ROAD TEST: Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet muscle-bound luxury
DISPARAGING remarks are often directed at convertible drivers.
For some reason, if you're a male behind the wheel of a drop top people either think you're suffering a mid-life crisis or over the top in flexing your financial muscle.
In this case, I'm neither.
What about if you want the joys of European open-air travel with the family? The Mercedes-Benz E-Class fills an interesting niche of a convertible with four-seat accommodation - and they are four genuine chairs with reasonable back seat space.
Prices start from $123,500 plus on-roads for the turbocharged four-cylinder and top out at the E400 that's $157,500.
Mainstream brands have begun ditching drop-tops due to declining interest in search of practicality, yet this E400 managed to rekindle the romance of fresh-air driving combined with daily common sense.
Special standard features for in-cabin serenity include the draft-stopping Aircap system, along with Airscarf, which blows warm air onto your neck. The latter is brilliant even in the coldest conditions - we've driven Mercedes convertibles on the snow as part of their driver education sessions and passengers still stay toasty.
It comes packed with good kit, among the highlights are air suspension, 10-inch AMG alloys, heated front seats, leather trim, full Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration with satnav and digital radio, along with a sports exhaust, head-up driver display and the awesome 590-watt 13-speaker Burmester sound system.
Like the sedan and wagon derivatives, the Cabriolet gets Mercedes' dual colour screens. While there is a central dial to scroll and navigate through the central screen, the driver has two steering wheel thumb-tip controls to make selections and change information on both displays.
Beautiful materials live up to luxury expectations with the black ash wood trim, aluminium and sporting pedals all looking and feeling like the top echelon.
External hues include white, black, sliver, grey, green, blue and red. Roof colours include black, dark red, blue and brown.
Services start at $456 for the first visit, then rise to $912 for both the second and third maintenance trips.
Roof-down refinement is sublime. Really, it's got to be the best we've sampled in more than a decade.
During suburban speeds the front passengers can have a conversation without raising voices courtesy of minimal disruption... even the bride's hair remained undisturbed.
Get up to highway speeds and the cabin remains composed with the windows up.
Those in the rear pews receive some wind buffering but it's remarkably serene, partly due to the electric draft-stop system which pops up like a spoiler and does the job perfectly of maintaining cabin comfort.
Roof up, and the multi-layers acoustic rag-top has all the integrity of a standard roof.
Being the big gun in the drop-top armoury, the bi-turbo six-cylinder is an absolute cracker. Smooth power delivery makes ensures it rockets away from the line, and the nine-speed auto shifts intuitively for down and up-shifts - there are steering wheel paddles if manual cog swapping is your thing.
Air suspension offers a smooth ride, and if kerbs or spoon drains look like they might scrape the low front end, a press of a button can lift the vehicle.
There are various drive modes to choose from, including Eco, Sport and Sport+, all which alters the acceleration mapping for faster throttle response, firmer suspension to reduce roll in the bends and heavier steering.
All-wheel drive has the E400 feeling ultra sticky when the going gets twisty and loves changing directions.
And if you are sick of driving, there are always the advanced driver aids. In highway conditions the E400 can steer, brake and accelerate itself.
Take your hands off the wheel and it does the lot, but after about 30 seconds it tells you to put your hands back on the wheel.
While running on premium fuel, the bi-turbo V6 uses on average about nine litres for every 100km.
In our test we were somewhat more enthusiastic on the right pedal, finishing with 11.5 litres/100km.
Getting in and out can be challenging with the long and heavy doors, although getting in the back is simple with the powered front seats folding and pushing forward. Automatic extenders then hand the seat belt to front passengers.
Onlookers love nothing more than seeing drop-tops caught in the rain. Not the E-Class Cabriolet, the electric power roof can open and close within 20 seconds and at speeds up to 50km/h. Boot space doesn't traditionally exist in the genre, at 385 litres the luggage space is reasonable... although it shrinks to 310 litres when the roof is open. You can drop the rear seats via electronic boot controls for larger cargo.
Looking good with the top closed, it's gorgeous with the lid off. Striking from the front with the big star on the grille, along with the long bonnet featuring the Mercedes "powerdomes" it's the epitome of European class.
Often the joy of open-top driving is a two-person experience. Not in the 4.8m long frame of the E400 Cabriolet. Smooth, classy and featuring the magnificent dual large screen set-up standard across the E-Class range, its reasonable boot size and strong twin turbo six-cylinder engine means there are few compromises for the benefits of being able to lift the lid.
Outstanding cabin serenity with the roof on or off means the E400 is a fine accomplice for all occasions.
AT A GLANCE
Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet
PRICE $157,500 (expensive, but not many around in this size)
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 3yr unlimited km warranty, servicing annual or 25,000km, capped price $2280 over three years.
ENGINE 3.0-litre V6 245kW /480Nm all-wheel drive nine speed auto (super strong)
SAFETY Five-star, Driving Assistance package with radar cruise control, cross-traffic, 360-degree camera (outstanding)
CONSUMPTION 8.9 litres/ 100km (good, but double figures on test)
SPARE None, inflater kit (becoming the norm)
BOOT 385 litres, 310 with roof down (not bad)