By Andy Enright
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet marked a stunning return to form by Mercedes in a market that seemed to have stagnated. Big four-seater open top cars are one of the most discretionary of purchases and introducing a brand new model right into the teeth of the credit crunch seemed a recipe for disaster. Fortunately for Mercedes, it didn't turn out that way. Here's what to check for when shopping for a used example.
Mercedes has some history when it comes to big, open-topped cars. So much in fact, that it's tough to know where to start. They've often played second fiddle to the more raffish SL models but the era of the 'modern' E-Class cabriolet probably begins in 1991 when Mercedes launched a convertible version of the W124 E-Class series in Europe. This model lasted right through to 1997 when the E320, E220, and E200 cabriolets ceased production and these cars are now looking like well-priced collectors editions.
That marked a change in focus for Mercedes. Neither the subsequent W210 or W211 generations of E-Class spawned a cabriolet model, the Stuttgart company instead chasing a more dynamic image with CLK-badged drop tops for the next ten years. Belatedly realising that buyers in this class are often mature, valuing ride quality and equipment over big wheels and handling, the CLK badge was dropped and the W212 E-Class spawned a cabriolet once again at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, in January 2010, going on sale on sale March 27 of that year in the UK. The car enjoyed very minor revisions and it wasn't until 2013 that this model was replaced by a car that looked outwardly similar but which was extensively updated beneath.
What You Get
The E-Class Cabriolet features a high quality interior with plenty of brushed aluminium finishes and metal switches. Ambient lighting on the upper specification models created a swathe of soft light across the dashboard and doors which gave an agreeably upmarket feel. If you went looking for it, you'd find hard plastics on the lower dashboard but in general customers seemed happy with the interior build quality. The foot-operated parking brake was still as unpopular as ever.
The driving position is brilliant and there's a whole stack of reach adjustment in the steering column. All models got heated seats as well which made all the difference on a winter morning. The triple-layered fabric roof motors open or closed in just 20 seconds, and is operable at speeds up to 25mph. It's well insulated both acoustically and thermally and you can even drop all four windows at the touch of a button if required. Mercedes' 'Aircap' system reduces buffeting in the cabin when travelling at speed while 'Airscarf' sends a blast of warm air around your neck, making top-down motoring feasible on more than just the four days we call the British summer. There's still not a great deal of space in the back for adults but kids will manage just fine and the 390-litre boot means that there's enough space for more than just a weekend away.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Insist on a full Mercedes dealer service history, especially for the most recent models whose lengthy warranty - effectively for the life of the car - is dependent on proper servicing by an authorised agent. Check that all the accessories work and watch out for cosmetic damage which can be expensive to correct. Also look for the usual signs of wheel kerbing and poorly repaired accident damage. Mercedes experienced problems with the piezo electric injectors on the E250CDI and replacing them within factory tolerances seems to be a problem for many dealerships, resulting in sub-par economy. Give the hood mechanism a good inspection for damage. Any tears, fraying or discolouration will be costly to fix and this is a buyer's market with plenty of used stock available.
(approx. based on E250 CGI model) Allow around £90 for a set of front brake pads and £75 for the rear and about £375 (excluding catalyst) for a factory exhaust system. A full clutch replacement would cost around £295, a radiator is about £245 whilst a starter motor can be up to £250. A new alternator would be in the region of £500.
On the Road
This was the first time that Mercedes had teamed a diesel engine with an open top body and it proved an instant hit with big take up of the diesel options, which outsold the petrol-engined models two to one. That was hardly surprising, given the economic conditions this car was launched into and there's a lot to be said for the diesel motors. They're tough and pull well from almost any engine speed, which makes for a relaxing drive. Refinement isn't bad and the 250 and 350 CDI diesels are good for 204 and 231PS respectively. Having said that, a Cabriolet is all about smoothness, sophistication and a certain couldn't give a damn attitude, something which isn't wholly consistent with a diesel engine's message, which is why we'd always recommend a petrol engine in one of these.
Here you get CGI badging and 204 or 292PS, depending on whether you opt for 250 or 350. You're not going to get spanked on fuel either with these two as even the punchy E 350CGI will net 32.5mpg. Alternatively you could go the whole hog and try the E500. With a magnificently lazy 5.5-litre V8 engine, this might be the slowest you will ever drive a 388PS car. Rev it to anything much over 3,000rpm and you feel you're making a bit of an undignified fuss. With no AMG-badged Cabriolet, this is as fast as this body style got. We can't imagine wanting to go any quicker.
The E-Class Cabriolet rides particularly well, especially in SE trim. The Sport models ride on stiffer suspension and feature lower profile tyres and we're not sure this is an entirely positive development as it introduces a level of shudder into the passenger cell over ruts and bumps. Should you wish to hustle an E-Class Cabriolet along a bit, you'll find the steering fairly slow but unerringly accurate, albeit without a great deal of feedback. You'll need to manage the body roll as well but it's not too pronounced and it's a car that you can have a degree of fun in when presented with a twisty road. That's really not home turf though. You choose this car for a sunny day and a gentle cruise. In those conditions, it's hard to think of much that's more civilised.
The E-Class Cabriolet demonstrated that despite developing ever more focused drivers cars, Mercedes also recognised that it had a core group of often older customers who yearned for more classic brand values. There's an element of this resolutely modern car that nevertheless feels slightly old-fashioned, but it's done in a very smart way. This car could have ended up as a blousy embarrassment. Instead, it's something rather delightful and acts as the perfect antidote to the stress of today's driving. It might only be used for high days and holidays, but a used Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet certainly has much to commend it.