The smooth-sided, line-free Mercedes E-Class Coupe represents no less than the next phase of the luxury German brand’s design evolution. Of the two full-size scale models developed, the design chosen was from the Californian studio – then headed up by Hubert Lee, now directing Mercedes’ Chinese studio – and the design was taken to production-ready by director of exterior design Robert Lesnik. Car Design News caught up with Lesnik at the 2017 Detroit auto show for an exclusive chat after the car’s public unveil.
This E-Class Coupe seems like a welcome return to the elegant Mercedes vehicles of old. How long has it been in the cooking?
Robert Lesnik: It’s all part of a big plan we set up many years ago. We started with cars that were a provocation – the CLA for example – where the proportions were so good you didn’t need many lines. But we wanted to reduce things more and, especially when you have a coupe where the side glass is much more narrow than the sedan, you can really allow yourself to get rid of every line.
You wanted cleaner designs..?
Exactly. The proportion between the A-pillar to the centre of the front wheel, it’s something with rear-wheel drive this company has always had. But in 2009 or 2010 we set up this philosophy – sensual and pure – and by coincidence we started with our front-wheeled cars [like the A-Class] as we didn’t want to do another VW Golf. We wanted a very low progressive car.
How important is the new E-Class Coupe to Mercedes?
When you have so many cars you need a plan. At Mercedes we have 35 different cars at the moment and in three years we will have 40 so we cannot think about this car only [the E-Class Coupe]. With the launch of the E-Class sedan in 2016 we completed our first round of the core of our range – the sedans. With this E-Class Coupe we’ve created what we are calling ‘the first of the new’. This is the next chapter. We want this roundness, and you will see more of this type of design at Mercedes. It is also a differentiation to other cars in the market at the moment.
This ‘less is more’ type of design can be hard to execute though. Can you explain how you did it?
You can be blinded by too many details in any design, it doesn’t have to be car. But if everything is right – the length, width, height and wheel size – it can work. This wasn’t modelled in a day, you have to put Di-Noc [plastic film] on every time and check it again and again. This car has bigger wheels than previously too. It’s not so much the wheel as the outer diameter that is important. Everybody talks about the rim – this one goes up to 20 inches – but it’s the overall rubber that is important. On this it’s 690mm, 30mm bigger than the previous one, that’s a lot. It was one of the things we fought for. This car is now based on the E-Class too, the old one was based on the C-Class. So now we are the only brand with a coupe, sedan and convertible in the C-, E- and S-Class market segments.
To get this graduation on the rear shoulder does it help to be working on full-size clay models?
Of course, clay is the best thing to use, although there are certain advantages when you work in hard foam too. The ‘core’ here – the curve between the two surfaces – reflects the tension of the radius. In silver Di-Noc you really see when it is too sharp or soft. The problem is in stamping the metal when your shoulder panel has this greater depth [from the cant rail to the car’s outer edge]. It’s also much more difficult to get good highlights if you haven’t put a crease in the bodywork. It takes longer in clay and this normally doesn’t come very quickly, you really have to play around with the shape, especially on the exterior, but if you get rid of everything, then it just becomes a pure surface.
So did you spend more time on this part of the car than others?
Definitely, the rear shoulder was where we spent most of the time on the E-Class Coupe but the overall amount of time we have is the same for every car, it doesn’t matter if it’s a sedan or if we’re familiar with it.
Can every Mercedes take this less-is-more approach now?
We are taking lines out of everything. With certain cars, not having this amount of shoulder, it might be necessary, or an advantage, to have a certain line. But this is how we will differentiate [from now on].