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Published in The Witness Motoring on Wednesday July 7, 2010
This car has been described by some journalists as a ‘CLK without the lettering’ and being a mix of C-class and E-class parts just like its predecessors, it probably is. Fussiness aside though, ‘E350 cabriolet’ is easier to understand and remember than some German mnemonic few can translate. It has also been described as more a fashion statement than an all-out sports car – true again, but what a statement.
Part of a motoring journalist’s job is to place him- or herself in the minds and wallets of each car’s intended target audience, and an E-class Mercedes Benz cabriolet retailing at R770 000 is certainly not in the same milieu as a Mini Cooper convertible for instance. Mercedes Benz buyers expect their cars to be quiet, dignified and refined; capable of being driven spiritedly when necessary, but never uncouthly.
Getting back to the statement, the E-class cabriolet is first and foremost a Mercedes Benz. Built for buyers hankering after wind-in-the-face motoring and youthful free-spiritedness, it also offers the assurance of the marque’s build quality, safety features and refinement. It doesn’t hurt one little bit that it looks as sexy as hell with its top down, too.
In keeping with tradition, the foldaway roof is cloth, but that is where any similarity with old-fashioned ragtops ends. The Mercedes version is made up of three layers - fabric, butyl rubber and felt and is 23.5 mm thick. It is sufficiently waterproof to take through an automatic car wash. It is quiet, permitting passengers to use their phones at speeds up to 200 km/h and it doesn’t bulge at speed.
Deployment or stowing takes place in about 20 seconds and can be done at speeds up to 40 km/h. Another advantage is its really good insulating properties, making it usable in the coldest of climates. The heated rear windscreen is made of glass and is therefore scratchproof. The soft top is available in black, blue or beige.
But roofs aren’t really what cabriolets are about. Their reason for being is open-air motoring and oneness with the wind. This sounds brilliant but usually overlooks certain harsh facts of life, namely buffeting and unpleasant noise at cruising speeds, unless these factors are eliminated or substantially reduced at the design stage. Modern technology and extensive testing have all but eliminated these annoyances on E-class cabriolets. At cruising speeds one enjoys a pleasant sensation of wind in your hair without having your locks blown into a tangle, yet still being able to hear your favourite music on the Harman-Kardon Logic7 surround sound system.
In case you feel more help is needed, Mercedes-Benz’ patented Aircap system introduces spoilers on the top front edge of the windscreen and between the head restraints on the rear seats, to reduce buffeting still further. This is an R8 200 option on the E350, but free on the E500. In my opinion, the effect at legal speeds is marginal at best, while increasing Cd by about 0.02. I would spend that particular piece of change elsewhere.
As far as performance goes, the 3 498 cc V6 develops 200 kW of power at 6 000 rpm and 350 Nm of torque at a nice low 2 400 rpm, sufficient to hustle the beast up to the magic 100 km/h in a touch under seven seconds and on to a governed top speed of 250 km/h. As I said earlier; it’s spirited, but never uncouth.
In common with other Mercedes’, the management system and seven-speed automatic gearbox give you a choice of three modes, namely ‘comfort’ with soft suspension and yawn-o-matic performance, ‘sport’ with tightened up suspension, sharper steering response and more go and manual override via stick shift or paddles. What I liked most about this car’s paddle selectors was the fact that they held on to selected gears even if you tapped off momentarily. Some cars don’t do this, rendering their paddles pretty much useless.
A neat trick of the electrically-adjustable front seats is the way they ease themselves forward when the backs are tipped to allow passengers into the rear, then go back to their original positions when the backrests are returned to upright again. The only drawbacks are that knee room for back seat passengers is ungenerous if the driver is tall and headroom with the top in place is limited.
So what do I think of the E-series cabriolet? It’s a Mercedes but it is not an AMG, so there is no question of all-out performance. It’s a good-looking car in a handsome, rather than a drop-dead gorgeous way and in its bid to provide open-air motoring to more mature audiences it succeeds very well.
Price: R770 000 (R778 200 as tested)
Engine: 3 498 cc V6
Power: 200 kW at 6 000 rpm
Torque: 350 Nm at 2 400 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 6.9 seconds
Maximum speed: governed to 250 km/h
Fuel economy: about 11.4 l/100 km
Tank: 72 litres
Maintenance Plan: 6 years/120 000 km, partly contributory (other plans available)
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
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