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Never before has a luxury soft-top made more sense than with the Mercedes-Benz E300 Cabriolet.
It looks like a million bucks, boasts a seriously impressive cabin, can transport four large adults in unbridled comfort and costs less than $125,000 plus on-roads.
It’s also a far cry from its C-Class-based predecessor, which up against its E-Class siblings – the coupe and wagon – was measurably smaller and thus far less practical when it came to family ride-sharing.
But this new version is different. Bigger, safer and way more impressive. And, to the untrained eye, looks dangerously close to the company’s flagship S-Class. Either way, the E-Class ‘Cab’ is a substantial Benz rag top with genuine high-end cachet and stunning visual appeal.
Some of that is down to its roof – a sophisticated, multi-layered unit that can be lowered or erected in around 20 seconds at speeds up to 50km/h via the usual folding theatrics. Even with the roof in place, it still looks great, but once neatly tucked away behind the rear seats it morphs into a real head-tuner.
It’s also the one thing that sets it apart from similarly priced rivals like BMW’s 4 Series Convertible, a noticeably smaller vehicle that instead employs a folding metal hardtop.
However, along with its sweet styling and competitive pricing comes something of a compromise with the E300. At least, that’s what some might call it, while other more prudent buyers might just call it the perfect package.
Whereas the E400 is powered by a silky-smooth 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine making 245kW and 480Nm of torque, the E300 downsizes to 2.0-litre in-line turbo-four petrol power with 180kW and 370Nm of torque on tap.
I know what you’re thinking – is that all it's got?
Here’s a big, bold cabriolet tipping the scales at nearly 1800kg and packing a small-displacement four-pot motor – the same engine that you get in the smaller, lighter C-Class equivalent.
But in all honesty, there’s absolutely no cause for alarm, even for those sun-lovers who also fancy a bit of go under their right foot when they need to punch it. It’s got more than enough go to move this graceful Benz along at a decent clip, and there’s no real lack of punch off the line either, just quietly.
In fact, dial up either Sport or Sport Plus mode, give the throttle a good prod (as we did on occasion) and there’s no argument from us with regard to Benz’s claim of a 6.5-second sprint time from 0–100km/h. I’d even call it spirited, and there isn’t much lag either. As four-cylinder petrol engines go, this is very good.
Just don’t expect a lot of noise, though – at least, not like the rorty snarl of a hot hatch packing similar firepower. The E300 Cab is a little uninspiring in that regard, at least to this reviewer.
But it does handle well despite the unavoidable body wobble that seems to go hand-in-hand with most drop tops, even one of this build quality. It’s not too bad, though, so you can hustle the E300 along your favourite B-road in this open-top Benz and it still feels nicely balanced, composed and somewhat rewarding.
There’s good grip from the 275/30-series Goodyear Eagles down back (245/35 – rear) too, particularly in the wet, despite their low profile.
For most, though, outright performance won’t be much of a consideration in the buying process. Dynamic corner-carving isn’t likely to feature high on the list of purchase triggers either – at least not for those buyers looking at a stylish cabriolet with a three-pointed star up front. Still, it’s nice to know it’s got some legs all the same.
And any assertions that the soft top might fail to properly isolate the ruckus outside would normally be spot-on. Just not with the E-Class. In fact, you’re more than likely to drive around for a day or two before finally realising you’re actually in a cabriolet. It’s just so damn quiet, you tend to forget about it – completely.
Impressive, too, is the wind-free effect when the roof is lowered. Conversations can be had even at high speed, and full-grown men (and women) won’t need to wear those silly-looking caps to prevent a bad hair day.
It also comes with a built-in wind-deflector dubbed ‘AirCap’ that comprises a couple of wind deflectors that automatically emerge from behind the rear seats and the windscreen frame – supposedly to reduce turbulence inside the cabin.
When we finally did give it a crack on the motorway, we honestly couldn’t detect much of an improvement. That said, while there’s still plenty of wind swirl inside the cabin at 100km/h plus, you can still hold down a conversation without resorting to yelling at the person sitting next to you. That’s pretty impressive.
The ride, too, is very well damped (at least in the most relaxed setting) thanks to the E300’s adjustable suspension system that’s able to soften and isolate the effect of large bumps and uneven surfaces, except for the occasional jarring from a sharp-edged pothole.
At least, that’s in the softest ride setting. Scroll through to Sport and Sport Plus, and the ride becomes noticeably less compliant, while body roll is kept in check in the cornering department. It’s a good system because it allows plenty of breadth between the various settings.
It’s also a great accompaniment to the first-class comfort of the cabin. Some of that comes down to the sheer volume of space, as well as the contours, cushioning and bolster of the seats – front and rear. Really tall folks will struggle with head room in the back (roof up), but at least there’s enough room below the front pews to slide your feet under.
There’s also a pair of Benz’s now-trademark aircraft-inspired air vents for rear-seat passengers, as well as additional fans in the back of the front-seat headrests to cool you down on those hotter days. There’s no centre armrest, though, so that could be a bit of a pain.
Plenty of rear-seat storage, too, with two cup holders, side bins and map pockets of a decent size. And up front, there’s loads of room for multiple phones, wallets and sunnies.
The highlight, though, is the veritable digital screen wall that stretches two-thirds of the dash. It’s enormous, and almost overwhelming when you first see it, but it also offers crystal-clear definition and colour.
We also love the blend of real metal accents and wood across the dash and door trim – it feels good to the touch, while adding a touch of class, but without looking overly bling.
For those that love their music, the German-made Burmester audio system sits at the top of the pile – not only for its crystal-clear clarity and broad range of notes, but equally for the craftsmanship of the metal speaker grilles, which are simply stunning.
There’s also a vast array of the usual gadgetry and creature comforts on board, as well as the latest in active safety tech.
Sure, the twin-turbo V6 is an ideal match for the E400 Cabriolet, with its effortless power and refined power delivery, but it’s also tens of thousands more than the turbo-four tested here.
We’d argue the E300 hits the sweet spot when it comes to family-sized open-air motoring in a luxury coupe better than anything in its class.