For over half a century, the drop-top version of the two-door model of the mass-market four-door saloon (phew!) has been a statement of class and success.
Hollywood is on board with this way of thinking. We all remember the W111 220 SE Cabriolet in The Hangover, and word is, Hugh Grant drove a W211 280SE in the first Bridget Jones movie. How did young and aspiring legal-eagle Mitch McDeere roll in Memphis when he joined The Firm? A W124 300CE cab of course.
And like any true timeless icon, those Benzes all still look good today.
So while we have just seen the local launch of the first-ever compact C-Class Cabriolet, there’s still plenty of room for the bigger, quintessential Hollywood boulevard cruiser, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet.
The current A207 / W212 E-Cab was launched back in 2009, and like Bridget Jones herself, had a major facelift in 2013. It’s far from being a new car, the next W213-generation E-Class convertible is due to arrive next year, but that’s not a problem if you are timeless.
Like many who drive one, the exterior lines of the E-Cab betray the age of what lies beneath. You may be shocked to learn it runs not on the W212 E-Class platform but the 10-year old W204 C-Class chassis. The wheelbase (2760mm) is actually the same as the old C-Class Coupe.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at it though, as even now the E-Cab is still a terrific looking car.
There’s something about the slightly longer body (4703mm) that suits the lines of the E400 so well. Regardless of whether the powered cloth top is up or down, this is a very good looking machine.
Priced from $145,615 (before options and on-road costs), the E400 tops out the three-model range and features everything that opens and shuts. Quite literally.
Our car features the $4900 ‘Night Edition’ package, which adds some black trim elements, stitched leather dashboard, the full AMG body and interior styling package (including the 19-inch wheels and red seatbelts).
We’d almost go as far as to say that is one of the most value-packed options we’ve seen in a long time, and should be a ‘must-tick’ box for buyers.
Remember too, this is on top of the already long list of standard equipment that includes the DAB digital tuner, 360-degree camera, seven-inch COMAND infotainment screen, keyless entry and start and full-swag of DISTRONIC driver assistance tech.
The Polar White paint is one of 11 options, and you can further personalise by choosing your soft-top fabric in one of four material shades (black, brown, blue and red). Things get even more complex as you select from 17-different interior leather combination options. Ours is a safe and stylish Black Passion trim with AMG red stitch.
Parts of the cabin do feel dated, but there are stylish touches too. The analogue clock between the air vents gives a certain 'special' appeal, where the recessed infotainment screen and alpha-numeric keypad do their best to turn back the clock, so to speak.
Some ergonomics too, are a little bit 'underthought'. Take the little flap in the arm rest that opens to reveal the roof controls. It flips toward the driver, making access a little tricky. It has obviously been developed for left-hand drive cars, and little care or notice was taken to adapt it for right-drive markets.
The twin seats in the back offer decent room (for a car like this) and plenty of ammenities with a cubby and cupholders between the seats, rear-facing air vents and an armrest to share. This is one of the drawcards of the E-Class convertible, in that you can fit four real-life actual-sized people in the car at once, where some competitors, and even the smaller C-Class cabrio, should leave the back for children only.
Access isn't perfect when the roof is up, but the powered front seats do move out of the way quite quickly and you can sort of 'fall' in to the back of the Mercedes without too much effort.
You get a boot that expands from 300 to 390-litres if you have the roof up, which is still a good size considering the E-Class coupe has 450-litres.
The roof itself folds quickly and quietly even when on the move (up to 40km/h), and then things start to get clever.
Mercedes call it AIRCAP, and when active, it looks like a roof-rack mounted to the top edge of the windscreen. It is essentially a spoiler that deploys automatically at speeds above 40km/h (you can deploy it manually), that works in concert with the wind deflector between the rear seats, which also rises.
It essentially forces air over the top of the car, so that at speeds even up to 100km/h, you can barely feel the wind inside the car. When paired with the Airscarf, a heater that blows warm air around your neck, means the E-Cab is a full four-season four-seater – a must for Melbourne at least.
