Convertibles play a huge role in the Mercedes-Benz lineup — perhaps not so much in volume sold, but both in quality and breadth of offerings. Mercedes offers roofless versions of each of its major car lines — C, E, and S classes — on top of its iconic SL and SLC roadsters and GT supercar. This stable is far more than any other manufacturer, clearly underscoring how critical open-air motoring is to the Mercedes-Benz experience.
While the C-Class Cabriolet and SLC mark the entry-level Mercedes convertibles, and the S-Class Cabrio and SL mark the apex models, the E-Class Cabrio is the proverbial Goldilocks “just right” solution, priced between them with a base MSRP of $63,595. When it first debuted back in 1992 most manufacturers had given up on convertibles — in fact, Mercedes only had the eternal SL at the time. So this is a vehicle Stuttgart takes very seriously.
“If you ask me, the E-Class Cabriolet is second to none,” Christian Fruh, the vehicle’s proud chief engineer, told us at launch. Mercedes was so confident in its product that it flew us Geneva, Switzerland, to drive the new 2018 E400 Cabrio through the Alps to the gorgeous town of Courmayeur to experience the full breadth of the E400’s character.
The Topless Drive
The first and last thing that has to be said about the E400 Cabrio is the absolute pleasure it is to drive. There are few vehicles better suited to enjoy the sweeping emerald pastures of the Alpine foothills. The roads weren’t challenging per se, but they offered just enough zigs and zags to highlight the E400’s different suspension packages. The E-Class offers Comfort, Sport or Sport+ settings, but either way, it has a very solid drive, with nearly no roll in corners. This level of integrity would be impressive even in a hardtop, much less a roofless vehicle.
Plus, with the roof down one could take in the full breadth of the Tolkienesque mountains that rose from the lakes like steely towers. With Kendrick Lamar’s “Love” flowing out of the 590-watt/13-speaker Burmester sound system and the sun toasting our faces, this is the myth that car commercials are made of — and the E400 Cabriolet makes real.
For motivation, the E400 relies on Benz’s excellent biturbo 3.0-liter V6 engine, which generates a healthy 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel-drive is standard, with 4MATIC all-wheel-drive available as an option.
Design Within Reach
As with many convertibles, the E-Class Cabrio loses a bit of its coupe beauty with the loss of its roof and corresponding fastback silhouette. Still, it offers enough flair with its dual power domes on the hood, Multibeam LED headlights and well-shaped sheet metal.
Its cabin is even more impressive, the centerpiece being Mercedes’ new “double widescreen” tech. This feature places twin 12.3-inch LCD displays side by side to take over more than half of the dash’s horizontal space. You can consider the tech a Rafael Nadal-like riposte to Audi’s highly regarded “Virtual Cockpit,” but at more than 2 feet wide, the Benz system might be even more impressive given its size alone.
Below it a glossy metal weave surrounds the four central air vents and the Start button. The vents themselves are a thing of beauty, their aluminum matching the metal grilles on the Burmester speakers. Our E400 had a gorgeous two-tone livery of ivory and black leather. Everything our fingers touched was of quality material, including heavy metal switchgear throughout. Other niceties include well-bolstered but comfy front seats and three USB ports.
Although we kept the top down most of the time in order to best take in the snow-capped peaks, we did drive through the one-time longest tunnel in Europe, cutting a 7-mile hole from Switzerland into Italy. When up, the multilayered acoustic canvas roof offered superb sound insulation, nearly matching what one would expect in a luxury hardtop. That soft top opens fully in only 20 seconds and can be operated at speeds up to 30 mph.
Arguably the biggest upgrade in the redesigned E-Class convertible is its back seat accommodations. There’s significantly more rear legroom and also an increase in shoulder room and elbow space. For the first time in an E-Class Cabrio, you can also fold down the rear seats for easy loading of skis, surfboards and other tools of the sun-worshipping lot.
More than once on our splendid drive through the Italian Alps did we absentmindedly find ourselves staring at the vertiginous spire of Mont Blanc a split second too long. In such cases, the E400’s Intelligent Drive system would suddenly take control of the car when it drifted over the lane markers, braking a bit and gently steering the vehicle back into the lane.
Now you won’t always be driving on roads pulled from “The Lord of the Rings,” but you certainly will find yourself distracted at one point or another. And these light manifestations of autonomous driving are incredibly handy and safe.
For Your Consideration
Mercedes is to automotive engineering what Japanese hotels are to the art of hospitality: It solves problems before you even know they exist. Let’s start with something Mercedes calls Magic Vision Control — a hilariously hyperbolic name for windshield wipers that dispense washer fluid from the wipers instead of from jets on the hood. While it’s also found on other Mercedes models, the convertible’s wipers only spray on downstrokes to limit liquid from getting into the cabin. How’s that for considerate?
Then there’s AirCap, a “draft stop” system of two air-turbulence deflectors — one on top of the windshield frame, the other behind the rear passengers — that deploy at the push of a button to keep the interior of the E400 shockingly calm and quiet when the roof is down. Then there’s the truly indulgent AirScarf, first seen in Benz’s flagship roadster, the SL. AirScarf considerately blows warm air on the napes of both front passengers to keep them toasty even in chilly weather when the sun disappears behind the Alps.
And for the first time in an E-Class convertible, the rear seats can even be heated to keep the peasants in the backseat from revolting, demanding the roof be raised when the sun goes down.
In addition to so many other merits, what other automakers offer rebellion suppression?
Photo Credit: © 2017 Mercedes-Benz