Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - cabriolet range
Sweeping dashboard deserves light let in, proper space for four, body rigidity, wafting comfort, sweet steering, superb auto
Room for improvement
20-inch wheels thump and jar, some features should be standard for the price, E300 lacks performance for the price
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17 Oct 2017
AIR has engulfed the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet in more ways than one.
Naturally more of it enters the cabin roof down, but the way CO2 moves in and around this soft-top is also significant.
It fills the chambers of the suspension’s springs, which aim to provide the wafting ride comfort expected of an E-Class large car. It wafts from driver and passenger headrests, nicely warmed to keep necks from freezing on a cool day.
And, of course, this Cabriolet can flip its lid in 20 seconds (via remote control on approach or at up to 50km/h) to let nature’s smells flood the four-seat cabin.
In Australia only the rear-wheel drive 2.0-litre turbo E300, and all-wheel drive 3.0-litre turbo E400 are available, both of which claim to be faster, more efficient and more dynamic than ever before.
Hopefully such claims aren’t a load of hot air.
The road is cruddy, smeared with countryside coarse-chip that sweeps past vineyards. Away from city fumes, this is ostensibly cabriolet-cruising territory. But it is also where drop-tops can fail.
In these conditions the Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet is not flailing around, however.
Its 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine produces 480Nm from 1600rpm, and it purrs along serenely at triple-digit speed in the auto’s ninth gear. In Comfort mode the air suspension is both cossetting and controlled, its steering and forward pillars remaining completely unaffected by lumps and bumps beneath the vehicle, all as befitting of a model costing $157,900 plus on-road costs.
The gas-axed E-Class has superb body rigidity, that much is immediately clear.
But what this lofty lid-lopped model also delivers is a broader range of abilities than other cheaper rivals.
Via an Individual mode, the suspension can be left in Comfort – or Sport, though Sport Plus is needless – yet flick the drivetrain to Sport Plus and the E400 adopts a seductively sporty character.
Suddenly the 245kW at 5250rpm becomes noticed thanks to a superb transmission that slinks into taller gears when cruising, then assertively – and perfectly – downshifts when braking for a bend.
The Cabriolet only feels slightly pushy through tight corners, and the fixed 55 per cent-rear biased all-wheel-drive system – dubbed 4Matic – is far from the most involving system.
Here, however, the combination of 20-inch Pirelli tyres, sharp steering, excellent body control and obvious body strength still permits an E400 driver to have great fun across mountainous terrain.
Take all of the above, then dial back 20 per cent of the fun with the $123,500 E300 model grade.
The auto remains brilliant, and the 2.0-litre turbo sounds sweeter with the roof down than it does in hard-top E-Classes, even blurting a louder-than-E400 exhaust pop following each gear change.
However, 180kW at 5500rpm and 350Nm from 1300rpm is starting to look a low at this price.
The four-cylinder’s 6.6-second 0-100km/h seems quick, but the gap feels wider to the brisk V6’s 5.5s claim – and in each case they are two-tenths slower than the E300 Coupe and E400 Coupe.
Otherwise, the E300 Cabriolet is likewise impressively quiet with the fabric roof up, and reasonably subdued with the top down and electrically operated wind blocker raised. The only exception is that the switch for the blocker, which successfully reduces wind rush in the cabin at 110km/h, is linked to a pop-up windshield deflector that creates much more roar raised than when retracted.
Blocker up, deflector down, would be ideal.
Air suspension and 20s are standard across both model grades, too, so the E300 Cabriolet otherwise shares its on-road virtues with the E400 Cabriolet, especially given its modest power rarely if ever overwhelms the grippy rear tyres.
Downsides, then, are also shared – a major one being the clunking and thumping over sharp-edged potholes caused by the 30-aspect run-flat tyres. Smaller 19s are a no-cost option and should help.
The only other difference is the E400 Cabriolet adds in a 590-watt Burmester audio system and head-up display that disappointingly forms part of a $2490 Vision Package on the E300 Cabriolet.
With either model grade, six-figures-plus is clearly also the point where lush front seating, with heating and cooling functions, team with a two-person rear with small hatchback-rivalling legroom and headroom. This is a proper four-seater, complete with rear map lights engineered into the fabric roof and air vents at the back of the console.
The sweeping, ornamental dashboard design of either E-Class looks even more impressive covered with light, too, complete with widescreens that still look brilliant, and lower infotainment controls that still remain confusing.
Benz’s array of touch sensitive steering wheel controls, combined with the touchpad-flanked console rotary dial and spattering of shortcut buttons across dashboard, can be perplexing. At least the functions contained within the infotainment system are competitive.
Meanwhile Benz’s array of active safety features takes a neat leap to the realms of standard setting.
From the usual autonomous emergency braking (AEB) to active cruise control with lane-steer assistance (that does a sterling job of keeping the vehicle centred on freeways and can even automatically change lanes if conditions are ideal and an indicator is engaged), it is impressive.
Should a driver wander over a lane when cruise is not engaged, the system can also subtly apply the brakes on one side of the vehicle to ensure Cabriolet doesn’t meet a vineyard’s cabernet grapes.
With the exception of troublesome tyres, engineering integrity oozes from this aerated E-Class.
Especially with the E400 Cabriolet, its body strength opens a door – or indeed the lid – for a refined yet raunchy drive. It is expensive, sure, but compared with many more affordable drop-tops there are also fewer grievances an owner might feel the need to air.
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