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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - Cabriolet

First drive: E-Class Cabrio returns to Benz values

All class: The E-Class Cabriolet is now based on the same underpinnings as the sedan, wagon and coupe.

Larger and more refined, Mercedes’ E-Class Cabriolet rights previous shortcomings

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Mercedes-Benz logo1 Jul 2017

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

MERCEDES-BENZ says it believes the new E-Class Cabriolet is one of the strongest examples of the company’s promise from nearly a decade ago of returning to its previous best engineering standards, after almost 20 years of declining quality and rising customer dissatisfaction.

While the preceding four-seater drop-top, released in 2009, was a rebodied version of the smaller C-Class but with E-Class design cues and higher pricing, its successor, out in Australia in September, is a derivation of the latest E-Class sedan, down to its substantially longer and wider track, roomier body and advanced driver-assist technologies.

“Everybody knows that the old E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet were basically the old C-Class,” revealed one company source who wished to remain unnamed. “But this one is very much a real E-Class… that’s back to the values of the classic A124 (series) of the 1990s.

“It is the ‘Best or Nothing’ mindset instigated in 2008 at work.”

With the speculated imminent demise of the BMW 6 Series Convertible, the E-Class Cabrio will also likely be the only large luxury four-seater convertible this side of the $338,000 Maserati GranCabrio Sport available.

Exact pricing and specification will be announced on July 6, but expect the base E300 to start around the $130,000 mark.

As the larger dimensions reveal, the basic stats don’t lie. Everything has been stretched to create more handsome proportions as well as the inevitable roomier interior.

Overall length rises by a whopping 123mm wheelbase by a rear-legroom aiding 113mm and width by 74mm. However, inexplicably, boot capacity falls by five litres, to 385 litres with the (albeit longer) taut fabric roof up, or 310L (up from 300L) with it stowed, which takes just 20 seconds and can be lowered up to 60km/h even if the press release says 50 clicks.

It is still some way off the current E-Class sedan’s 540L, but the good news is that – for the first time – the rear-seat backrest folds for longer loads.

Moving into the passenger compartment, the previous E Cabrio’s dashboard was perhaps the most cynical aspect of the whole exercise, since it was a narrower and scaled-down version of the sedan’s, with not much flair and some cheap looking trim this one is the real deal, yet enhanced.

While it is clearly based on the new sedan’s attractive fascia, featuring the same striking 12.3-inch instrumentation and multimedia display, the detailing is of the lofty standard demanded from a premium car, such as turbine-style vents, tactile metallic switchgear, contrasting wood trim and Alcantara material where fitted.

There’s space aplenty to luxuriate, on superbly supportive front seats. And, hallelujah, here’s a modern Benz with no cabin squeaks or rattles. Let’s hope it can keep that up in our demanding environment.

Better still, Mercedes’ engineers have obviously worked hard keeping the structural integrity intact, with no detectable body shimmer or windscreen scuttle shake over the admittedly smooth French, Swiss and Italian roads we cruised along.

Furthermore, there is comfortable conversation capability even with all side windows down at speed, minimal turbulence or buffeting thanks to the combined efforts of a windshield header-sited wind deflector and rear-seat mesh screen (though they do elicit their own peculiar whooshing sounds when raised), and the relaxingly warm breath of air blown around your shoulder area thanks to Mercedes’ long-serving Air Scarf seat vents.

Along with a robust fabric roof insulation and leather upholstery that reflects heat, all conspired to keep the elements outside. Just like all good Benzes should.

And, just for something new, this includes keeping water from the wipers at bay too, thanks to some clever blade design that ensures no untoward sprays on the face when the driver seeks a quick squirt on the ‘screen. About the only downside is the ever-so-slightly upright rear backrest angle. Not unpleasant, but nowhere near as appealingly lush and cushy as the regular E-Class sedan’s.

Convertibles do come at a packaging price.

Not that it’s so immediately obvious when you push the start button. On the international press launch, Mercedes went to town specifying the two petrol-powered models that will initially make it to Aussie shores.

The E300 is the range opener, powered by a 180kW/370Nm 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder turbo engine, driving the rear wheels via Daimler’s excellent 9G-tronic nine-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.

Considering it has a hefty 1780kg to lug around, acceleration is brisk – 0-100km/h in a spirited 6.6 seconds on the way to a 250km/h top speed – and overall powertrain refinement is sufficient, though the small displacement and big kilo count do make themselves felt by the slight hesitation when fast overtaking is required, as well as the peaky nature of the revvy little engine.

Of course, the alternative E400 4Matic (for permanent all-wheel drive) addresses both of these minor issues, with a handy 245kW/480Nm 3.0-litre bi-turbo V6/9G-tronic providing usefully more punch (as well as smoothness and quietness) throughout the rev range. 5.5s to 100 isn’t too shabby for this 1935kg sun-seeker either, but we’d doubt most owners will be able to achieve the EU-standard 8.3 litres per 100km combined cycle figure (some 1.5L/100km shy of the E300’s).

However, all-out performance and/or parsimony aren’t what these premium players are about, yet keen drivers will find the beautifully measured steering a joy to handle through corners tight or wide, revealing a pleasing chassis compromise that also brings ample isolation from bumps and ruts, at least on E-Class Cabrios fitted with adaptive dampers and air suspension.

On the same roads we sampled both variants over, the E400 felt reassuringly soft and silent yet controlled while the E300’s ride seemed louder and at times abrupt. All cars sit 15mm lower to the ground than their sedan counterparts, by the way.

During the drive event Mercedes rolled out the original modern-times E-Class cabriolet, the A124 released in the early 1990s but based on the 1985 230E/300E era. A product of the company’s ‘Engineered Like No Other Car’ mantra that established the Three Pointed Star as the standard of the world until the end of the century, it proved to be an interesting ‘compare and contrast’ exercise, since clear similarities exist between both Es. Not only in size, space and style, but in grace and capability.

In summary then, have the Germans succeeded? As we said earlier, Daimler has promised a return to the quality and craftsmanship of old. We’re happy to report, in this and many more areas beside, the newest Benz convertible delivers.

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