30 Jul 2010 | Text and Photos by Benjamin G. Kline
The beauty and elegance of Mercedes-Benz’s two doors have often been the envy of designers and poets alike. These elements are always complimented with the subtle presence of power beneath the alluring surface. We go for an enthralling drive in the latest E350 Cabriolet.
When I first laid eyes on Mercedes-Benz’s current W212 E-Class sedans, I was a little taken aback by the edgy angular lines of its form. It wasn’t so much that it was ugly to behold. No, not at all. The design was just a little more straight edged than I was accustomed to for a Mercedes-Benz.
Once the coupe and cabriolet (CCs) were released though, my reservations evaporated just as quickly as steam off my morning coffee. The subtle lines that have been inserted on the two-doors have somehow made what I felt was wrong, right again. The existence of the CCs though has been a fortunate one.
A couple of years ago when Mercedes-Benz launched the W211 E-Class, they deemed the accompanying E-Class CCs were outdated. Thus explains the absence of CCs for the W211 generation. Instead, they had the CCs replaced with the CLK-Class. As the irony of life would have it, now E-Class CCs have been resurrected to replace the CLK.
The cabriolet has given purpose to the sedan’s edgy angular lines and created a beauty like that of an Olympic ice-skater. A heavenly combination of stunning looks and graceful power. The cabriolet’s designers have elevated the E-Class’s lines by giving the CC’s front fascia a chiselled arrow-shape that sets the tone for the length of the car.
The front fascia is adorned with the iconic radiator grille with its prominent three-pointed star that has been a trademark feature of Mercedes-Benz cabriolets of the past. In modern times though, the star is now more than just a proud representation of the car’s origins. If specified, the star will have a radar hidden behind it as part of the DISTRONIC PLUS active cruise control system.
Flanking both sides of the grille are the jewel-like bi-xenon headlights. These lights are further complimented with the ‘always-on’ daytime running lights situated lower down on the bumper.
The bumper accentuates the arrow-shape of the front fascia further with the many angular protrusions on either side of the car. The vertical splitters do a good job of creating an aggressive X-shaped appearance when taking in the front fascia as a whole.
As mentioned previously, the car’s muscular lines draw their inspiration from the powerful arrow-shape impression. The rising side lines combine with the flared rear wheel arches and muscular rear end to give the cabriolet a self-assured stance. The soft-top is discretely tucked away in a pod under a hard tonneau that preserves the svelte muscular lines of the rear.
In the rear, the car’s sporty nature is further defined with the safety oriented LED taillights that flash to warn motorists during an emergency braking manoeuvre.
The designers have chosen not to give the cabriolet an overt form of sportiness but instead given the car dashes of it. The subtle muscular details have blended seamlessly with the car’s luxurious underpinnings to make it a breath-taking form to behold while still maintaining gender neutrality.
So in love I am with the design that if Mercedes-Benz makes a 1:18 model of it, I would readily add it to my collection.
Considering the car’s $300,000 price tag, the interior had better be pretty special to command such a premium. The rather positive news is that it is. No…there’s no sudden negative jab after the previous sentence. It just is. One of the best I’ve been in. Even the well-heeled among you who are used to the build qualities of the Rollers or Bentleys will be right at home in the Cabriolet.
The multi-contoured seats that are included in the AMG sports package offers absolutely limitless adjustability. And in turn leads to infinite driver comfort. What I like about Mercedes-Benz’s seats are the adjustment buttons. Rather than placing them within reach and out of sight like so many manufacturers do, the Germans in their ergonomic wisdom placed them on the side of the doors where you can see and operate them with ease. The buttons replicate the different parts of the seats which makes adjustment a breeze.
This aided in achieving the most comfortable seating position for my 10 hour drive around the island in the car tremendously. There was absolutely no discomfort nor strain from my extended drive at the end of the night (or morning rather).
The driving position too is a real delight as the four-way adjustable sports steering availed me the best and most comfortable driving position possible. The sports steering wheel too was comfortable to hold and provided just the right amount of grip. The instrument panel on the cabriolet is inherited from the sedan models with the same functional dials and easy to read multi-function display.
