MONT-BLANC, the Alps—Mercedes’ mid-size four-seater cabriolet is 25 years old this year, and it’s been completely revised to join the lineup of the E-Class’s new 10th generation.
It keeps the same engine as before but uses a new nine-speed transmission, and has a body that’s wider and longer than the previous gen. Oh yeah, and it’s about the most technically advanced car money can buy.
Well, there’s no doubt this is a Mercedes, with a three-pointed star on the hood and another star dominating the grille just below. Buyers pay a premium to make sure people know they’re driving a Mercedes, and the E-Class Cabriolet delivers on that.
With the multi-layered fabric roof in place, the Cabriolet mimics the re-sculptured shape of the Coupe on which it’s based, with a body that’s 123 mm longer and 74 mm wider. Longer and wider is usually good for the aesthetics of a vehicle like this, but it’s practical as well, giving extra leg room and elbow room to the passengers inside. The doors and side panels are less creased than before, appearing smoother and sleeker.
It’s when the top is down that the Cab really stands out, of course. There’s no B-pillar – the side column between the front and rear windows – and no visible head protection bars behind the rear seats. (In a rollover, hidden struts come out from behind the headrests in less than the blink of an eye to brace and support the back end.) The roof folds completely into the trunk in less than 20 seconds to keep the lines uncluttered.
The cabin is spacious for the two people in the front seats, though leg room is still a bit limited in the back, and head room can be tight for normal-sized passengers in the back seats when the roof is in place. This is not the sedan, though—most drivers aren’t going to be too concerned about those occasional occupants. They’ll give more priority to the various woods and leathers available for cosseting themselves.
The Cabriolet’s leather seating is specially treated to not absorb heat from the sun: “If you’ve ever sat on a hot leather seat with shorts on, then you’ll thank me for this special leather,” says Peter Kolb, the car’s head of testing.
As well, all Canadian models come with standard “AirScarf” neck heaters and the thin “AirCap” screen that raises above the windshield to better deflect air from the cabin. When the AirCap is raised along with the mesh screen that rises from behind the rear seats, very little turbulence enters the cabin, if any. It’s a bit noisier though, so I preferred to drive with it down.
Instrumentation is very impressive for both driver and passenger, with a large 12.3-inch central display screen. If you pay the extra $4,000 for the Premium package, it will be combined with a second 12.3-inch screen behind the steering wheel for the electronic gauges. The whole effect is to turn the dashboard into one giant screen of information, all of it customizable to your preference. For that additional cost, you’ll also get an upgraded sound system and a powered trunk, among other features.
There’s not a lot of space in that trunk when the roof is stowed away, though it fit several small carry-on cases comfortably. If you need extra room in a pinch, you can leave the roof up or fold down the rear seats to better fit long items.
As mentioned above, this is about the most technically advanced car you can buy today, though many of its cleverest features are optional, at extra cost. It will drive itself smoothly and without issue for around 30 seconds at a time, keeping itself safely in its lane without wandering, and even changing lanes if you signal to do so. It will watch for traffic at intersections and apply the brakes and tweak the steering if needed to help avoid a collision. It will park itself, of course. In Europe, it will even talk wirelessly with other advanced cars to update driving conditions and parking availability.
The high-tech continues with the actual driving too, of course. An active suspension means the E-Class will find the optimum height for your speed, and will firm or soften the suspension for whichever of the five driving modes you select: Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Eco, or Individual. Each of those modes also adjusts the steering, throttle response, transmission response, and a few other niceties, such as the sound of the exhaust in either of the Sport modes.
The nine-speed transmission is all-new, a significant upgrade from the previous seven-speed automatic. The new box splits the gear priorities into performance for the first three, comfort for the middle three, and saving fuel for the top three overdrive ratios.
And a little thing that Mercedes is quite proud of, which makes so much sense when you think about it: the windshield wipers have nozzles in them that shoot streams of wiper fluid down from below the blades onto the glass. When you squirt the wipers, the fluid doesn’t arc up and into the cabin. Brilliant!
Most of the world gets a selection of engines, but Canada will only import the E400 with all-wheel-drive 4Matic. This is the most costly combination, but Mercedes-Benz Canada assumes cabriolet buyers don’t want to skimp on their vehicles.
The E400 uses the same 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 as last year’s model, which makes 329 hp and 354 lbs-ft of torque from as low as 1,600 rpm. It’s fairly quick and powerful: zero to 100 km/h takes a swift 5.5 seconds. There’s sure to be a more potent E-Class in the next year or two, but Mercedes isn’t saying anything about it for now.
The drive is smooth and responsive, as you’d expect, and when the roof is in place, it’s about as quiet as any hardtop car can be. Engineers spent a lot of time working in the wind tunnel to make sure noise, vibration, and harshness was kept at an absolute minimum, and the results are very effective indeed.
I drove the almost-12-kilometre length of the exceptionally noisy Mont-Blanc tunnel with the roof in place and the cabin was both serene and relaxed. There was no need to raise my voice in conversation.
Fuel consumption suffered when the roof came down, of course, but it was generally acceptable for such a large car, and especially for a vehicle that weighs 60 kg more than the coupe. Most of that extra weight comes from the additional metal that’s used to strengthen the body of the convertible, giving it a rigidity equivalent to its fixed-roof siblings.
My own fuel consumption varied from 13.0 L/100 km after 200 km of “spirited” driving with the roof down, to 7.7 L/100 km after 150 km of motorway driving with the roof up. Officially, Mercedes rates the E400 Cabriolet at 6.2 L/100 km combined, using the European measurement.
Mercedes-Benz Canada has not yet released official pricing before the Cabriolet’s introduction in August, but says it won’t be much different from the current E-Class Cab. That begins around $77,000, which is the same price as the new Audi S5, with its 354 hp and 5.0 seconds to 100 km/h, but several thousand dollars more than the all-wheel-drive BMW 440i x-Drive Cabriolet. However, the equivalent cars all come with different levels of equipment, and once the optional packages get added, the pricing tends to even out.
At this cost, and with the emotions attached to these premium marques, the final buying decision usually hinges on the drivers’ relationship to the brand. It takes an extra shove to push a BMW or Audi driver into a Mercedes showroom, or even a Lexus or Porsche driver. If they do opt for the Benz, they’ll probably complain about the cost but, deep down, still love the car.
Mercedes’ E-Class family now includes the full styling choice of a sedan, coupe, and a convertible, though the open-roof car will appeal only to a minority of buyers. It will sell for a premium over the hardtop, and a wet Canadian summer will deter drivers from trying to justify the extra cost.
Those who do, however, will not be disappointed by their car, with its cutting-edge technical wizardry and classic good looks. And especially not when the sun is shining and the top is down.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.