A friend for four seasons
You might agree that our changing weather isn’t the ideal time to launch a new soft-top convertible, but this only boosted the confidence of Mercedes-Benz representatives at the recent launch of the new E-Class Cabrio. Backed by a joyful marketing campaign that denotes the newcomer as one cabrio for four seasons, the topless executive German completes the E-Class line-up of sedan, estate, coupé and convertible. It’s based on the 2-door coupé version of the E and is only available with a soft top.
Mercedes vehemently defends its choice of fabric over steel roof with reasons of aesthetics and functionality; the car’s length would have made a metal structure too complicated and sizable, negatively affecting looks, weight and boot space. Makes sense.
Another pleasant upside of this setup is that, much like earlier 4-seater cabrios from Merc, the rear seats are perfectly acceptable for adults. This is not a 2+2 vehicle, or one where the second row is only suited for golf clubs or small pot plants, thanks to the E-Class coupé platform the back is actually quite a nice place to sit.
The E-Class Cabrio is only available in E350 or E500 guise, there are no current plans to introduce Diesels or AMG’s in this (and the coupé) range. E350 troubles a 3.5-litre 24-valve petrol V6 worth 200kW (272hp) and 350Nm, while E500 boasts with a 285kW (388hp) 5.5-litre 32-valve petrol V8 that pushes out up to 530Nm.
Both vehicles come as standard with a 7-speed automatic gearbox and every conceivable safety and comfort feature. Thanks to clever plumbing and active rear headrests, the convertible equals the coupé in terms of crash- and rollover tests.
Potential owners have a choice of 12 paint and 3 soft top colours, Elegance or Avantgarde finishes, and an AMG styling and handling pack (at additional charge). Further costly extras worth considering include a reversing camera, Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Brake, TV Tuner and Keyless entry.
The standard equipment of both cars boggles the mind, with the five hundred enjoying a Dynamic Handling pack, memory seats, 3-zone climate control and AIRCAP as standard over the three fifty. More of that later… Forsaking the humdrum stuff like power steering and electric mirrors, I’ll just quickly mention a few of the E-Class Cabrio’s built-in toys:
Parking sensors, auto-dimming mirrors, shift paddles, tyre pressure monitors, navigation, DVD changer, Bluetooth, 9-channel Logic-7 DSP DTS 12-speaker harman kardon sound system, climate control, intelligent bi-xenon headlights, electric just-about-everything and the PRE-SAFE safety system.
Right, AIRCAP. In order to maintain their multi-seasonal claim, Mercedes-Benz not only produced a triple-fabric roof with thermal and noise insulation that can be operated at speeds up to 40km/h, but also developed an automatic draft-stop mechanism called AIRCAP.
In layman’s terms it extends the top part of the windscreen frame by a few centimetres to assist the rear wind diffuser in maintaining an almost draft-free open cabin. The SLK and SL’s AIRSCARF integrated seat heating and ventilation is also present, while the intelligent climate control offers 3 distinct modes for open or closed top motoring.
And wouldn’t you know it, all this trickery actually works perfectly and validated the smug smiles of the Mercedes gang upon our return. A sunny autumn day graced our launch route along the coast, giving us plenty of opportunities to test the two new E-Class Cabrios.
Initials fears of the E350 being underpowered were quickly dispelled by the V6 shifting its host along with ease, its 200kW offering superb acceleration and the 350Nm taking over to maintain cruising altitude, ag, speed.
As I already noticed in the E-Class sedan, the levels of comfort and road-holding have increased yet again, both convertibles handle superbly and exhibit insignificant body flex thanks to additional strengthening. The brakes offer good feedback and impressive stopping power, while the adaptive steering completes a good job of carving up coastal roads.
The E500 V8’s 388hp will make automotive minced meat of the poor E350, but I wasn’t the only attendee who defended the lesser power plant. Yes, the vee eight shoots forward with more verve and a better soundtrack and yes, its torque lets you burble past the speed limit at 1200rpm.
But in terms of dynamics and modern performance standards the E350 V6 is more than adequate, arguably more economical and environmentally friendly, too. Should money be of no concern to you, I implore you to sign under the E500’s dotted line. Get a Tenorite Grey one for me too, please.
The highly competent and almost identical E350 is an incredibly close second choice though, its N$770 000 price tag delivering a final blow to the 500’s N$900 000. Both Cabrios are sold with the Mercedes-Benz MobiloDrive120 6 year 120 000km escalating maintenance plan and deliver on what their maker promises; they are fully four season functional.