THEN AND NOW | Uniting two generations of Mercedes coupés
Mercedes-Benz is well versed in the art of building coupés.
Graceful silhouettes, exquisite proportions and outright, knuckle-biting desirability: those descriptors could apply to almost any two-door from the marque, dating back to the SSK of 1928. Even though it lacked doors, per se.
OK, look, there are some exceptions. Like, what were they thinking when they made the CLC-Class? And the SLK-Class is probably a bit too dinky to be considered truly graceful …
But today, the subject of our story pertains to the best-selling nameplate in the history of the marque.
Yes, the E-Class continues to hold that honour, even if a completely new crop of mainstream, more accessible compact models accounts for the bulk of sales at the Stuttgart firm.
In the lineage of the E-Class, the coupé versions hold a certain mystique. And much of that is owed to their rarity versus the bountiful production volumes of their sedan counterparts.
Last month Mercedes-Benz launched the facelifted version of the W213 E-Class in South Africa. That included the release of the coupé body style, which goes by a different designation: C238.
We had the E200 derivative on test and used it as an opportunity for a heart-warming family reunion of sorts, involving a tidy example of a C124 from 1993.
The Mercedes-Benz W124 is a nameplate that needs no introduction. Especially in a South African context, where the model was produced at the East London plant of the automaker.
That examples are still frequently seen on roads today attests to what an enduring icon the model is.
The coupé version, however, was fully imported. And so, it carried a huge premium. A July 1990 Car magazine reveals: a 300 E sedan cost R148,190 while the equivalent 300 CE went for R270,000. That was even more than a 500 SE at the time (R217,800).
The 220 CE seen here was privately imported from Greece. Even today, while fashions have changed, its crisp lines and uncluttered aesthetic make a powerful statement.
The lack of a B-pillar and frameless windows are style novelties that have been carried over into the present iteration.
By contrast, the C238 is notably … busier … in its overall execution. There are numerous lines to consider, in addition to ornate fixtures and curious features, like the scowling, diamond-pin grille.
It looks peculiar compared to the upright, stern arrangement of the classical set-up on the C124, replete with traditional hood ornament.
While the stylistic persona of the new car shuns tradition, the driving character seems to honour textbook outlines of the Mercedes-Benz experience.
That means remarkable comfort, exceptional composure and a dignified sense of momentum.
And try not to let that 200 badge put you off. This could very well be the pick of the breed. Yes, even though it is just a humble 1,991cc, turbocharged petrol with four cylinders. You see, the drawcard of this particular motor lies in the addition of mild hybrid technology.
What Mercedes-Benz refers to as EQ Boost, is basically a compact, electric supercharger that helps power ancillary features, in addition to helping the internal combustion engine along.
It kicks in to bridge the gap between flat spots, where there would normally be intervals of lag, like during acceleration from standstill, or in situations where one would kick-down the right pedal to overtake. The smoothness of the whole arrangement is fantastic.
A nine-speed automatic handles affairs seamlessly, with power sent to the rear wheels. The output of the engine in isolation is 145kW and 320Nm, though with the help of that electrified boost, total output can go up to 155kW and 400Nm for brief spurts.
The E200 is sound proof that you do not necessarily need an excess of cylinders to deliver silky, tractable performance. The E300 uses the same engine, albeit with the power and torque bumped up.
Inside, the coupé is a feast of technology and digitisation. A similar thing was probably said of the old 320 CE when it was new, with its button-littered dashboard and inclusion of dual front airbags and electrically-adjusted seats.
The new car has fewer dials to press, with high-resolution screens having firmly relegated analogue hallmarks to the annals of yesteryear.
Upholstery and trim are right out of the top drawer, as you would expect. The supple black leather of our tester and its complementary charcoal-hued open pore wood inlays looked truly classy.
For many people, owning a Mercedes-Benz coupé of some form marks the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. The C238 E-Class feels like a special motor vehicle, an achievement purchase, something you park and look back at with pride.
*A special thanks to Hilton Wolff for availing his classic C124.