Whenever I am in California, it’s always nice to have a convertible at my disposal. There’s a reason why the Ford Mustang Convertible is one of the most commonly chosen vehicles in the golden state’s rental lots. People want to enjoy the wind in their hair.
But, to be honest, I am a bit more discriminating when it comes to my vehicle selection.
That’s why for my latest trip to the San Francisco Bay Area I chose the Mercedes-Benz E400 Convertible. There’s several reasons for this: First, I was looking for a more comfort-oriented ride; second, I was looking for something very fresh and new; thirdly, I wanted something that’s top of mind for you, the readers. In 2018, the E-Class has been a hot car. So, is it really all its cranked up to be?
Taking delivery of the E400 at SFO’s Park ’N Fly, I approached the silver drop top realizing a couple things. Largely, the E-Class Convertible is actually bigger than you suspect. Its sleek and elegant lines tend to hide its actual size. You can actually fit four adults in this coupe. Also, this vehicle has a very high beltline, which is paired with a rather small greenhouse. Not only does this provide a cocoon-like environment for passengers, it also gives the vehicle’s overall exterior design a more modern and sleek look. To me, the E-Class Convertible has an awful lot in common with the Bentley Continental GTC – this is a good thing.
Kudos to Mercedes for optioning my test vehicle with a red soft top. It’s so choice.
Getting more comfortable in the leather driver’s seat, this is where I think the E-Class makes its strongest case. That’s because it’s tough to top the E’s interior when it comes to execution. The high-quality trim, metal accents and two large, 12-inch displays make it a force to be reckoned with. Equipping a convertible with a soft top is always a bit hit or miss; however, the three-pointed star has taken some impressive measures to ensure that the cabin remains quiet when the roof is in use. Unlike other soft tops, this one does an excellent job of sealing the cockpit so you do not experience excessive wind noise at speed. Thanks to a multi-layered construction, you can have a normal-level conversation with your passengers and there’s no need to strain your vocal cords. This can’t be said for all soft-top convertibles.
Of course, the real fun begins when you lower the roof. That’s because you get to experience California at its finest.
But if you’re not like me with the windows down and fully enjoying the wind, you can leverage Mercedes’ technology to minimize how much you’ll have to adjust and fix your hairdo when you arrive at your destination. That’s because Mercedes has what it calls AIRCAP. Essentially, it is an integrated, electric wind deflector built into the roof frame so that it can be deployed. When put into position, the aim is to minimize how much wind fills the cabin. Paired with this is a power-operated wind blocker between the rear headrests. Although my use of the system was minimal, I did try it out around town and at highway speed. During errands in Sausalito there was benefit at normal speed; however, on the freeway it didn’t help much at all.
Another trick addition is AIRSCARF. Mercedes has been equipping its convertibles with this for years now but it always leaves me tickled when I get to experience it. As the pioneer of this technology, the three-pointed star has built venting into the head rests/seating so that when the temperatures drop – as they tend to during the evening hours in the Bay Area – you can circulate warm air around your neck as you motor along. Driving along with the top down and windows up along the bay never felt so sublime. Honestly, I wish this were an option on all cars. AIRSCARF is better than having a heated seat.
This means you can enjoy the E400 in two ways with the top down. You can have the traditional convertible experience with a lot of wind and fun, or you can opt to have a more isolated experience. This translates to a convertible that has greater utility than others in the market.
This brings me to the driving experience. As this is a standard Mercedes product, it skews towards the luxury side. While it has sporting intentions, do not get it twisted: This is a boulevard cruiser. This is reflected in just about all of the E400’s driving dynamics. It’s not too much or too little of anything.
The E is “just right.”
Equipped with a 3.0-liter, bi-turbo six-cylinder engine, the E400 4MATIC Convertible I piloted produces 329 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque. Paired up with a nine-speed automatic transmission, zero to 60 happens in about 5.3 seconds. It’s not lightning fast but it certainly won’t leave you fretting about merging onto a highway. One would simply say it’s “adequate.” NOTE: For the 2019 model year, the E400 becomes the E450 and it gets a bit more power.
Flipping between the driving settings, you have a multitude of choices that adjust the steering, shift points, throttle sensitivity and suspension. Choose from Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport+ and Individual, the latter of which allows you to mix and match the configurations you like. During my time with the vehicle I found Comfort and Sport to fit the E400 best.
With Eco dialed in, the car felt lethargic, at best, and when you switched to Sport+ the motor and transmission just weren’t feeling like they weren’t working in harmony.
Driving through downtown San Francisco, which doesn’t have ideal pavement, gave me some perspective on the E-Class Cabriolet’s suspension. Whether in Comfort or Sport mode, I found the E400 to absorb imperfections rather impressively. Although it can get shaky in many drop tops, this isn’t the case with the Mercedes. During my time with the vehicle I didn’t encounter any peculiar vibrations coming through the steering column or chassis.
Where the E400 Convertible may surprise you though is with its steering. Although it is not tuned to provide you with a communicative experience, the weighting is spot on. Not too heavy nor too light, it’s ideally set up for working your way through windy, country roads. Don’t get too excited though: The E400’s body has some roll to it. Remember, it is not a purpose-built sports car as it is, ideally, a cruiser.
I have to admit. After spending time with the E400 Cabriolet, I had difficulty finding things I didn’t like. In fact, I really couldn’t spot anything that was objectively a miss. All in, the E’s a rather impressive package. From the high-resolution rear camera to the well-built soft top to Mercedes striking the right balance with the vehicle all around, there’s a whole lot to like.
Well, except one thing. The as-tested price of the E400 Cabriolet was $85,735. While I typically find myself defending automakers – when it comes to pricing – as prices climb due to an increase of safety features and additional technologies, there’s something about this particular vehicle that seems a bit off-putting to me. I’d be fine spending $70,000-75,000 on an E400 Cabriolet but the closer it gets to $90,000 the more my eyes start to wander. If you try to find an apt competitor though, it’s difficult. That’s because no one vehicle really squares up against the E-Class Convertible.
I guess one could surmise that it’s in a class of its own.
By Richard Posluszny