Grand touring cars with over 500 hp aren’t a particularly hard combo to come up with. Take a luxury interior and make sure the car is stupid fast.
|Engine: 3.5-liter V6 making 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.
Fuel Economy: Rated at 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 22 MPG combined.
Price: Starts at $61,125.
But what if you want all that luxury without the insane gas bills? Where can you find a car that offers the right balance of performance, but with a precedence on comfort. Mercedes will sell you the E550 Cabriolet with its twin-turbo V8, but if a gentler ride is on your radar, there’s always the milder E350 Cabriolet to look at, too.
There are no sporty pretensions here. Sure there’s a “sport” setting for the car, but it doesn’t pretend to be a sports car. Instead, it sticks with the classic luxury modus operandi: delivering a quiet refined ride and good looks. In fact, more than once I forgot that sport mode was engaged, emphasizing how marginal that setting is for this car. Sharper steering , increased throttle response and stiffer suspension are appreciated in some of the tighter turns, but you can go without the sport setting and never feel like the car is lacking. The balance here is just right: the wheel provides silky smooth operation, but enough feedback to avoid being completely numb.
This is also the slowest E-Class available, making the jump from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. Part of that probably has to do with its 3,883-lb curb weight. Believe it or not, that still doesn’t make it the heaviest iteration of the E350 on the market, which is roughly 30 lbs heavier.
Not too hot or too cold
No one is ever going to call this a fast car, but that doesn’t mean it can get away with feeling lethargic. The 3.5-liter V6 pumps out a respectable 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, feeling just right in this application. This car is built to be smooth and that’s exactly how the seven-speed automatic feels and how the exhaust sounds. There’s nothing abrupt about the shifts and the engine hums pleasantly without sounding crude or overpowering.
Fuel economy is also just right at 19 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway combining for a 22 MPG rating. In my week with the car in mixed driving scenarios, I managed a perfect 22 MPG rating.
With performance off the table as a selling point, the E350 needs style and that’s something it has to spare. Swooping curves and LED headlights add elegance and road presence that tends to turn heads. Convertible tops don’t always do their coupe or sedan siblings justice, but in my opinion the open top E-Class looks even better.
Speaking of the drop top, Mercedes says it retracts in 25 seconds and can be lowered at up to 25 MPH. A small hidden panel of switches featuring three different controls is enclosed just in front of the armrest. One manipulates the roof, allowing the driver to open or close it with just a single motion. Another lets you control all four windows simultaneously and the final control is part of Mercedes’ Aircap system, which raises an airfoil on the top of the windshield and a mesh screen between the two rear passenger seats, making the interior noticeably quieter with the roof down.
A small leather-wrapped panel covers those controls, minimizing the number of buttons you can see in the cabin. Simplified center stacks are becoming increasingly popular and Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system helps make that possible here with a single knob that controls just about every function. That means it’s possible to control every operation with one hand and thankfully, navigating the many screens of COMAND is intuitive and sensible.
Elegant Interior, Little Storage Space
Strangely enough, Mercedes is one of the few companies that still uses a telephone dial pad that frankly looks outdated and isn’t useful in the age of smartphones. Of course, old isn’t always bad; take the elegant analog clock built into the dash as an example.
Steering wheel mounted controls are also fitted right on the front of the leather-wrapped wheel that comes complete with white contrast stitching, offering a pleasing look and a nice tactile sensation in your hands. All is not so simple with the steering wheel stalks. Three separate controls jut out of the steering column looking busy and leaving them hard to see. Of course you will acclimate over time, but its frustrating to learn how to use them nonetheless.
Besides this small annoyance, the cabin is a pleasure to be in and offers more than enough space for my 6′ 2″ frame with the top up or down. Unfortunately, rear seat space clocks in at 31 inches, meaning the back seats are tight to say the least. They offer less space than the Audi S5 convertible and even the BMW 4-Series convertible, which pack 31.9 inches and 33.1 inches respectively.
Even further back, the E350 convertible packs 11.8 cubic feet of trunk space when the roof is closed. Once the top is down however, that gets cut to 8.8 cubic feet. In comparison once again, the E350 doesn’t have quite as much room as the Audi or BMW, which offer 10.2 cubic feet and 13.06 cubic feet when closed. With the top down, the 4 Series actually has even less cargo space than the E-Class, although the Audi’s trunk space is unaffected by roof position.
The E350 Cabriolet starts at $61,125, giving it a higher base price than its competition. The Audi S5 Cabriolet is slightly more powerful and carries almost exactly the same MSRP. The BMW 435i convertible also offers more power with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque for $55,850.
If you’re searching for something to carve the mountains in, luckily Mercedes will also sell you an E550 or the AMG-version of the E-Class. But if what you really crave is a relaxing, carefree drive through the countryside with the top down, the E350 Cabriolet is exactly what you want.