9-speed automatic
Torque: 354 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy rating: 20 miles per gallon city / 26 highway / 22 combined