Style and function - it\'s the best of both worlds...
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet Review
Style and function - it's the best of both worlds
You see, in most drop-tops, a snowy drive means you'd freeze to death. Death would be quick, but it would also be painful, so sub-zero temperatures with the cabin open to the elements is not usually recommended for those wishing to end a drive with the same amount of fingers they began with.
But the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is different. Wintertime is the best way to experience it. Why? Firstly, there’s a reason every single convertible driver wears a hat and sunglasses. In summertime, the sun is blazing, the air is hot, and scalded, red skin happens quicker than you can press the cook button on your microwave. Little wonder than most drop-top owners leave the roof up when the weather gets warmer; ultra-violet light can't get through the car's roof.
Secondly, it sometimes gets quite noisy in a convertible's cabin; the swirling mass of air is enough to drive anyone nuts, even at low speeds. The resulting blustery conditions aren’t conducive to enjoying a drive in colder weather, unless, of course, you rug up to that claustrophobic point where a novelty sumo-wrestler suit would be more comfortable.
Mercedes-Benz has the answer in the E-Class Cabriolet though, and it’s as revolutionary as chopping the roof off your car. It’s called Aircap; a slightly-awkward-looking but ridiculously functional blade that sits at the top of the windscreen. When a button is pressed, the blade lifts up by a few inches, deflecting airflow high up and over the cabin. In concert with rear headrests which rise by the same amount, turbulence in the interior is effectively eliminated.
The result is a cozy cabin that stays quiet and unfussed. It's quite a unique feeling, especially on nights where the sky is clear and the air is crisp. A country drive, where the stars pepper the sky like luminous glitter, is the best way to experience it. As a passenger, lay your seat right back, look up and take it all in. As a driver, you can concentrate on that winding road ahead, because your eyes aren't watering from windburn, and your ears aren't turning purple from the cold.
But we don't live in cold conditions. Australia is blessed with sunshine, and loads of it. Lots of heat, too. So although it's lovely to see photos of people staying warm despite it being freezing outside high up in the Arctic Circle, does Aircap actually work in Australia? Definitely. It'll keep things draught free so you can carry on a conversation, and it helps to keep the climate controlled cold air from being sucked out, although the sun will do its level best to bake your skin - hat and sunnies it is, then.
Aircap debuted on Merc’s new E-Class Cabriolet, and along with another nifty feature called Airscarf, the E-Class Cabriolet stakes its claim as one of the most practical convertibles on sale today.
Airscarf, as the name suggests, is a heated stream of air emanating from vents in the front headrests which envelops your neck, as a scarf would. While the E-Class Cabriolet comes into its own in wintertime – with three methods of heating (Airscarf, seat warmers and climate control), it's a pity that Airscarf doesn't project cool air as well.
Putting the roof away has another benefit, though – unfettered aural pleasure. In E500 guise as tested, there’s 5.5-litres of classic German bent eight under the sculpted bonnet. With the car open, the exhaust noises are unsuppressed, meaning it's a classic V8 soundtrack - deep and gutteral - while the induction hisses with the masses of air being sucked in. Wonderful stuff.
Being a seven speed automatic, you get to hear that beautiful sound for longer as it glides through all the gears, seamlessly building speed. It's smooth and effortless in comfort mode, or short and snappy in sports mode. If only the sports button was mounted near the gearlever and not on the centre stack - it makes more sense that way.
You can also operate the gearbox manually by pressing the M button next to the gear lever which allows you full control via the gearshift or the steering wheelmounted paddles. The paddle response is also a lot quicker than in the E500 sedan we tested recently, although it won't hold the gears at the rev limiter; it still upchanges for you.
That it's not an out-and-out sports car is evident from its ride and handling. Sure, the suspension is firm, but it's never jarring, and while it is happy enough on ribbon-like blacktop, its portly kerb weight (1840kg) does work against it in sharp directional changes. Mind you, with 285kW and 530Nm on tap in a rear-wheel-drive format, it'll happily wag its tail - 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds is the giveaway here - but only until the stability control clamps down on your fun. Switching it off only serves to delay the ESC's eventual response - it's always lurking in the background.
No matter, because it's still a satisfying drive without resorting to tomfoolery. The steering is meaty and accurate, with a decent dollop of feedback. The brakes are consistently strong no matter what you throw at them and the brilliant sports seats with eight ways of comfort adjustment - in addition to the eight way position adjustment - hug your body while still remaining supremely supportive.
The rear seats can actually house adults, though it is a little tight for legroom. It's also a strict four seater - but then which convertible in this segment isn't?
Quality wise, there's not much to fault. The leather is superb, the build is tight and even the plastics used are all first class. Mercedes-Benz's Comand system is pretty good, too - in case you're wondering, it's a rotary selector near the gearshift by which you can access all the car's navigation, audio and vehicle information. We love the simplicity of the climate control; push the lever up for warmer and down for colder, although not everything inside is simple; the centre stack does get a little crowded with the keypad and quick-select buttons on each side of the volume knob. Rely on the Comand controller and keep things simple.
There are nice touches like the arm which extends to hand you your seatbelt, so you don't put your back out reaching around behind you. The lane-change warning - which vibrates the steering wheel if it senses you straying out of your lane - is a good safety feature, as well as blind-spot assist which is handy when the roof is up and visibility isn't as good.
Style-wise, too, the E-Class Cabriolet makes a case for itself. There's plenty of sharp creases and soft curves, but they combine harmoniously and keep a balanced profile. It's also immediately identifiable as one of the Mercedes-Benz family, possibly because of the overkill of three-pointed star badges - there’s one sitting just millimeters above the other at the front end.
But there's something that makes this car quite different to its rivals, Mercedes-Benz taking a different tack to completing the roofless experience.
Eschewing the current trend of installing a folding hard-top to convertibles, Merc, in its teutonic wisdom, decided a soft-top was far more practical. You can actually use the boot – a soft-top takes up far less room - you can put it away when on the move, while a canvas roof saves weight, reducing fuel use and enabling better acceleration and handling.
Well, that's the argument Mercedes-Benz uses anyway. The only problem is there's a car which accelerates and handles better, despite it being a folding hard-top.
BMW M3 Convertible sounds better, goes better, brakes better and is over $10,000 less than the E500 Cabriolet. Sure, it's based on the BMW 3 Series, which means it's actually in C-Class territory, but because it has plenty of room both front and rear (in fact it's about equal in rear legroom), in truth it's a direct competitor to the E500 Cabriolet. Don't forget, the E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet use C-Class underpinnings.
But of course, you can't get Aircap on the BMW M3 Convertible. Nor can you get Airscarf. Nor is it as smooth, and there's zero room in the boot once the roof is stowed away.
One thing’s for sure: the Mercedes-Benz E500 Cabriolet is innovative and practical. But you'd hope so when it clocks in at over $185,000. It's also very rigid - almost a match for the E-Class Coupe with no scuttle shake to speak of - and for those who think they'll actually drop the top and enjoy open air feeling, it's probably worth the extra $10K premium over the Coupe. Really, compared to the Coupe, all you're losing is a bit of boot space.
Sure, it's a wallet stretcher, but the good looks, smoothness, heavy-artillery soundtrack, bank-vault build quality, decent drive, plus the quiet cabin when the roof's down, all point to a car which will be bought by those in the know.
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*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.