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Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class E500 Cabriolet Sport

Driven May 2010

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Mercedes reckons that the average buyer of the new E-Class cabriolet will have a customer profile similar to the old CLK; male, over 50, enjoys golfing, Raymond Weil watches and Spanish tanning trips.

Not all true in every case obviously, but you understand the pitch; big four-seater Merc convertibles are not generally the territory of young bleeding-edge hipsters. Too big, too late-life crisis. Which is a shame, because this new E-Class is exceptional. For a start, it looks neat, spinning off a mix'n'match modular platform range that means the E-Cab is basically an E-Class Coupe, which is itself a selection of bits and bobs cut and pasted from new E- and C-Class proper. Still not overly sure about the proliferation of rhomboids at the front, but there's a solid, blocky feel to the exterior design that makes you think of precise engineering and geological longevity. Not showy, but a bit of a grower.

See pics of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet

The canvas roof looks good up, and better down. You can stow/raise it at any speed up to about 25mph via a lever under a pad on the centre armrest, and it disappears in 20 seconds. Up, it does a pleasingly insulated impression of the coupe (even replicating blindspots), and down it disappears cleanly into the boot, munching through all the bootspace. But the slick lines once the roof has folded accentuate the best bits of the E's neat stance - especially the curved sweep over the rear wheelarch.

The range of engines will be impressive and useful once we get the full set in the UK. For the first time you'll be able to specify one of three diesels in a Merc convertible; a 170bhp E220CDI, a 204bhp E250CDI and a 231bhp E350CDI, all equipped with Merc's nice-to-the-environment BlueEfficiency tech. The big news with these three is that they hit pleasing numbers in terms of economy (53.3/52.3/41.5mpg respectively), but still manage decent performance figures and CO2 outputs. The two smaller four-cylinder diesels, for instance, still manage to clip to 62mph in 8.8 and 7.8 seconds, while the bigger, more brawny V6 in the E350 CDI drops that to a rapid 6.9 seconds to 62mph. You can put that down to 398lb ft and a respectable-for-class 1,845kg kerbweight. The petrol engines are very confusing for the specification-grazer because the numbers and badges are pretty similar. There are another pair of fours at the bottom: an E200 CGI with 184bhp that gets to 62mph in 8.6 seconds, and the 204bhp E250 CGI that hits 62mph in 7.8. Then there's the E350 CGI V6 with 292bhp that gets to 62mph in just 6.8 seconds, barely shading its diesel V6 counterpart. Broadly, there's not a bad engine in the range, though the base versions of the four-cylinder cars do start to struggle if you get particularly demanding on hilly traverses.

The diesels are all also easily quiet enough to be mistaken for petrol-power, and certainly don't intrude on the driving experience. No brainer for the higher-mpg modern diesel then? Pretty much, because even though the petrol engines do remarkably well in terms of efficiency, you still get  more mpg out of the diesel, for the same performance. Put it this way, the E350 CGI gets nearly 33mpg, with the E350 CDI getting 41 and a bit. You'll notice that at the pumps, but you won't notice the 0.1 second difference in their 0-62mph times. Still, the petrols do sound marginally better when revved, and really aren't that devastating economy-wise if you do moderate mileages.  

The best compromises here are basically either of the V6 motors with the 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto. Plenty more grunt than you'll need, but enough motivation to handle a car as big as the E. Saying that, either E250 would do sterling service if performance wasn't a priority - and with big four-seat convertibles, lateral G strong enough to make your brain slosh around in your head probably isn't high on the list.

Oh yes, and there's one other little motor that's worth a mention; the venerable, non-BlueEfficiency, non-PC, old-school and a bit naughty E500 V8 petrol. 5.5-litres of bent-eight goodness with 388bhp, 390lb ft, 0-62mph in just over 5secs and a lovely grand, gargling soundtrack. Think of it as an AMG with ride quality and you're about there. Wholly inappropriate burnouts, turns everything a bit Dallas. Quite Miami Vice drug dealer but if money were no object, you'd be tempted. Though it's worth mentioning that if you drive like a loon, you get 8mpg rather than the Mercedes-approved 25.9mpg on the combined cycle. Best actually live in Miami if you want the 500.  

The newest E-variant also handles and rides with the kind of confidence you want from a large Mercedes convertible. Not the last word in precision, but supple and absorbent, chasing wellbeing rather than Nürburgring timeslips. And it's the better for it. The ‘Sport' button is entirely unnecessary, bringing with it the kind of niggly secondary ride characteristics you expect from a BMW or Audi. Better to glide in a stately fashion, which the E-Cab does very well indeed. 

See pics of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet

There are some neat geek-tricks in there too. There's the usual Mercedes AIRSCARF system that exhales warm air onto the back of your neck via the front seat headrests, buttock-toasting heated seats and a new system called an ‘AIRCAP' draft stop that simultaneously pops a small spoiler out of the windscreen header rail and raises a net between the rear seat headrests. The idea is that the AIRCAP essentially balloons the E-Class's aerodynamic profile up and over the back seats, leaving all four potential passengers cosseted in a bubble of serenity.

A good idea, and it works well at motorway speeds, but it looks pretty awful, is noisy at lower speeds, and has a horrible habit of catching every single bug and leaf that gets caught up in the car's airflow. Still, it's a nice and useful touch if you really mean to carry four on a regular basis.

That's all a bit by-the-by though. The Mercedes E cabriolet exudes a kind of confidence that's hard to fault. It looks good, feels good, drives well, but refuses to compete with the go-faster saloons in the rest of the sector. It's a peach. The only slight fly in the ointment is the fact that it gets expensive with the tastier engines. But for once, you can see where the money's been spent.

Tom Ford

On your drive for: £1,157pcm

Performance: 0-62mph in 5.3secs, max speed 155mph, 25.7mpg

Tech: 5461cc, V8, RWD, 388bhp, 390lb ft, 1840kg, 254g/km CO2

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