2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,“ or so say the French. That certainly could be said of the all-new 2011 Mercedes Benz Cabriolet, an outrageously gorgeous car if ever there was one. There’s plenty new technology here, lots of new convenience features, and an admirably large package of safety features too. All of that accounts for the “change” portion of that old French saying. But it’s the bottom line on this car that’s old and familiar to anybody who’s ever piloted a Mercedes convertible. That bottom line is glamour, baby. The E Class Cabriolet has a drop dead, “get outta my face” style and comportment, and try as they might, BMW and Audi--which probably comes closest-- still can’t match it, try as they might. The problem for those brands is that the quality is indefinable, and thus difficult to replicate or “design in,” so to speak. It’s a certain “Je ne sais quoi” quotient that nobody’s been able to duplicate so far. Maybe it’s the prestige. Maybe it’s the rep. Who knows? Call it "swagger," "clout," "cachet," or magic or whatever, the E Class Cabriolet has it in spades, and it's oozing from the snappy road wheels, to the classy interior. As a result, the car will remain the ride of choice to be seen in on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Worth Avenue in West Palm Beach and on less well known venues of the rich and famous like Walnut Street in Pittsburgh's Shadyside and Euclid Avenue in St.Louis' Central West End. This newest convertible is the third generation of the model, and is part of the ninth generation of the E Class lineup. It all began for the convertible in 1993 E-Class Cabriolet, its first four-seat convertible in several decades. A slightly smaller CLK Cabriolet followed in 1999, and a second-generation CLK Cabriolet line was offered through the 2009 model year. Prices for the E350 Cabriolet start at just under $57,725 and the E550 prices start at $65,675, according to the Mercedes website. Standard equipment is lavish, of course, including 3-layer sound-dampening soft-top, AIRCAP automatic wind deflector, Dual-Zone Automatic Climate Control with Dust Filter,10-way power front seats with 4-way power lumbar support, 3-stage memory for driver’s seat, power steering column, and exterior mirrors. Other standard equipment includes 3-Spoke Premium Leather Multifunction Steering Wheel, 6-Disc CD/MP3/AM/FM/Weatherband Radio, 8-Speaker Sound System with Auxiliary Input, Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone use, 7" COMAND screen w/central controller, tilt and telescoping steering column, full power accessories and a host of other items. For the E350 Cabrio, you get a 268 horsepower V-6 hooked to a seven speed automatic. One interesting side note-- you also get an agility control suspension system. Meanwhile, power for the E550 Cabrio comes from a 382 horsepower V-8, with the same seven speed driver adaptive automatic. Safety equipment includes the Attention Assist drowsiness monitor, which gives you a friendly reminder to take a break when its systems detect you may be dozing off, steel reinforced cabin w/Front & Rear Crumple Zones, dual two stage front airbags, head protection curtains, side airbags, drivers knee airbag, electronic stability control, and of course, the feature that will likely get the most attention is the all-new AirCap system. The system consists of a wind deflector that can be extended by around 2.4 inches with a net in the windscreen frame, and a draft-stop between the rear seats. Mercedes’ news release says that it’s “always on board and easily controllable at the push of a button. It reduces turbulence substantially for all four seat occupants.” Thus, cold air flows far above the car, keeping driver and passengers comfy even in chilly weather. In road testing, Automobile Journal found it was far easier to hold a normal conversation than is the case with top down convertibles, and there was less buffeting of hair, too. However, the system is a bit less effective in the rear, where some car writers in the back seat noticed just a little bit more hair blowing in the back than what was the case in front. Also helpful is Mercedes’ own “Airscarf,” which has a neck level heating system, and that too, is installed on the new cabriolet. We noticed that the soft top has much heavier padding, making the car an unusually quiet convertible. Speaking of the soft top, Mercedes says the top can lower or raise itself in speeds up to 25 miles per hour and it completes its operations in about 20 seconds. Handling in the E350 was quite crisp and composed, and the engine could barely be heard running--even with the top down. Steering was precise and well-balanced with just enough road feel built in. But if you really want a spicy ride, try the E550 Cabriolet. Acceleration is explosive on this car, and it’s accompanied for one of the sweetest sounding roars this side of the race track. Of course, Mercedes’ trademark crisp shifting console lever provides the same wonderful “snick” action we’ve loved for years, and paddle shifters change gears well with little or no pause or hesitation. And there is a definite firming up and more aggressive acceleration and shifting when you use the “sport mode”---that can’t be said of many other cars. Problems? The shape and configuration of the trunk can be limiting, and rear seat room, even for two back there, is a bit tight. But we still fully expect that the E- Class Cabriolet will be resoundingly popular-- and with lots of good reason. Look for more information on pricing, fuel economy and other items closer to the May, 2010 on-sale date.