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“Go outside! Enjoy nature!”
That’s been the refrain of every mom and dad since the invention of video games, before that, television and probably the radio way back when.
“Go out and play with that hoop and stick we bought you!”
But there’s another way to enjoy nature. Smell the smells, feel the wind in your hair, and make it to some amazing places in the process, all without donning a pair of hiking boots: the convertible.
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet, like most convertibles, isn’t made for a track day, or autocross day, or a drag race. It’s made for communing with nature while taking the long way to work, to another state or another country. And with an acceptably-sized trunk (for a convertible) folding seats and pass-through for longer luggage, you can make it pretty far without having to stop and do laundry. Even better, if you really skimp on the suits and shoes—they take up the most room—you can take three friends/lovers/teammates with you.
The new E-Class Cab is bigger than its predecessor with 5 extra inches of length, 3 inches of width and more than 4 inches of wheelbase, most of which is budgeted for back seat occupants. That means the Sherpa, priest and rabbi you travel with—we get it, you have an eclectic crew—will be as comfortable as you are in the driver’s seat.
The 2018 E-Class convertible is the last of the E-Class family to get renewed. The sedan, wagon and coupe were all revamped in the past 12 months. That means new tech, new style and a new suede-covered acoustic top that keeps out road and wind noise, as least going in a straight line. Get a little too ambitious in the swtichbacks and the tires will sing, early and often. With the top down—the only way to drive a convertible, even in 90-degree heat—that sound will roll right into your ears. On the bright side, there’s a ton of warning before the rubber actually gives way.
For 2018, the E-Class Cabriolet follows the rest of the family with a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 making 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. For 2018 all E-Class Cabs will get Mercedes’ nine-speed automatic transmission and power will head to the rear or all four wheels courtesy of the company’s available 4Matic system. We’d certainly be surprised if an E43/E63 AMG didn’t follow the basic E400 Cabriolet sometime later this year or next.
An independent four-link suspension keeps things in control up front, and a five-link arrangement sits in back with an aluminum axle carrier and aluminum spring control arms. As standard, the E-Class Cab sits about three-quarters of an inch lower than the sedan. The optional Dynamic Body Control suspension has adjustable dampers with comfort, sport and sport plus modes. A self-leveling air suspension can also be specified with integrated roll, pitch and lift control.
Every E-Class convertible gets Dynamic Select, with modes for comfort, eco, sport, sport plus and individual, which changes up engine response, stop/start function and shift strategy.
You don’t have to travel from European mountain country to European mountain country to enjoy the E convertible, but it certainly helps. There’s a certain smell to nature at 5,000 feet above sea level, and there’s a different one at 10,000 feet. As a Michigander, I don’t really have that elevation change, but I do have a capital U, Up North, and the smell changes there too. Different plants, different animals, different minerals…nature. And you’ll be safe in your convertible.
Let’s start there. Safety features on the E-Class include Active Emergency Stop, which gives the driver a visual, then audible, warning before slowing to avoid a hazard; Active Brake Assist, which brakes autonomously if necessary; Evasive Steering Assist, which helps the driver safely avoid a spin during an emergency lane change maneuver; Pre-Safe Plus, which warns the driver behind of an impending rear-end crash; Active Blind Spot Assist, self-explanatory and Remote Parking Pilot, which allows the vehicle to be maneuvered in and out of the garage remotely.
The E-Class Cabrio has a sophisticated autopilot/cruise control function called Distance Pilot Distronic with Steering Pilot. That means it will follow the lines in the road and keep a safe distance from the car in front, braking to a stop in traffic if necessary. It’s a little cooler than most of these systems thanks to a lane change function (just tap the turn signal and it will automatically move over a lane) and Speed Limit Pilot, which reads the speed limit signs and adjusts the cruise control accordingly. It does take the stress out of long hauls, though you do have to keep your hands on the wheel.
The 329-hp V6 is plenty for cruising, but you won’t confuse it with one of Mercedes peak AMG mills. Still, passing slower traffic is a cinch and the nine-speed can be adjusted through the drive modes to react in either a sporty or efficient matter. Shifts are generally soft, but it didn’t hunt for the right gear like many of these multispeed transmissions. The E makes a little more noise in sport and sport plus modes, but it never goads you to floor it in tunnels.
Mercedes had a teal/green/gray first-generation E-Class Cabriolet on hand to add a little nostalgia to the drive and it put a fine point on how far the convertible has come, for better and worse. Fake woodgrain and shiny leather notwithstanding, the old E Cab felt like it was hewn out of a single block of steel. Bumps did nothing to the suspension, let alone the body.
The new E doesn’t have a lot of body movement either, but you can feel the advanced suspension setup absorbing the brunt of the blows. It feels…artificially soft. In comfort mode there’s a good amount of body roll, and like earlier, a lot of tire noise when you’re really sawing at the wheel. Sport and sport plus firm up the ride considerably, making it almost border on harsh, especially over big, Swiss village speedbumps that rise about six inches from the ground. Keep the suspension in comfort and enjoy it. You can’t appreciate nature at 10/10ths anyway.
The electric power steering setup is a little vague on center, but once you dial some angle in, it’s as accurate as anything. The drive modes adjust the weight of the steering, but not the ratio. It’s tuned for easy, relaxing drives.
And from the driver’s seat, that’s what buyers will get. Our tester had sporty looking metal weave in the dash, which felt a little bit out of place in the cruiser. If you lean toward sporty, you’ll like it; if not, surely it can be exchanged for woodgrain. The cooling seats couldn’t really keep up with the 95-degree sun, and the Airscarf system, made for keeping your neck warm, doesn’t switch over to air conditioning no matter the exterior temps. If the mercury hits triple digits, you may just want to put the top up, which you can do in 20 seconds, at speeds up to 31 mph. Side note, when the AC compressor is running, it makes a decently loud hum along with a semi-annoying vibration. That’s not a huge deal, but noticeable in an otherwise smooth general ambiance.
It’s fun to play with the Aircap, Mercedes’ name for its front-window spoiler, which keeps the wind out of your wig at speed. It does throw off the sleek lines with the top down though. That, the windows and the rear wind breaker that pops up behind the back seats make for a surprisingly serene ride with the top down.
Convertible sales dried up in the ‘80s. There was a point when manufacturers almost put away the body style voted most likely to impress your friends and get you a tan. Thankfully that didn’t happen and now Mercedes fields convertibles in no fewer than five segments–C, E, S, SL, SLK—to the joy of buyers who want to feel the sun on their face and the wind in their hair.
The E-Class Cabriolet ($66,000; $68,569 for the 4Matic) is exactly what it’s billed as: a comfortable cruiser with enough git to enjoy some twisty mountain roads or even some dusty forest ones. I’m not saying driving a convertible is the same as exercise (that would be silly). But I will say that at it’s by far the best way to enjoy the flora, fauna and biota (fungi) of the world without experiencing the bad parts: bugs, sore feet, dirty clothes and eventual exhaustion. So get out and play, grab some friends and appreciate the great outdoors in the best way possible: without your feet ever touching the ground.
On Sale: Late 2017
Base Price: $66,000; $68,569 (4Matic)
Drivetrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, nine-speed auto, RWD/AWD
Output: 329 hp @ 5,260-6,000 rpm, 354 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,200 lb (est)
Pros: A low-effort cruiser with nearly autonomous driving
Cons: Doesn’t sing in tunnels like the company’s V8s do
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