Compromises. That is what cabriolets bring. Even so, the market for open-topped cars is resurgent, which is in no small part thanks to the removal of those traditional foibles. The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet exemplifies this. With the roof up, you’d be hard pushed to know it can be lowered; the acoustically tuned fabric soft top is so hushed you could be in the coupé. But it does lower, in 20 seconds, at up to 50kph, fully automatically.
No header rail handles to turn or finger-snapping exertion to open up to the sun; the only work you need to do is hold your digit under the button while a bank of motors majestically folds that fabric roof, secreting it into the back. It’s a joy to watch, too, and transformational; if the E-Class Cabriolet is glamorous with its roof in place, it’s doubly so when it’s down.
Bigger than its predecessor, the stretched wheelbase not only does wonders for interior space, but the appearance, too. There’s sophistication to its lines, the flanks initially look unadorned, but the way the light moves over them reveals some detailed surfacing. It’s a clever trick, which lengthens and shapes, helping the E-Class be an elegant, desirable looker. There’s simplicity in its form, as the lights and grille are the only jewel-like features, while the neat chrome line that delineates the top of the body and the cabin when the hood is folded add to its svelte lines.
Removing those convertible compromises does come at a cost to the looks. Fitted with Aircap as standard to minimise draughts in the cabin, the pop-up windscreen top aerofoil and its counterpart draught stopper between the rear headrests are a rather ungainly solution to the most obvious of convertible quirks. Undeniably effective at removing turbulent air from the cabin on the move, you’ll be pushing the button to remove them at town speeds to ensure heads are turning for the right reasons.
Do that and everything will be right with the world, the E-Class Cabriolet’s interior not only spacious — with real four-seat capability — but beautifully executed. It’s all familiar E-Class, admittedly, but given its position as among the very best interiors that’s no bad thing.
There’s sophistication to its lines, the flanks initially look unadorned, but the way the light moves over them reveals some detailed surfacing.
From the gloriously decorative air vents to the twin widescreen displays that come as part of the Comand Online package, the interior is a fine mix of visual modernity with indulgent traditional luxury. There’s connectivity and entertainment in abundance, the E-Class offering as sophisticated an environment you can surround yourself in.
In true Mercedes-Benz form the attention to detail is obsessive. The seats are covered in heat-reflecting leather, which combined with optionally air-conditioned venting means cool bottoms and backs whatever the temperature. Other drop-top details that underline the firm’s fastidious engineering include intelligent Magic Vision Control wipers which only jet water along their length on the down stoke, so as not to dampen the occupants inside.
Clever stuff, the E-Class losing none of its cutting-edge modernity in transformation from executive saloon, through cool coupé to glamorous Cabriolet. All the driver aids and autonomous features of the E-Class are evident here, this is a Cabriolet that will all but drive itself should you want it to. The suite of assistance and packages includes the Drive Pilot offering, which combines Distance Pilot Distronic, Speed limit Pilot, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Brake Assistant cross traffic function, Evasive Steering Assist and Pre-Safe Impulse Side. The cumulative effect of these is a car you really can relax in and enjoy the view. It is arguably the most convincing application of Mercedes-Benz’s autonomous features yet.
Useful, but there’s enjoyment from more than just admiring the view as it drives you, with engagement to be had behind the wheel if the focus is on the road itself. The loss of its roof over the coupe does soften it, there’s a hint of shimmy through the structure on rougher surfaces that not even the variable air suspension can mask. Otherwise it rides convincingly, though selecting the Sport or Sport+ settings does add some unwanted brittleness to the ride. Leave it on Comfort then where the steering is still quick and accurate, the wider tracks front and rear over the old car adding to the impression of agility, even if the reality is that it’s difficult to exploit. That increase in width does tip the E-Class Cabriolet into a size category that made the winding alpine roads around Mt Blanc on its European launch feel a bit fraught, that, rather than any limitations on the chassis’ ability, ultimately inhibiting the capacity to really enjoy it. In E 400 form it comes standard with 4Matic four-wheel drive, giving unerring traction, even when dealing with the full force of the E 400’s 3.0-litre biturbo’s 333bhp and 480Nm of torque. With it the E-Class Cabriolet can reach 100kph in just 5.5 seconds and onto an electronically limited 250kph top speed. The gearshift is taken care of with Mercedes-Benz’s nine-speed automatic transmission, its spread of ratios and decisive speed of its shifting making the wheel-mounted paddle shifters all but redundant. Wring it out and that V6’s note hardens, giving a sporting note, though it’s never boisterous or at the forefront, the eventual E 43 AMG version will cater for buyers wanting more sonorous sensations from the E.
That E 43 will bring more engagement, too, but there’s arguably no need for it. The E 400 4Matic Cabriolet’s appeal lies in its roundedness. It’s an able, cosseting cruiser when you want it to be, yet there’s enough enjoyment to be had when you’re in the mood for more interaction. Throw in space for four, and genuine practicality and you can even describe it as a rational choice. For all of that though it’s the pure and simple indulgence that comes with its open-topped status that defines it, the E-Class Cabriolet being as beautiful in its execution as it is in its looks — both inside and out. There’s little out there to match it, either, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet arguably being a better rival to the BMW 4 Series Convertible and Audi A5 Cabriolet, the E-Class sitting relatively undisturbed
in its own class. And a very desirable one, too, which is exactly the point. Compromise or not.