REVIEW DATE: 19 Feb 2010
Mercedes' E-Class Cabriolet brings a touch of class to the executive drop-top sector. Steve Walker reports.
For the British, the weather is at once a huge fascination and an arch nemesis. The awkward silence that can't be broken by a throwaway comment on metrological matters has yet to be invented and no morning is complete without a pensive squint out the window to gauge what malice the heavens might have in store. We love to hate the weather so much that we buy convertible cars at a rate that dramatically outstrips European countries with more predictable climates - just so we can get closer to the source of our pain. Mercedes-Benz may not have quite understood this complex relationship when creating its E-Class Cabriolet as the convertible you can use whatever the weather.
The CLK Cabriolet was a successful product for Mercedes. In keeping with the brand's mature customer profile, it was an elegant effort that concentrated on comfort rather than attempting to outdo rivals from BMW and Audi on sporting grounds. The CLK was also a larger car than the BMW 3 Series Convertible and Audi A4 Cabriolet it was usually judged against. Having replaced the CLK, the E-Class Cabriolet only amplifies these differences.
The E-Class branding instantly installs the Cabriolet into Mercedes' E-Class executive car range, breaking the link the CLK had to the smaller C-Class. It also gives it a unique place in the market as the convertibles that the E-Class Cabriolet would count as rivals are mainly based on smaller compact executive models. At this stage, it's difficult to imagine BMW launching a convertible version of its 5 Series but in the era of the X6 and the 5-Series GT, anything's possible.
"When you have a £40,000 convertible on your drive and it's raining, you gain the right to moan that bit harder about the weather"
The pick of the E-Class engine range is available in the E-Class Cabriolet and that means a wide choice of models ranging from the economical E200 CDI BlueEfficiency with 136bhp to the E500 with its petrol V8 yielding 388bhp. Anyone concerned that the E-Class Cabriolet's focus on comfort and refinement will mean it's a bit of a softie should be pointed in the direction of the range-topping E63 AMG versions which have 525bhp and 4Matic all-wheel-drive to assist in deploying it.
At 4,698mm long and 1,786mm wide, the E-Class Cabriolet is big. To avoid having to lug around a folding metal roof large enough to span its roomy four-seater cabin, the car has stuck with the traditional soft-top but incorporates a series of features designed to enhance passenger comfort. The roof itself takes just 20 seconds to open or close, a fast time for such a large canopy. It can also be operated at speeds of up 24mph to lessen the chance of being caught in that downpour. With the roof down, there's still a 300-litre boot capacity and 90 litres more if you keep it up.
The roof is extensively insulated against heat and sound to keep occupants comfortable in all weather conditions and even at high speeds. Mercedes claims that it's possible to have a normal phone conversation in the car at 125mph and that you can put the E-Class Cabriolet through an automatic car wash "without hesitation". With only two doors, this long car gains a very sleek shape and the clever Easy-Entry system is incorporated to aid access to the back seats.
The all-weather credentials of the E-Class Cabriolet are further enhanced by its specially designed ventilation system which can incorporate Airscarf and Aircap technology. Airscarf takes the form of vents integrated into the front seat backrests and head restraints which provide a stream of air at the desired temperature to make top-down motoring more comfortable. The Aircap is a wind deflector, a net in the windscreen frame and a draught stop between the seats. These can be deployed at high speeds to deflect air up and over the cabin making progress more comfortable for occupants.
The convertible E-Class comes well-equipped but particular attention has been paid to its safety credentials. There's a rollover protection device that fires two protective bars from behind the rear head restraints to shield occupants if a roll-over event is detected by sensors. Seven airbags are fitted as standard as are seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters. Further safety technology includes Attention Assist which monitors driver behaviour to detect drowsiness and Distronic Plus which monitors potential obstacles around the vehicle.
Efficiency has also been central to the thinking of the engineers who developed the E-Class Cabriolet and there are a number of fuel-saving measures on-board. These include on-demand activation of the steering and fuel pumps, the use of tyres with low rolling resistance and an alternator control system which takes account of the current driving situation and the vehicle's electrical power requirements. Then you have the car's aerodynamics which with a drag coefficient of 0.28, are outstanding for a convertible the size of the E-Class.
When you have a £40,000 convertible on your drive and it's raining, you gain the right to moan that bit harder about the weather. That's an attractive prospect to residents of the British Isles whose ancestors have been drenched, frozen, buffeted and, very occasionally, scorched by the elements down the centuries - often all on the same day. What Mercedes-Benz has done is develop a convertible that works in all weathers. You'll obviously get wet if it rains when the roof is down but the E-Class Cabriolet aims to keep passengers warm and comfortable, its driver enthused and everyone safe, rain or shine.
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