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Monday 15th March 2010


DRIVEN: MERCEDES E500 CABRIOLET

Soft-top Merc cruiser arrives just in time for spring...


Here are a couple of statistics to give you some idea of where Mercedes-Benz is aiming with the new E-class Cabriolet. A massive 97.5 per cent of UK buyers of its predecessor - the CLK cabrio - opted for an automatic transmission, 44 per cent of them had owned a Mercedes before, and a quarter already owned a CLK.

This is, it's safe to say, a car for the conservative Mercedes heartland, who want luxury, comfort and solidity rather than out-and-out performance. It's a mix of qualities that, on paper at least, the new E-class manages to provide with consummate ease.


The brief of comfort and luxury is partly dealt with by innovative tricks such as the AirCAP system (a rising 'net' in the header rail that helps to raise the airflow above the level of occupants' heads so that coiffed bonces don't get ruffled at higher speeds) or the optional AirSCARF neck-warming system (no Isadora Duncans here - in the 21st century scarves are now virtual).

These go hand in hand with a solid, impeccably and tastefully finished cabin - the slight Mercedes flimsiness of recent memory is firmly banished to the past here. If we're picking holes, the bluff dash architecture may not be to all tastes and the line of 10 near-identical buttons on the dash just above the ventilation controls are a little difficult to focus on from time to time. But these are niggles, overall the E-Class Cabriolet is a product with deep manufacturing integrity.


The bodywork of the E-Class Cabriolet maintains strong visual links to the rest of the E-Class family - particularly the coupe. Whether you think this is a good thing or not is an inevitably subjective point, but it also depends from which angle you look at the car. In profile and from the rear it seems (to these eyes at least) to be elegantly proportioned, but from a front or rear three-quarter angles, the business of lines can make it look a little contrived.

Under the bonnet there's a broad range of engine options - seven to be precise - including, for the first time, three diesels. All but the range-topping 5.5-litre V8 in the E500 get Merc's BlueEfficiency technology - a suite of eco-tricks not unlike BMW's Efficient Dynamics programme.

Power is transmitted to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual or a conventional torque-converter auto with either five or seven ratios, depending on the engine.


Naturally, I jumped into the 383bhp E500 at the first opportunity, but it is worth noting that the dreaded DERV versions are actually pretty effective. True, there is a gruffness to the power delivery under load no matter which diesel you try - even the V6 - but the turbodiesels are admirably subdued at a gentle cruise.

They're not short of poke, either. Even the mid-range 201bhp E250 CDI is amply rapid. In fact, with 369lb ft on tap from 1600rpm, it can out-muscle the old supercharged C32 AMG of the early noughties (which had to make do with 332lb ft). The diesel beats the old AMG on in-gear times as a result. Not bad for a car that also manages 52.3mpg on the combined cycle.

The 53,390 E500 lies at the more rarefied end of the E-class cab spectrum. The 6208cc's worth of heaven that is the V8 lump in the E63 saloon isn't going to make it into the coupe or cabriolets E-classes (though there will be an E63 wagon), so the 5.5-litre E500 is as Fiery as the E-class Cabriolet gets. And it is pretty fiery. The 383bhp motor can whip the 1840kg E500 to 62mph in 5.3secs (top speed is a limited 155mph), accompanying any enthusiastic progress with a cultured but determined burbly growl.


The E500 is also the only model in the cabriolet range to get steering wheel-mounted paddle shifts. But despite the performance on offer and the presence of flappy paddles, there's not really much hard-edged focus to the E500. The 7-speed 'box is still soft-shifting even in its sportied manual setting, and will change up automatically rather than allowing you to bounce off the rev lmiter.

The steering, meanwhile, is accurate and uncorrupted, but a little too light to let you place the front end with absolute confidence. It's also a touch too low-geared for enthusiastic progress on a really twisty road.


The chassis does display an innate balance, however, and the car flows impressively seamlessly from bend to bend on a twisty road. This makes it just that much more of a shame that the ESP allows such little slip, even when allegedly switched off. It does a good job of not spoiling your progress, but you are always aware of the electronic control systems beavering away in the background.

The ride, on the other hand, is superb, but the effortless way our test car smothered lumps and bumps is likely to be diminished on UK cars - our test car had 17-inch winter tyres, while UK-bound E500s will come with larger wheels as standard. It's worth keeping the suspension in sport mode though; there's a hint of float and heave without that extra drop of damping control.


Refinement - roof up or down - is genuinely excellent, too. If you want a refined, relaxed and comfortable convertible in which to cruise about, you could do a heck of a lot worse than an E-Class Cabriolet.

Author: Riggers