2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet Review
Open air motoring at its best
Palma de Mallorca, Spain—With the introduction of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet, the company’s revamped mid-size luxury line-up is now complete. The saloon bowed first last year, followed closely by the coupe and the wagon; all three continue a tradition of quality engineering, a wide range of hi-tech features and a decent level of driving satisfaction.
So the expectations for the soft-top version went something like this: more of the same, but with some added vitamin D thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, the weather for the launch event, held on the perennially sun-soaked isle of Mallorca, cooperated
The cabriolet versions of the E-Class will be available with a number of different petrol and diesel engines, depending on the market in question.
At the time of launch, the complete list of diesel engines is as follows: a 4-cylinder each for the E200 CDI (125 kW; 170 hp) and the E250 CDI (150 kW; 204 hp), as well as a V6 diesel for the E350 CDI (170 kW; 231 hp). The catalogue of petrol engines reads as follows: a 4-cylinder for the E200 CGI (135 kW; 184 hp) and the E250 CGI (150 kW; 204 hp), a V6 for the E350 CGI (215 kW; 292 hp) and a V8 for the top-of-the-line E500 CGI (285 kW; 388 hp), which is branded the E550 in certain markets.
Over the course of two days of driving, I had the chance to test three of these models: the E350 CDI, E250 CGI and E500 CGI. (Whew, that’s a lot of letters.)
First, let’s start with the gasoline engines. Here’s what I learned last year in driving the V6 and V8 petrol versions of the E-Class saloon back-to-back: The V6 is Dr. Jekyll, the V8 is Mr. Hyde. While there was only the opportunity to test out the V8 this time around, my educated guess is that the V6 will be best-suited to those who appreciate the cachet of the five-pointed star and all the cabriolet’s luxury amenities, combined with enough power so that you’re not completely embarrassed during stoplight getaways.
While the E350 CGI employs a 3.5-litre V6 that develops 292 horsepower and 365 Nm of torque, the E500 boasts a 5.5-litre V8, 388 horsepower and 530 Nm of torque. If that seems like a big difference…well, it is a big difference.
As a result, the E500 will clearly resonate with those who prefer their luxury family sedans to be a little more muscular. While this version isn’t quite as extreme as the inevitable E63 AMG Cabriolet (likely appearing later in the year), it does manage the sprint from 0-100 km/h in a scant 5.3 seconds. That’s pretty quick for a family car in anybody’s book.
Power is diverted to the rear wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission—dubbed the 7G-TRONIC—that can be left in full automatic mode or shifted using the centrally-mounted gear lever or steering column-mounted paddles. While this unit isn’t as racy as some on the market, it’s certainly well-sorted and perfectly in tune with the nature of the car.
Out on the winding roads with the soft-top safely stored away, the E550 proved an entertaining ride. The dynamic handling package—standard in certain markets—provides the choice between two modes, sport and normal. This system automatically adjusts the amount of damping at each wheel when cornering or performing evasive manoeuvres, while the sport mode stiffens up the suspension accordingly.
The ride proved to be a great compromise between comfort and road-holding. And while the traction control system is a bit matronly, it does allow for the car to be thrown into corners with little concern for the repercussions. The steering isn’t as direct as I’d like, but, then again, this isn’t a sports car.
From an engineering standpoint, the highlight of the driving experience just might be the exhaust note. Top down, right foot planted: a little piece of heaven burbling forth from the trapezoidal tips. (And, again, a hint at what the AMG model might offer.)
Next on the desirability list came the E350 CDI. As the saying goes, there’s no sunstitute for displacement and the diesel just didn’t turn my crank as much as the big V8. Having said that, the 3.0-litre V6 oil-burner is definitely a handy motor that offers a decent level of acceleration combined with respectable fuel efficiency.
My issue with the E350 CDI (as with many diesels): It simply runs out of breath out on the open road—and when is that ever fun? Aided by a 7-speed automatic as well, this cab motors from naught to 100 km/h in 6.9 seconds. So the diesel does generate some fun, but a little bit more would be greatly appreciated.
Lastly, we arrive at the E250 CGI. This 4-cylinder isn’t for everyone… and it’s not for me, either. Saddled with an outdated 5-speed automatic transmission, acceleration is extremely mild. I would say that this engine would be best suited to taxi cab duty, but then why would you choose it over a 4-cylinder diesel that offered better efficiency and performance off the line? Motoring around the hilly terrain just outside Palma, the E250 struggled to catch its breath regularly.
In terms of comfort, luxury and convenience, here’s everything you need to know about the E-Class Cabriolet: It’s a Mercedes-Benz. With this statement alone, it goes without saying that the car will offer a ton of luxury amenities, heaps of technology and plenty of comfort for those fortunate enough to own one.
In the run-up to the introduction of the E-Class Cabriolet, the corporate spin doctors gave the car a fairly compelling tagline: Four passengers, four seasons. The reason for this is the introduction of the AIRCAP, a new system designed to reduce wind buffeting for rear-seat passengers when the top is down.
The AIRCAP comprises two parts: a spoiler with integrated netting mounted on top of the windshield and a mesh windbreak set between the headrests of the rear seats. Both, along with the soft-top, are power-operated through switches in a control panel just in front of the armrest. (The rear windbreak also automatically deploys when one of the rear seatbelts is used.)
While the system proved very effective at reducing airflow and noise in the cabin, there were two notable drawbacks. First, the front spoiler looks incredibly inelegant when deployed. Second, the netting draws insects like a moth to the flame, so when it’s tucked away after use, bug parts rain down on the front windshield like a grade school biology class.
Still, with the airflow managed, the climate control and seat heaters set on high, and the neck-heating AIRSCARF engaged (another bit of proprietary thinking from Mercedes), you could conceivably power along with the top down in the dead of winter. Maybe not at the North Pole, but you get the point.
Here’s another aspect of the Mercedes line-up that seems to go unnoticed too often: The power seats are some of the most comfortable and easy to operate on the market.
The seat controls are placed on the side of the door, right where you can reach and see them. They offer an iconic replica of the seat with clear switches for the headrest, backrest and seat bottom. Their level of adjustability is infinite. Why every manufacturer in the world doesn’t copy the Mercedes design for seat controls is a mystery.
The AMG sports package includes the even more delightful multi-contoured front seats; these give the driver and co-driver still more decisions to make, with extra side bolstering and lumbar support part of the equation. To top it all off, the versions tested included the optional “climate comfort” seats with heating and cooling switches. (I like to turn both the heating and the cooling on full blast and watch them fight it out.)
Elsewhere, the interior of the E-Class Cabriolet with AMG sports package boasts a number of other nice touches such as the sports steering wheel, brushed aluminum sports pedals, leather upholstery and very handsome black-on-black or two-tone interior treatments.
When you add in the aggressive outward appearance of the AMG sports package—including body kit, upgraded brake calipers and 18-inch wheels—you also have a drop-top that’s capable of turning heads for all the right reasons.
Lastly, the E-Class Cabriolet offers so many hi-tech features, it would take another complete article to describe them in full. (The Reader’s Digest version: adaptive high beams, adaptive cruise control with automatic brake assist, and attention assist to alert the driver if he seems to be driving erratically.)
As expected, then, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is another worthy addition to the manufacturer’s potent line-up... as long as you opt for the proper engine.