The sensation of driving with the top down, and just a flutter of air on the top of your head is almost surreal. But I will warn, that to anyone outside the car, you look ridiculous with the Aircap spoiler deployed. Set it to automatic mode, and it will lower at 15km/h – protecting your hair and dignity in one fell swoop.
If the weather turns sour, the E-Class seals up tighty and runs very quietly with the multi-layer fabric roof in place.
Beyond all that tech jewellery though, is a heart that beats as strong as any. The E400’s 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 is an absolute gem.
With 245kW and 480Nm on tap, it has enough go to shovel the E-Cab around with a smooth, but muscular ability. You have access to peak torque from just 1400rpm and can squeeze those 480Nm out until a syrupy smooth 4000rpm.
This gives you ample response whenever you need it. There’s no aggressive squatting or sliding like in a monster AMG, and the E400 cab is all the more relaxing for it. It’s a very mature amount of power for a mature amount of car.
The seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox is typically ‘Mercedes’ in its operation. The column-mounted shifter becomes familiar with time, and as with the power delivery, the car just doesn’t really encourage you to switch to manual and bang through gears with the steering-wheel mounted paddles.
In fact, should you go against the car’s encouragement and try and push the E-Class, you feel the car wallow and wash off speed through tighter corners. Mid-corner bumps will highlight the more flexible nature of the convertible and quite frankly, it isn’t much fun.
There is an ability to switch between sport and comfort suspension settings, and while there is a difference, it's more of a personal preference rather than a Jekyll/Hyde dynamic change.
Open road touring though, is where the E400 feels completely at home, and through some long sweeping country bends, the V6 is just such a versatile engine. Responsive at an instant, and yet happy to just lope along. It strangely doesn’t make you want to fling the 1825kg convertible around like a sports car, instead it encourages you to enjoy the lost art of the topless cruise.
It soaks up all but the most extreme bumps and glides over anything but the worst roads.
Some of the instruments and dashboard components look dated to use, especially when compared to the more modern Mercedes range. Even the fuel consumption display is the old, basic bar-chart.
This is a grand tourer in every way.
Even running back into the built-up 'burbs, the Benz floats along effortlessly. The magical wind deflection systems ensure that barely a hair is rustled on top of your head.
Running through the city at night, with the top down and some music on is what convertibles are best at, and in this role, you feel you could just keep on driving and driving in the E-Class cab.
The major update in 2013 saw the inclusion of adaptive LED headlights, Distronic driver assistance tech and the updated COMAND software. It’s not a pinch on the new-generation E-Class, but when compared against anything in this segment, the old girl is pretty advanced.
Which leads to a bigger point. Just what does the E400 Cab compete with?
Technically, being an E-Class, it should bigger than the BMW 4-Series and Audi A5. That’s despite being based on a C-Class and having a shorter wheelbase than the BMW. Plus there’s the new C-Cab to handle that role, right?
Then there’s the BMW 6-Series, which starts a whopping $50k higher than the E400, but is outgunned by the Merc in the power stakes.
You could even buy a his and hers pair of Mercedes ragtops for the price of the Maserati GranCabrio, despite only being a tenth of a second off the pace of the Italian’s sprint to 100km/h (5.2 plays 5.3 seconds).
So in a way, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet sits by itself, like any timeless icon should.
It’s a beautiful, comfortable, powerful, proper four-seat convertible that oozes style.
Yes it is getting on, and no it isn't particularly sporty or dynamic; it’s a car you grow into, and it doesn’t take long before the car’s age, or yours, just doesn’t matter anymore.
In 2017, the W213 will bring even more technology and an overall modernisation of the A207 E-Class Convertible. That will push the E400 to ‘modern classic’ status and like the W124 and W111 before it, you’ll no doubt see it shining on the silver screen, a permanent representation of what a timeless design can be.
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