The Bottom Line
The new all-new Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet replaces the outgoing CLK convertible. Though based on the same platform as the E-Class sedan, the convertible E shares its shorter wheelbase and sportier demeanor with the E-Class coupe. The E Sedan is one of my favorite luxury cars -- so how does it survive the topless transition? Read on.
- Convenient top controls and operation
- Amazingly quiet for a soft-top
- Maneuverable and enjoyable to drive
- Small trunk and back seat
- Rivals do the job just as well at significantly lower prices
- Cabriolet is the convertible version of the new E-Class; replaces CLK-Class
- Price range: $57,725 - 81,220; price as tested $69,475
- Powertrain: 3.5 liter V6, 268 hp/258 lb-ft or 5.5 liter V8, 382 hp/391 lb-ft, 7-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive
- EPA fuel economy estimates: 17 MPG city/25 MPG highway
- Observed fuel economy: 22.1 MPG
- Best rivals: BMW 3-series, Audi A5
Guide Review - 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Cabriolet
Most of the factors that endeared the E-Class sedan to me have made it over to the E convertible: Handsome styling, first-class interior appointments, and a great selection of useful techno-gadgets. Handling is excellent and the turning circle is amazingly small, although the ride isn't as smooth as the four-door's due to the shorter wheelbase. Though hard-top convertibles are in vogue, the E-Class uses a good old-fashioned fabric top. Not that you'd know from inside: With the top up, my E350 tester was as quiet as any metal-roof convertible I've driven. With the top down and the windows up, I could easily carry on a conversation with my passenger or listen to an audio book on the stereo. And you can raise and lower the top at speeds up to 25 MPH, a huge convenience.
Convertibles require extra chassis bracing to make up for the stiffness normally provided by the roof. Mercedes did a great job; top up or down, the E350 Cabriolet feels as stiff as the sedan and weight gain from the extra bracing is moderate, which means the 268 hp V6 in the E350 provides more than adequate power. (For those who need more speed, the E550 packs a 382 hp V8.)
Other thoughtful touches include storage nets just under the rear seats for securing small odds and ends that might fly out of the car when the roof is down; a cover for the convertible top switch so it won't heat up in the sunlight; and the optional Air Scarf system, which blows warm air on the driver's neck.
But not all is sweetness and light for the E-Class Cabrio. The back seat is tight, with only enough legroom for children and short adults, and the trunk is small: 11.5 cubic feet, and that's with the top up. Lowering the roof requires pulling down a divider that shrinks that to just 8.8 cubic feet. A medium-sized suitcase will just barely fit under the divider, and a full duffel bag won't make it.
The Cabriolet has a fancy two-piece wind blocker; push a button and a section above the windshield pops up, while the rear headrests rise along with a section of netting between them. This setup doesn't block much wind, but it does block visibility in the rear view mirror (see photo). Even with the top up, the retracted wind blocker blots out about half of the rear window.
Much as I enjoyed my time with the E350 convertible, if I were shopping, I'd seriously consider a BMW 3-series instead. It's just as roomy, the trunk (though smaller) is easier to pack, and it has a metal roof, which means thieves can't knife their way in. Technically, the 3-series is a class down from the E, but it does the job just as well, plus it starts at just $45,875 versus $57,725 for the E350. (My nicely-optioned test car rang the till at almost $70k!) I'd also check out the $42,875 Audi A5 Cabriolet, which is not as well-appointed but is one of the best-designed convertibles on the market. That said, the BMW and Audi are functional where the Mercedes is luxurious. If ambiance is important, the Mercedes is the right choice. -- Aaron Gold