Women of a certain age flock to convertible ‘Benzes like crows to a torn trash bag. They are used almost exclusively as fashion accessories, designed with flashier trims and color options to better match the owner’s wardrobe. Reds, blues, browns and bright whites are more popular here than on the coupes where more sober blacks, grays and silvers dominate. The latest Mercedes E350 is no different, also offering four distinct shades for the four-layer soft-top.
|1. Introduced on the E350 Cabriolet is Mercedes’ AIRCAP system, a wind blocker that extends from the top of the windscreen to direct air around the open cabin.
2. Powered by a 302 hp 3.5L V6 it can hit 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and gets 18/28 mpg.
3. With a starting price of $57,720 it’s possible to spec one out to just over $70,000.
SOFT-TOP PRESERVES E COUPE’S FINE LINES
Thankfully, the E Coupe’s sharp lines are neatly preserved in transformation to Cabriolet due to that cloth roof. Having to engineer space for a folding-metal hard top without stretching panels out of proportion is difficult and expensive; best to leave them to Benz’ two-seaters. Even though it wears the ‘E-Class’ badge, the Cabriolet is actually based on the smaller C-Class mechanicals, which means it’s a more compact footprint than the regular E sedans and wagons.
In an effort to preserve expensive coiffures from being mussed, the Mercedes E350 uses the company’s AIRCAP system, which essentially extends the windshield header out into the wind, directing airflow over the cabin. To a certain extent it works fairly well, keeping turbulence down without resorting to a giant ‘breeze-blocker’ near the rear seats. But realistically, the number of owners who will actually use the convertible as a convertible is about the same as the percentage of luxury SUV owners who go off road.
A SUITABLE ENGINE, THOUGH LITTLE MORE
Like the Coupe, the E350 Cabriolet uses the familiar 3.5-liter direct-injection V6 that’s good for 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. With the standard seven-speed automatic sending power to the rear wheels, it’ll hit 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, although it’s a pretty smooth ride getting there. Since modern direct-injection engines have a ‘dieselly’ idle and aren’t terribly rev-happy, the V6 doesn’t produce the kind of top-down brio normally expected with high-end drop-tops. No big rushes through to redline – just refined acceleration.
At nearly 3,900 lbs., the Cabrio is no lightweight; the conversion adds about 300 lb. worth of motors, sensors, stiffening and more. Given those changes, it’s no real surprise that the E350 Cabriolet is slightly thirstier than the Coupe, returning 18 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway.
The E350 Cabriolet will never be a performance machine despite the available sport package that stiffens the adjustable suspension, adds 18-inch AMG wheels and perforated front brake discs. It would be a serious waste of $1,300 – although those wheels do look tempting. Better to accept the compliance of the standard suspension and learn to cruise. The steering isn’t tuned for especially quick reactions, and the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles trade rapidity for slurry-smooth changes, especially when downshifting.
One neat feature exclusive to the Cabriolet – and other ‘Benz roadsters – is the AirScarf seats. They have vents that blow cold or warm air around passengers’ necks to theoretically extend the top-down season by a few weeks. Combined with optional heated and ventilated seats, the E350 becomes a more comfortable four-season ride.
EXPENSIVE AND ALONE
A starting price of $57,720 is a pretty hefty chunk to drop before piling on the options. Chances are nearly everyone will spend the extra $4,000 for the first Premium package, which includes a harman/kardon audio system, navigation, a 10GB hard drive, iPod connectivity, a rear-view camera, heated seats and AirScarf. An extra $2,500 brings bi-Xenon active headlights with high-beam assist, LED turn signals, headlamp washers, keyless ignition and super-comfy active ventilated front seats.
The Lane Tracking package includes blind-spot warnings and lane monitoring for $850 and seems much more reasonable than the $2,900 Driver Assistance package that makes both of those systems ‘active’ to automatically direct the car away from danger. Also included is radar-based cruise control. À la carte options like parking assist, upgraded leather, rear-side airbags and more can bring a loaded E350 Cabriolet to around $71,000.
Gripes? The aging COMAND system that operates the toys is clunky and awkward. Also, because the car is positioned as an ‘E’, it doesn’t really have any competitors price-wise. A loaded 335i Convertible doesn’t get much higher than the mid-$60s, while moving up to a 6 Series runs $81,000. Same with the A5 Convertible. The G37 Convertible. The IS 350 C.
So the E Cabrio buyer isn’t looking for a deal. Not when better-performing options are available for less dough. No, to those privileged few, the three-pointed star on the front grille and the fact that the leather and interior trim perfectly matches a four-figure handbag is what really matters.