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  • December 20, 2014

Test Drive: Sporty Coupes - Ladue News: Special Features

Test Drive: Sporty Coupes

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Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:00 pm

For those lucky enough not to need the practicality of a four-door sedan or an SUV, a sporty coupe can provide good looks, personal luxury and sporty performance.

Case in point: The new 2014 BMW 2-series is a great-looking, very sporty coupe that could make your daily commute the best part of your day. Replacing the 1-series in BMW’s lineup, the new 2-series carries on the compact, rear-wheel drive sport coupe market that the 1-series introduced to America in 2008. It’s also beautifully styled, fixing the one flaw of the 1-series, which was slightly odd looks, due primarily to an odd-shaped C pillar.

Smaller and lighter than the venerable 3-series and 4-series, the 2-series shares the same engines. So, same engines plus less weight equals better performance. The trade-off is the lack of a functional back seat. Though there is seating for two in back, anyone beyond middle school is not going to want to spend a lot of time back there.

Up front, there’s plenty of room; and with the sport package, the heated leather seats are well-bolstered to keep you in place during spirited driving. The radio display is on a video screen in the middle of the dash, but controls are easy-to-use hard buttons and a rotary volume knob, along with redundant controls on the steering wheel. It has an I-drive system; but fortunately, you don’t seem to have to use the remote rotary knob too much to do basic functions. Amenities such as dual-automatic climate control, a sunroof, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers and dynamic cruise control make this a comfortable and enjoyable place to be, though some interior plastics remind you that this is not a premium luxury vehicle.

The 228i has a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine that pumps out 240 horsepower via an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission that pushes the coupe to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, yet still gets 23 mpg city, 36 highway. An auto start-stop feature kills the engine when you come to a stop, but there’s a bit of a shudder when it re-awakens. Fortunately, this feature can be defeated. Acceleration is very good, but not overwhelming, as it probably is with the available 6-cylinder turbo 235 model. Handling is excellent, thanks to a nice, firm, athletic suspension and tight communicative steering. Brakes are good, as well. This is a real driver’s car and it’s a blast to toss around.

According to Autohaus BMW salesman Gerd Petermann, because the 228 starts at a lower price point than other BMWs, it’s more accessible to younger buyers. Plus, “the 4-cylinder turbo engine has the same horsepower as the outgoing 6 and more torque, all with better fuel economy.”

Prices for the 228i start about $33,000; the 6-cylinder 235, is about $44,000.

Another attractive sporty coupe, with a very different character, is the Mercedes E-Class coupe. The E-Class coupe is more of a personal luxury grand tourer with a sporty nature. Like most Mercedes coupes, the E-Class is a beautiful automobile with an unmistakable Mercedes grill, sharply raked front and rear windows, pillarless side windows and character lines that really set it apart.

The interior is classic Mercedes luxury: Soft, rich leather swathes the heated (and optionally cooled) front seats, and most of the rest of the interior. Beautiful wood accents add warmth to the interior and an analogue clock in the middle of the dash adds an extra touch of class. Even before you get started, an electric arm extends to hand you your seat belt. A large screen operated by a remote knob between the seats dominates the top of the dash (hard buttons for the audio), and dual-automatic climate control make using primary functions relatively easy. The sunroof spans the entire roof of the car, and the front half can be moved backwards for some open-air motoring.

There’s also lots of technology, such as a back-up camera that not only shows you what’s behind you (and lines to show you where you’re headed), but also what’s on the side and in front of you so you can make sure you’re not too close to anything beside you. It can even park itself and warn you if it thinks you’re about to hit something. The two rear seats are not the most comfortable place for a full-sized adult for long periods, but they do fold down to expand storage for the generous trunk.

The E350 sports a 3.5-liter V-6 engine good for 302 horsepower, which provides plenty of power and is channeled to the rear or all wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The E550 offers a 4.6 liter V-8 with 402 horses. With the V-6, mileage is 20 city, 28 highway. Both cars also are available in a convertible. The steering is a bit overboosted, but handling is decent. The ride is geared more toward comfort than performance, but that’s what you want in a luxury coupe. Overall it has a substantial, well-crafted feel to it.

Tom Schellhase, sales manager at Plaza Mercedes says, “The E-Class coupe has very distinctive styling combined with a sporty nature and lots of luxury.”

The E-Class coupe with the 6-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive starts at about $56,000.

Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.

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