In its latest form, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet has an exotic feel, thinks Jonathan Crouch
Ten Second Review
Mercedes' E-Class Cabriolet brings an extra touch of class to the executive drop-top sector, a very cultured convertible that aims to set new standards for comfort and refinement in its segment. With the impressive built quality, slippery aerodynamics and high-tech engines, it's a tempting package for those wanting a drop-top to use all year round.
On paper, a Mercedes might directly compete against products of other premium brands. Traditionally in the metal though, the aim has always been for the Three-Pointed Star to feel a class above. It isn't always the case, but one good example that springs to mind is this car, the Stuttgart brand's E-Class Cabriolet. It's primarily based on the striking Coupe variant and shares much the same engineering and drive characteristics.
On paper, it's a direct rival for more expensive versions of drop-top BMW 4 Series or Audi A5 models. But live with one and the feeling you get is more of something that's an acceptable halfway house between cars like these and the kind of Bentley you'd really rather have. This time round, the appeal is strengthened by a more sophisticated 9-speed auto gearbox and the option of full-air suspension.
As you'd expect, this E-Class Convertible shares its engineware with the E-Class Coupe, which means that all models get 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission and the headline news is the installation of a completely new 194bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine in the entry-level E220d variant. There are three other mainstream engine options; the 245bhp four cylinder E300 and then two V6 variants, both of which come with 4MATIC 4WD. Choose between the 258bhp E350d diesel or the 333bhp E400 twin turbo petrol model. All variants are equipped as standard with 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission and the DYNAMIC SELECT system that allows you to tweak steering feel, throttle response, gearshift timings and stability control thresholds to suit the way you want to drive. If you opt to replace the standard DIRECT CONTROL suspension (lowered by 15mm over the saloon model) with optional adaptive damping or DYNAMIC BODY CONTROL air suspension, the DYNAMIC SELECT system's modes will alter ride quality too. There are "Comfort", "ECO", "Sport", "Sport +" and "Individual" settings to choose from.
Mercedes claims that handling response has improved this time round, thanks to this generation model's lighter weight and wider track. This isn't the kind of Executive segment convertible designed for a driving enthusiast though. Instead, the emphasis is on comfort and high-tech, with innovations including high-resolution MULTIBEAM LED headlamps and a DRIVE PILOT system that can virtually supply autonomous driving - depending on how you use it.
Design and Build
When the soft top is up, the E-Class Cabriolet has a silhouette similar to that of the E-Class Coupe. A striking front section with a low-positioned diamond radiator grille and centrally located star, LED High Performance headlamps, a drawn-out bonnet with powerdomes and fully retractable side windows underline the more dynamic looks of this generation model. The fabric soft top is available in dark brown, dark blue, dark red or black. More importantly, it can be fully opened and closed in 20 seconds when travelling at a speed of up to 31mph and buyers can specify the AIRCAP electric draught-stop system and the AIRSCARF neck-level heating system.
The roof's multi-layered structure with sophisticated insulation reduces wind and driving noise, which makes it easy for the occupants to hear each other talk, even when driving at high speed. The soft-top structure is equally effective when it comes to climate comfort, making the Cabriolet suitable for use all year round. After opening, it folds down into a bespoke compartment in the boot and a retractable cover separates the soft top from the remaining boot space.. The boot capacity of 385-litres (310-litres when the roof is open) means the E-Class Cabriolet doesn't compromise too much on practicality. Plus 50:50 folding rear seat backrests create a through-loading feature for longer items.
Market and Model
As before, most E-Class Cabriolets will be sold in the £45,000 to £55,000 bracket. Before finally deciding, you might want to compare this model's value proposition with Mercedes' only slightly smaller C-Class Cabriolet: after all the two cars are virtually the same underneath. That's hard to do very accurately since a number of different engines are used in the two model line-ups. Both these Mercs do however, share the same four cylinder diesel engine: go for this and there'll be a likely premium around £12,500 to go from a C-Class Cabriolet to an E-Class Cabriolet.
We can see many buyers being quite happy to pay that. There's a kind of 'junior Bentley' feel about this car that gives it a more up-market feel than you'd get in any C-Class. Yet the outlay needed for ownership shouldn't require too many potential owners to need a lottery win first. Those who do have more to spend will inevitably be plied with plenty of options. We'd be tempted by the AIR BODY CONTROL air suspension to get a magic carpet-style ride. And the full COMMAND infotainment system would also be nice to have, including a 'COMMAND Online' feature that give owners access to the 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' 'phone connectivity systems.
Cost of Ownership
Weight-saving measures, aerodynamic improvements, fuel-saving electronic Direct Steering and low rolling resistance tyres feature among the eco-measures implemented with this car, along with an ECO Start/Stop function to cut the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. As a result, if you keep an eye on the optimum gearchange indicator, the volume E220d diesel model's four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine can return a combined economy figure of well over 55mpg and around 125g/km of CO2.
Low mileage buyers might also consider the 2.0-litre petrol turbo four cylinder BlueDIRECT unit that's in the E300 variant. This is, after all, a very efficient engine indeed, returning over 35mpg on the combined cycle and under 170g/km of CO2. Even the 333bhp E400 4MATIC petrol V6 isn't too pricey to run, managing around 30mpg and under 200g/km of CO2.
What else? Well, we'll tell you that the comprehensive three year unlimited mileage warranty is built upon by Mercedes' Mobilo scheme which delivers breakdown cover for up to thirty years, as long as you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer. It's also worth mentioning that the optional 'Mercedes me' connect services package includes remote self-diagnostic capability, enabling your E-Class Cabriolet to monitor wear and tear items and alert your local dealer to let you know if something needs seeing to.
Assuming that it's not lashing down with rain, here is a convertible you can use for roof-down motoring almost whenever you want. It can be cold or windy. Your journey may be at high speed. Or it may include rear seat passengers. Either way, it matters not. In few other five-figure soft-top will you find yourself retracting the hood quite so often.
And that's the beauty of this car. It isn't the sharpest steer in its class. Nor is it the most lavishly equipped or the most affordable to buy. But it's the best at being all the things that typical executive cabriolet owners want their cars to be. And yes, it feels a class above its rivals, just as a Mercedes-Benz always should.