By Jonathan Crouch
Mercedes' E-Class Cabriolet brought an extra touch of class to the executive drop-top sector at its launch in 2010, sometrhing further refined by the launch of a facelifted version in 2013. This was a very cultured convertible that aimed to set fresh standards for comfort and refinement in its segment. With impressive built quality, slippery aerodynamics and efficient engines, it's now a tempting used car package for those wanting a drop-top to use all year round.
Back in 2010, this was the E-Class Cabriolet model we'd seen since Mercedes axed the W124-series range in the mid-Nineties and rather misguidedly replaced it with the slightly smaller C-Class-based CLK. Desirable though that car was, especially in Cabriolet form, it didn't ever really feel special enough to justify the premium Mercedes wanted to charge over equivalent BMWs and Audis. This one though, was equipped to put things right. So whereas a rival BMW 3 Series Convertible or a Audi A5 Cabriolet from this period is full of bits you'd find in a Sales Manager's compact executive saloon, this similarly-priced E-Class Cabriolet is, well, an E-Class, a car that in saloon form hails from the more exalted fully-fledged Executive segment. This car was significantly updated in 2013 to create the model we're going to look at here and the car sold until the Autumn of 2017 when it was replaced by a second generation design.
What You Get
It's a cabriolet, so let's start with the roof. Like Audi, but unlike BMW, Mercedes here resisted the temptation to fit one of those trendy but heavy folding metal roofs, instead settling on a multi-layered, acoustically-tuned, heat-insulated 23.5mm-thick fabric top, the most advanced the brand had ever used and one that, it's useful to know, should defeat the most rigorous efforts of any automatic car wash. Activate the button neatly housed in a small pod between the seats and it'll retract and site itself neatly beneath a smart tonneau cover in just 20 seconds at speeds of up to 25mph, so yes, you can do it at lights or in start-stop traffic.
Of course the downside of retracting the roof is the way it'll then happily munch its way through your available bootspace, reducing the 390-litre figure to as little as 300-litres, which will restrict you to overnight bags on a weekend away, unless you're prepared or able to use the rear seats as luggage space. You might expect more from a model supposedly based on a larger car than the ones that sired rival Audi A5 or BMW 3 Series cabrio models but the truth is that though this Mercedes is full of E-Class bits (and 46mm longer than the CLK it replaced), its wheelbase is no larger than the smaller C-Class. So the cabin is no bigger than its rivals either. Still, it remains a comfortable adult four-seater - and that's rare enough in Cabrio land.
Take a seat behind the wheel and it all feels properly premium as Mercedes' traditional 'belt butler' hands you your seatbelt over your shoulder on an extending arm, a nice little touch that really sets the tone for this car. The comfortable front seats are positioned a touch lower than those in the E-Class saloon, in an effort to provide a sportier driving atmosphere enhanced by the enclosed feeling you get from the comparatively high waistline, though this does restrict your sightlines a little when on the move. Otherwise, it's a beautifully designed and finished cabin in every way.
What to Look For
As you'd expect from a luxury Mercedes of recent times, problems are relatively rare for this E-Class Cabriolet model. Issues with the power-folding roof appear to be rare. We came across one owner with auto gearbox problems that saw the transmission unwilling to select lower gears. Another had electrical system issues that saw the battery going flat if the car was left for 24hours or more. It's been reported that this issue might have to do with the engine fan draining the battery by running at maximum speed continuously. We also have reports of frozen door locks, rattly dashboards and engine management faults. Be aware of all these things when looking at used examples.
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.
(approx. based on 2013 E220 CDI model) Allow about £375 (excluding catalyst) for a factory exhaust system. A full clutch replacement would cost around £295, whilst a starter motor can be up to £250. A new alternator would be in the region of £500. An oil filter costs around £5 to £9. Brake pads sit in the £30 to £35 bracket for a set. You'll pay around £125 for a radiator (though pricier brands can charge you anything up to around £175). Wiper blades cost in the £6 to £14 bracket. The two-piece tail lamp cluster will cost you around £370.
On the Road
Here's the reality. Executive cabriolets sell mainly to buyers of over 50 years in age seeking a more leisurely approach to life. Not a lot of point then, in making them handle like four-seat roadsters. At least that's how Mercedes sees it. Not that this car is unaccomplished when the going gets twisty. It's just that other rivals see cornering on your door handles as being that bit more important. In Stuttgart however, they spent their development time when creating this model on everyday aspects that typical buyers will appreciate more.
Our favourite one is called AIRCAP and it's there to deal with the windy buffeting that normally afflicts open-topped cars at speed and, in cool countries like ours, stops you lowering the roof for most of the year. Which, to us, then defeats much of the object of buying a cabrio in the first place. Most other convertibles try to deal with this issue using large and cumbersome wind deflectors that clip into place over the back seats. But they're awkward to use, take up bootspace and stop you carrying rear seat passengers. The AIRCAP system does away with all that, instead using a deflector that rises above the windscreen frame and a draught-stop that rises above the normal level of the rear seats.
The result will best be appreciated by those in the rear, but throughout the car, even at close to three-figure speeds, it contributes to a haven of bluster-free peace that few drop-tops at any price can match. Mercedes claims that it's possible to have a normal 'phone conversation in the car at 125mph. We'll take their word for that but it's certainly true that, with heated seats and Mercedes' clever AIRSCARF warm air system comfortably cosseting your neck, we're looking here at a convertible you could easily find yourself using al fresco all the year round, or at least when the sun's out.
Compensation for the times when you do have to put the roof up comes with high speed refinement that's nearly the equal of the hard-top coupe (partly thanks to a slippery 0.28Cd drag factor), though the roof fitment does share that model's rear three quarter blindspots. But roof up or down, what you probably won't be doing is flinging this car round too many country roads: that, after all, is what the smaller SLK roadster is for.
Which leaves the issue of power. At launch in 2010, E-Class Cabriolet buyers were offered an entry-level 170PS E220 CDI diesel and 184PS E200 CGI petrol power. There was a faster E250 four cylinder option, offering 204bhp in either CDI diesel or CGI petrol form, enough to lower the rest to sixty sprint time by over a second to 7.8s. Those wanting six cylinders were offered a 231PS E350CDI diesel variant or a 292PS E350CGI petrol version. Beyond that, the rare petrol V8s beckoned, the 388PS E500 and the 525PS E63 AMG. With the 2014 facelift, the E200 petrol model gained a more efficient 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and at the top of the range, a 333bhp 3.0 V6 biturbo petrol-powered E400 model was added to the line-up.
What Mercedes-Benz did with this car was something so simple that it sounds blindingly obvious. 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 no other comparable 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.