Throughout the decades, Mercedes-Benz
has managed to balance old with new when developing future car models. With a rich history, it’s no surprise they want to keep things familiar for buyers who may have grown up with a Mercedes in the garage, yet they continue to add modernity and technology to capture the hearts of next-generation aficionados. A perfect testament to that is the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet (or convertible if you want to be less French about it), the latest variant in the ninth-generation E-Class line. The cabin retains the feel of former cabriolets, but it’s been updated with better materials, a sophisticated instrument panel and some seriously cool technology. The drop-top also adopts the new E-Class body style with LED fog lights and aggressive lines. But the real story with a convertible is always about the top. Deployment speed is just 20 seconds, and you can open or close it while cruising along at 25 mph. Improved aerodynamics and advanced systems that reduce air turbulence within the cabin keep the focus on the fun, rather than the noise, which practically guarantees the cabriolet will follow the successful path blazed by generations before it.
What's to Like
It seems the E-Class Cabrio has managed to fuse the best of both worlds. It has the quietness and effortless drive qualities found in the sedan and the fun-in-the-sun retractable roof. The top caters to the impatient drivers out there by deploying in just 20 seconds at up to 25 mph. Packages are laid out well, so you’ll be able to get your favorite options without too many ticks on the order form.
What's Not to Like
The Aircap’s front spoiler and rear wind deflector do reduce turbulence inside the cabin, but at what cost? It visually breaks up the front-end’s lines and it has a nasty habit of catching bugs. Some will find a soft top a little disappointing, especially considering the attractiveness of the hard tops on Mercedes’ two-seaters. Rear-end styling, like the sedan and coupe, falls short of Mercedes-Benz standards.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
The problem with so many convertibles is that performance is compromised by the lack of a B-pillar and roof. Without the stability generated from those vital build elements, the drive goes all silly putty on you. Leave it to Mercedes to add plug-in B-pillars to the side of the car, resulting in a consistent drive that’s no less capable than the sedan or exciting as the coupe. The E550 is the star of the show, with its V-8 engine generating a deep rumble as you pass stragglers on the road. However, the E350’s V-6 digs deep to deliver plenty of power for the less performance-driven buyer. Soft-top technology is so good at this point that interior noise levels are kept to a minimum, and conveniences like 14-way power seats and the Airscarf – vents at the base of the head rests that blow warm air on the back of the neck – make the Cabrio a comfortable car for day-to-day driving. The cushioned ride doesn’t hurt either – the suspension, with a choice of comfort or sport – absorbs bumps in the road with ease, yet retains a good amount of road feel.
Engine and Drivetrain
Mercedes expects most Cabrio buyers to opt for the E350, which is powered by a 268 horsepower, 258 lb-ft of torque V-6 engine. The few of you who snatch up the E550 will be rewarded with a punchy V-8 that delivers 382 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque. Both trims are coupled to a seven-speed auto that allows you to blip through gears via paddle shifters.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
As you would expect, most luxury items are standard on all Cabrios, including rain-sensing windshield wipers, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, a ski pass through and seven-inch Comand information screen. Aircap – the wind turbulence and noise reducing system – is also standard. Most of the packages add a heavy dose of technology to the mix, like navigation, iPod interface, satellite radio, heated seats and a rearview camera. We’d highly recommend getting the Airscarf system; the headrest-located vents will direct warm air onto your neck, keeping you cozy while the top is down.
Key Technology Evaluation
Mercedes-Benz continues to develop high-class safety features, but Attention Assist might be our favorite. This gem of a system monitors your driving technique and can track whether you’re becoming tired. If it senses an increase in erratic behavior, it will ask you ‘is it time for a rest?’ Manners like that give Brits a run for their money. Adaptive High Beam Assist lowers and raises your headlights based on oncoming traffic so you’ll always have the maximum light to guide your way as well.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
It’s safe to say that when Mercedes-Benz focused on the aerodynamics of this car, it was to benefit speed, not gas mileage. They’ll save that for the BlueTEC diesel version coming out later this year. While you won’t have to fork out money for the gas-guzzler tax on the V-8 anymore, it returns just 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. The V-6 fares better at 17 city, 26 highway.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
The interior is a familiar affair, with power seat controls on the door and bright, simple gauges displayed prominently in the instrument panel. Wood trim and supple leather make up the majority of materials in the cabin, but you’ll glimpse some chrome here and there. In part because they’ve opted for a soft top, there’s enough room in the trunk for a roller bag and additional personal items should you feel the urge to get away.
The bold new exterior design does away with rounded headlamps and a jutting front-end to present a more angular look overall. Bold wheel arches house 17- or 18-inch wheels and a large tri-spoke-adorned front grille dominates the exterior look. The soft-top blends in well with design, but – like most – it looks best when down.
Market Segment and Pricing
As sort of an oddity in the convertible world, the E-Class has very few competitors in the luxury four-seat convertible segment. The E350 starts at $56,850 and the E550 comes in at $64,800. Other options include the $44,350 Infiniti G37 Convertible
, $58,250 Audi S5 Cabriolet
and the BMW 3-Series
convertibles, which start at $45,000.
What We Think
Well aware that the E-Class is their bread and butter, it was vital that Mercedes-Benz delivered a convertible that performs well, but is, most importantly, comfortable to cruise in. The cabriolet has its faults though – as demonstrated by the Aircap – and the price points are a little high when comparing the models to the less powerful competition. Still, there’s an ease to the styling and a luxuriousness of the whole package that is difficult to replicate. Its E-Class predecessors would be proud.
The E-Class Cabriolet is available May 2010.