I might have had some misgivings about the centre console on previous Mercedes-Benz cars I’ve tested before but in the cabriolet, everything is what you would expect from a $300,000 car. The surrounds for the audio and aircon buttons have a quality touch to it. Even the buttons themselves feel well made and encourages you to push them over and over and over…again. The piano black trim fitted in this interior plays off the red leather seats perfectly and I wouldn’t have chosen a different combination myself if it were up to me.
The E350 tested here comes with the Logic 7 Harman Kardon surround system. This audio system comes with a 12-speaker setup including a subwoofer. The music reproduction is perhaps one of the best I’ve heard in terms of clarity and sonic spectrum.
Unlike most cabriolets who’s rear seats are meant more for a laugh than practical use, the E-Class cabriolet is proudly proclaimed as a “Four seater for Four seasons”. The good news is that the marketing mumbo jumbo isn’t just blowing hot air (that’s where the AIRSCARF comes in). The cabriolet is a true four-seater and a fairly comfortable one at that. I find my frame fitting perfectly in the rear even with the driver’s seat adjusted for a similarly sized driver.
Breaking from the industry trend of folding hardtops, the fabric roof of the cabriolet erects and stows in 20 seconds which allows transitions at the lights. The roof can be operated on the move as well at speeds of up to 40km/h which adds further to the versatility of the car. The roof operating buttons are hidden in a pod on the centre console along with controls for the AIRCAP. The AIRCAP comprises of a misplaced spoiler integrated with netting that extends from the top of the windshield and a mesh windbreak set in between the rear headrests.
Although the system works well in reducing airflow and noise over the cabin, there are some drawbacks. Firstly, the spoiler on the top of the windshield looks out of place when deployed. Secondly, the netting tends to turn the cabriolet into a $300,000 flyswatter. The number of bugs collected at the end of a road trip would probably rival what pest control companies collect in a day. Thirdly, when the rear headrests are extended, it obstructs the rear visibility of the driver severely. Even more so when the roof is up.
The boot space has taken casualty due to the intrusion of the soft top. With the roof down, the boot space is reduced from 390 litres to just 300 litres. Causing your Gucci shopping bags to inevitably spill over to the rear seats.
The cabriolet is a rather pleasurable car to drive and an even better car to be seen in. On the highways, the car proved to be a very comfortable cruiser.
At local highway speeds, the 3.5-litre V6 is barely ticking over but give it a gentle prod and the car picks up speed instantly with an audible growl from the exhausts. Any assumptions about the cabriolet being feminine are instantly dispelled once you’re passed on the highway by E350 with its exhausts singing.
Sound insulation from the fabric roof is indiscernible from that of the coupe as the fabric keeps road noise at bay just as well as the hardtop does.
The car’s lean towards being a cruiser is evident in the 7G-TRONIC’s slow reaction when shifting manually. It’s best to leave it in Automatic mode where it shifts seamlessly at its proudest.
Ride comfort in the cabriolet is nothing short of excellent on both highway and drives on smaller roads. The car’s AGILITY CONTROL sports shocks does a good job of balancing between comfort and sporty handling.
The car is precise in the bends but I would personally prefer a heavier steering wheel. But it isn’t something I demand of the cabriolet considering its target audience. The brakes on the cabriolet perform as well if not better than some pure sports models I’ve driven. Having driven the same cabriolet on a closed course with extensive heavy braking, the brakes stood up to the harsh driving conditions remarkably well.
Having spent an entire day and night in the car, I found the E350 Cabriolet a thoroughly enjoyable drive. It might cost a cool $314,000, but beauty and performance aren’t supposed to be cheap. To fully appreciate what the cabriolet is all about, one should put on some jazz and find as many highways as possible and just cruise. That’s exactly what I did as I drove through all the local expressways with Astrud Gilberto for company.
So what’s a cabriolet for? Sheer driving pleasure…
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