- What’s Good: Being able to drop the top with almost no sacrifice to interior comfort
- What’s Bad: Costs just under 8 grand more than the Coupe; no standard heated steering wheel
There’s just something bout European convertibles, isn’t there?
Images of flying down the Amalfi Coast or Côte d’Azur, gliding up a bungalow on the Mediterranean, grabbing a couple of duffels from the trunk (because you can’t fit much more than that in there) and setting down for a fresh Prosecco; the good life, of a sort.
Of course, when it comes to convertibles, another reason we think about the Europeans is because they are the only ones that really do them anymore; with the exception of the Camaro, Mustang, and MX-5 here in Canada, there are simply no other ‘verts to choose from unless you’re willing to go German or British.
And of the brands that “do” drop tops, Mercedes does it right. Indeed, they have no fewer than six model lines that you can lop the top off of at the press of the button; when you’ve got that much to work with, well, let’s just say you get plenty of practice.
The Merc ‘vert you see here – the E400 Cabriolet – lands pretty much smack dab in the middle of the pack when it comes to price and size. It’s also probably the most restrained when it comes to its looks, but that’s OK for me because this is one handsome devil. Smooth lines, a fascia that is undeniably part of the MB clan and – here’s the important part – handsome in profile whether the top’s up or down. That’s not an easy feat to achieve. It’s a shame that the two most eye-popping colours cost extra to get, though; if you don’t want to pay more, then you’re left to choose from four choices of grey/silver, a white, a couple of blacks and dark almost-but-not-quite-please-I-don’t-want-to-offend-you-in-any-way shades of blue, green, and maroon.
It comes only with a soft top (that can be had in four different colours); some may want a folding hardtop, but I remember speaking to a Rolls Royce rep about the Wraith, and he told me that’s how a convertible is supposed to be. So, Mercedes probably has it right here. That’s the subjective part; the more objective part of the equation is the fact that a soft top weighs less and has less that can break. Plus, Mercedes knows soft tops – and their shortcomings in terms of NVH – so they’ve reinforced this one with all manner of sound-deadening materials so when deployed, it doesn’t sound like it’s still open, or that you’re under a tarp when it rains.
BMW M4 Cabriolet makes the Sun Fun
Of course, the comfort features don’t stop there; Mercedes’ Airscarf tech is standard; if you want the top down but it’s a little breezy out, you can choose to have warm air blown on your neck from vents mounted at the base of the headrests. It works, but know that if you have a collar or scarf on, it’s not quite so easy to feel. If your temp’s OK but you don’t want too much wind in your face, a diffuser mounted atop the windscreen can be deployed. It’s a little unsightly, but I used it more than I did Airscarf. Heated front seats are standard, though a heated wheel is a $250 option and heated rear seats (really?) will set you back $650.
Inside, the E Cab is the same as other Mercedes, meaning a nicely appointed cabin with slick aluminum buttons, dials and vents; it’s all punctuated by the spectacular Burmester door speakers which wouldn’t look out of place on a top-flite home HiFi system. I find the quality of a car’s speakers is often indicative of the cabin as a whole, and this particular E doesn’t disappoint. Where the audio comes from also changes depending on whether the top’s up or down, which is nice. Still don’t love the means by which you access all that, though. The E’s infotainment interface is OK graphically, just a little finicky what with its two menus over and below the main screen. I find it too linear, and it’s clear that Mercedes feels the same way as of late as the all-new MBUX infotainment system is on its way, and it’s a doozy. The E, though, will likely have to wait until an all-new version arrives, perhaps as a 2020 model.
Power for the E400 comes from a twin-turbo V6 that we’re seeing in everything from small Mercedes coupes to SUVs in various forms; it’s the most powerful engine the E Cab gets this year, good for 329 hp and 354 lb-ft. Like the lines, power comes on smoothly – this is an engine that MB has worked very hard to perfect – with peak hp coming in at 5,250 RPM and, because it’s turbocharged, peak torque comes at 1,600 rpm and sticks around until 4,000 rpm so you’ve got power on-tap no matter which of the nine gears you’re in. So, you can cruise comfortably on the highway until you reach the Amalfi, then you have a properly agile powertrain (you’ll want to use the paddle shifters at this point) once it’s time to tackle the curves the area is so well known for. It’s not barn-stormingly fast, necessarily, but there’s enough here to keep those that want their grand tourer to tap into their sports car vein every now and then.
The powertrain gets four drive modes to choose from — Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport +. They change the throttle and transmission response, while steering response varies between Comfort and Sport. There’s an individual setting, too, which was nice because it allowed me to get a little more out of the powertrain without having to firm things up too much, and I think that’s the best way for a car like this to be. If I wanted my teeth rattled over every expansion joint, I’d go get an SLC or even a C-Class drop. Something a little more performance oriented.
Which, in the end, is why I like the E-Class Cabriolet so much. It’s a really good mix of performance and cruising. Plus, if I’m honest when it comes to an all-out performance ride, I’d prefer a hard-top anyway so if it’s time to go pedal to the metal, that’s how I’d go. If I wanted a more usable drop top, though this is a good way to. Heck, it’s one of the only ways to go so I, for one, am thanking Mercedes for at least still making a convertible that doesn’t require you to drive the pants off of it to make you feel like it’s worth its while.