MONTE BIANCO, Italy – Straddling the sun and clouds that enveloped Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and all of Western Europe, the all-new E-Class convertible did what it does best: straddling the line between luxurious and sporty.
Super quiet at highway speeds, but with a refined edginess as you approach redline if you use the nine-speed automatic’s shift paddles to tap into its inner beast.
Not quite as clearly divided as the mountain that shares its geography between France and Italy, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Cabriolet’s home address is clearly in Luxury Land, but with lush gardens out back that meander into the outskirts of Sporty Town without quite leaving its home country.
This latest four-seat soft-top from Mercedes-Benz is now aligned with the new E-Class sedan and the similarly new 2018 E400 Coupe two-door, offering many of the same luxury features and advanced safety and convenience technologies. The addition of a fast-folding soft top hasn’t stopped it from providing one of the biggest cargo areas found in a luxury convertible – even larger than that of the brawnier and pricier S-Class Cabriolet that starts at $164,000-plus.
That’s roughly twice what the E400 4MATIC Cabriolet is expected to start at when it arrives in August, based on the outgoing model’s ’17 starting price of $76,800 – final Canadian prices have yet to be set.
Chances are a fully loaded ’18 E-Class Cab will also come in less than a top-line ’17 model, because the latest-generation E-Class Cabriolet has lost the 402 hp V8 option that’s available in the outgoing E550 Cabriolet. The latest E400 uses the same 329 hp 3.0L twin-turbo V6 version as offered in all other E400 models. And while the E-Class sedan that debuted last year doesn’t offer a V8 anymore, it does offer a more powerful 396 hp V6 in the E43 model – that engine won’t arrive in the Cab at launch (and no confirmation that it ever will) but Benz folks admit that there will be additions and changes as usual over this car’s expected seven-year lifecycle.
So take that as a probable yes to an E43 version, but perhaps not an out-and-out AMG version – the outgoing E-Class Cab was one of the few Benz models not to receive the hotter AMG treatment.
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The 329 hp engine is a lovely gem of an engine, carried over from the ’17 model: super quiet at highway speeds, but with a refined edginess as you approach redline if you use the nine-speed automatic’s shift paddles to tap into its inner beast. Its more demure power compared to the raucous-but-discontinued V8 may disappoint some observers, but it does seem to better fit the personality of the larger and slightly less visually aggressive new E-Class Cab.
It’s a full 74 mm wider, which felt almost a tad too wide for some tight, curvy mountain roads in the area, with a longer (by 123 mm) and taller (by 32 mm) body than before. The significantly stretched (by 113 mm) wheelbase confirmed that the bulk of this extra room was earmarked for the E-Class Cab’s more spacious and comfortable interior – its trunk is slightly smaller, but still with a healthy 425 litres of space available with the top up.
This proved to be enough for a large suitcase and a hugely overstuffed backpack with four days’ worth of gear and clothes, even with the top down; but fitting a second suitcase of similar size would require shifting something to the back seat. Granted, the E-Class Cab has long been one of the few convertibles where actual adults could fit in the rear, and the latest one continues that tradition. Four friends could likely stuff their backpacks in the trunk and still put the top down; or for two, a liberally packed long weekend.
A week-long road trip may involve using the handy button that moves the soft top’s storage compartment inward and out of the way, allowing for bulkier items to be stowed in the trunk. If there’s not enough room for the storage well to move back into its full, ready-to-hide-the-top position, then the top won’t retract. Cargo-carrying capacity may be down as a matter of fact in a convertible, but it is still a clear priority here.
Looks also tend to be a priority for convertibles, and while beauty is in each beholder’s eye, seems fair to say that this launch model is styled more conservatively than the outgoing model, with a rear end that looks very much in line with C- and S-Class rumps. Crossing over into the distinct side of ugly is the AirCap system, which powers the exterior windshield header up and forward to look like someone placed a spoiler on the top of the windshield. There’s also a wind screen just behind the rear headrests that rises simultaneously – you want the rear screen, you have to have the ungainly header spoiler.
Surprisingly, my driving partner and I actually found it louder to have the system raised in wind-protection mode – less wind usually means less noise. But a quick check of the visor’s vanity mirror soon made it clear (somewhat unscientifically) that there was less hair-rustling wind disturbance for front passengers with the Knight Rider-ready AirCap system deployed.
We left the windshield looking normal for the rest of our half-day drive.
Inside, there’s the full complement of usual Mercedes-Benz comfort features, including the lovely AirScarf system that integrates a neck-level vent in the seatback, which floods your upper shoulders with warm air at a push of a door mounted button. Like the available heated and cooled seats, this AirScarf’s settings had three levels of variation, but sadly no cooling function.
Speaking of cooling, both our front ventilated seats as well as those in a colleague’s car were not working, providing neither cooling nor any noticeable airflow through the perforated seats. But they were working in other E-Class Cab testers on this launch event, so we can only surmise that there are some quality assurance tweaks to make – otherwise the vehicles felt solid and production-ready.
Mind you, the sumptuous black and white interior of our luxurious tester did have at least one engineering oversight: no heated steering wheel, just like on the ’18 E-Class Coupe. While a minor issue on a fair-weather drop-top, it seems bizarre that they’d go to the trouble to incorporate heating elements up through the seatbacks and even (optionally) onto the armrests, and yet not warm up the one thing you’re constantly touching in the car.
Maybe they’re waiting on a heated and cooled steering wheel – now that would be a fine idea in a convertible.
From the driver’s seat, comfort is obviously the order of the day, with acceleration just slightly dulled by the extra 110 kg the same engine is now moving around. Still, its 5.5 second 0–100 km/h time is only a couple tenths off the previous version, with faster versions still likely to come.
The nine-speed auto as well as suspension settings can be tightened up with Sport and Sport+ modes, tempting the driver when the roads turn empty and curves approach, but while largely obedient, there were also a couple times when we found the transmission slow to respond to our paddle-shifted commands.
All in all, though there’s much to enjoy in this super-luxurious two-door drop-top, which very well may be the most user-friendly and practical convertible on the market. But if you’re in the market for serious horsepower, maybe wait a few months to see what improvements or upgrades are just around the corner.Softer, slower, and more spacious. 6/27/2017 6:00:00 PM 6/27/2017 6:00:00 PM