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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.