Mercedes-Benz four-seat convertibles always impress, although most have bland styling. The 2011 Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet four-seat convertible radiates that old Mercedes luster with rakish styling.
The new E-class two-door Cabriolet comes as the $56,850 E350 or $64,800 E550. They have a fabric soft top, when the trend has been to retractable hardtop convertibles. But that’s OK because this new Mercedes has a thick soft top that provides good protection and a quiet interior. Mercedes offers two retractable hardtop models, but they’re the SL and SLK two-seat sports cars.
The E350 Cabriolet convertible is slower and softer than the E550 Cabriolet. It’s powered by a V-6 with 268 horsepower, at it’s no slouch. It propels the E350 from 0-60 mph in a respectable 6.7 seconds, and achieves an estimated 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on highways.
I tested the E550 Cabriolet during a long vacation drive. It has a 5.5-liter V-8 that kicks out 382 horsepower and far more torque than the V-6. It lets the car do 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds. This Mercedes has lower estimated fuel economy than the E350: 15 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway But it has a big fuel tank, and I found that easy driving got the highway economy up to 24 mpg.
The V-8 works with a seven-speed automatic transmission (remember when four speed automatics were common?) with sport, economy and manual-shift modes. Manual shifts are controlled by steering wheel paddles. They worked fine, but the transmission was so responsive left in “Drive” mode I didn’t bother much with them.
My test car looked especially racy because it had sport body styling, with a deeper front air dam, side skirts and a rear “apron.” Nicely shaped exhaust outlets for the dual exhaust system looked especially nifty.
The E550 has a “Dynamic Handling Suspension,” with electronically adjustable shock absorbers, and high-performance tires on optional 18-inch AMG alloy wheels. The steering was ultra-quick — almost too quick, in fact, for lazy driving on narrow two-lane roads and on the interstate.
But the speed-sensitive steering had excellent road feel to let a driver know what the front tires were doing all the time, with no steering vagueness. The anti-lock brakes stopped the car quickly and surely.
The tightly built E550 had no shakes or rattles on rough roads. However, wide tires on the large AMG wheels and a sport suspension caused the E550 Cabriolet’s ride to get a bit jerky on rough roads. The ride on ordinary roads was smooth.
The E-Class Cabriolet’s top goes up and down quickly. With the top down, a new “Aircap” system reduces drafts and air turbulence for all occupants, and an “Airscarf” system can blow heated air directly on the neck area from outlets in the seats.
The E550 Cabriolet has all the comforts, dual-zone automatic climate control to many power accessories to supportive 14-way adjustable front seats.
Mercedes loads models with safety items, and thus the new E550 has a bunch of air bags, electronic stability control, a rollover sensor and and automatic pop-up rollover bars, among other safety features.
There’s even a driver drowsiness monitor that. Between 50 and 112 mph, it identifies erratic steering corrections and triggers an audible warning and a “Time For A Rest?” message. The icon warning is a coffee cup icon appearing in the instrument cluster.
There also is an optional Distronic Plus system that applies full braking automatically in emergencies to reduce accident severity. About 1.6 seconds before impact is likely, partial braking is automatically initiated. And if the driver still fails to react, full-power braking is initiated before the collision.
Another helpful feature: A “Parktronic” system incorporates Parking Guidance, which uses ultrasonic sensors behind the bumpers. At low speeds, it scans available parking spaces and displays a “P” in the dashboard if the car will fit in a space. When in reverse, the car Parking Assist displays a pictogram of the steering wheel and provides helpful steering guidance.
The E-Class Cabriolet is a true four-seater, depending on passenger sizes. It easily handles four adults, if rear passengers aren’t too tall. A long-legged driver with his seat comfortably pushed back allows only room for a child behind him. However, a fairly tall rear occupant behind a tall front passenger has a decent amount of leg room. Individual rear seats are nicely shaped and separated by covered dual cupholders and a small armrest.
Long, heavy doors can hinder entry and exit to the attractive interior, especially in tight spots. But front seats powered fore and aft with reasonable speed in my test car to allow easier easy and exit for rear passengers.
The main gauges are hard to read in sunlight, and most sound system buttons are tiny. But front console cupholders are placed to avoid spills, and the front storage bin is deep, with dual-opening covers. Front door pockets are too shallow to be of much use, but large side mirrors fold against the side glass to prevent parking lot damage.
The trunk has a low, wide opening and room for two fair-sized suitcases, or for one large one, with the top raised. Many E-Class Cabriolet owners will likely need to throw some cargo in the back seat. The trunk lid has space-saving hinges and an interior cover for a finished look. An indented area lets you close the small lid without getting hands dirty on outside sheet metal.
The large hood raises on dual struts and also has an interior lining, although the engine, which emits a stirring sound during hard acceleration, hides under a big plastic cover.
The E550 Cabriolet drew admiring glances, with the top up or down. It may convince some potential buyers of Mercedes’ two-seat sports cars or for the more reasonably priced E350 version.
Dan Jedlicka is the former car reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times. To read more of his automotive articles, visit his web site: www.danjedlicka.com.