Matthew Jones 10 May 2013

First drive: Mercedes E400 cabrio

The V8 is now a V6, but it’s still a rather good car…

Mercedes E-Class cab

Is that Merc’s facelifted E-Class convertible?

Yes! Have a biscuit.

Will do. What’s new?

Like the new E-Class saloon, the updates are pretty darn comprehensive (chassis tweaks and more efficient engines) and include a lot more stuff as standard, which is how the manufacturer is justifying a price increase. 

So go on - what’s the new E500 like, then?

Yeah, about that… Merc’s binned the big V8 in Britain, and replaced it with the E400, a 328bhp 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6. With a seven-speed auto (don’t bother with the six-speed manual, it’s elastic and horrid), it’ll do 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds (0.1 seconds down), 35.8mpg (4.8 miles more), has a limited top speed of 155mph, and emits 185g/km of CO2 (28 fewer g/km). It also sounds like Andre the Giant slowly listing vowels. 

That doesn’t sound too bad

It’s not. But this is a non-AMG Mercedes, and even the powerful models have their own, sedate notion of procedure – it’s all about effortless cruising, not psychotic speed, so the gearbox is slow and ever so slightly dim-witted. That said, the old 500 did have a naughty streak. Alas, this one doesn’t, but it’s still a confident, powerful cruiser.

See more pictures of the Mercedes E400 cabrio 

What about the AM…

…G? Sorry to interrupt, but we knew you'd ask and there won’t be one. Never has been, actually - no mass-produced E coupe or cabrio has had the full Affalterbach treatment (Google it. I know you don’t believe me). You can get AMG Sport trim though - £2,435 more than the old car in Sport guise, and it comes with adaptive sports suspension as standard.

What about the more frugal engines?

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol has been updated to make it more efficient, and as before there are two four-cylinder E220 and E250 CDI diesels, plus a six-cylinder E350. The 350 would be our second choice. It’s smooth, torquey and fiendishly quiet while managing 47.9mpg.

Dull but worthy. Now tell me what it’s like to drive.

Very, very good. It rides better than anything else in its class, and the updated electric power steering (designed to be more fuel efficient) is weighty, and makes the car feel stable and steady at ‘Bahn speeds. There is a touch of wallow through corners, but this is a traditional boulevard-cruising Benz, not a focused sports car. That’s what the SL’s for.

In fact, it does cruising almost as well as the fixed head E-class. The acoustic fabric roof is a little slow to heave itself up (20 seconds) but it’s bloomin’ quiet at motorway pace. You only get a tiny bit of whistle around the wing mirrors when you’re above 90mph (we tested it on a derestricted autobahn, law fans). 

It keeps the new E’s futureland technology too. Entry-level SE models get an online sat-nav, DAB radio and an Active Parking Assist system as standard, as well as a Pre-Safe Plus system that detects a rear end shunt, applies the brakes and stops you barreling into the car in front. Distronic Plus is an option, but it’s a particularly good one – it steers, accelerates and brakes its way through congestion automatically.

But can it fit five?

Well, no. But it is a proper four-seater. As in two actual humans with legs and arms and heads can sit in the back with the roof up. And they get an automatic AirCap when it's down – it’s a sort of spoiler on top of the windscreen that deploys automatically at 25mph (you used to have to do it manually) and stops annoying buffeting. It does make the car look completely ridiculous, though.

Any other complaints?

Nothing major, but you sit very low. Or rather the sides are very high. To the point that it feels like you’re driving a roll-top bath, and because the flanks obscure so much of your upper body, it looks uncannily like it’s being driven by a bust.

Otherwise?

There’s an honesty to this cabrio – it’s nice to drive a premium convertible that doesn’t feel needlessly aggressive, targeted at fetal hipsters, or like it’s trying too hard to compensate for someone’s… insecurities (yes, Audi. That means you).

The styling’s fresh and friendly (though that crossbar on the grill is a tad Cheshire), the safety technology can be a little intrusive, but it has its heart in the right place, and the performance is more than you’ll ever use for some light posing on a sunny day. It’s not a driver’s car, but it is a car that’s nice to drive. And, providing you keep the speed under 25mph so the air thingy doesn’t pop up, it cuts an unpretentious dash.

Get yours in October. 

See more pictures of the Mercedes E400 cabrio 

THE NUMBERS

£49,635, 3.0-litre biturbo V6, 328bhp, 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds, 155mph, 35.8mpg, 185g/km of CO2, seven-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive

SCORE

8/10

Now share it...

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear's code of conduct (link below) before posting.