CROZET, France — One of the hazards of driving a convertible everyday is cultivating a deep, dark tan. You might also see rugged mountains, skies full of stars, and a road ahead that offers endless possibilities.
Doing all of this behind the wheel of a 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Cabriolet offers plenty of hazards of this kind.
Like the new E-Class Coupe, the two-door Cabriolet features a long, ridged hood, low-slung grille, and a wide stance. Mercedes-Benz introduced its first E-Class Cabriolet 25 years ago, back when the convertible market in the U.S. was nearly extinct.
Christian Früh, chief engineer on the E-Class Cabriolet, says times have changed.
“People thought there was no future for cabriolets,” he states over lunch at the Jiva Hill Resort in eastern France near Geneva, Switzerland, where Automobile is testing the new model. “We disagreed. And look at where we are now!”
Today, Mercedes makes 19 convertible variants — 21, if you count models from Smart.
The AMG line Cabriolet tester we drove around snow-capped peaks in France, Switzerland, and Italy came in a fluffy shade called “designo diamond white bright,” with interiors that surrounded us in deep white/black Nappa leather. Plus, there was a black fabric top that went largely unused.
In addition to the model we drove, there’s at least a dozen colors to choose from as well as a 25th Anniversary edition that’s available in exclusive “rubelite red” paint with designo Nappa leather in macchiato beige and tizan red.
We got a closer look at that gem the following day near the top of Mont Blanc, which lies nearly 16,000 feet above sea level, when it was airlifted in by helicopter especially for the occasion — like a scene from a “Fast and Furious” sequel.
“Today, we have drop-top models in the C-Class, E-Class, and S-Class lines in addition to our longstanding roadsters. Why? Because people love them,” Früh says. “People like to reward themselves with a convertible.”
Früh also jokes that his wife now drives an S-Class Cabriolet and his life has been much better ever since. Of course, who’s life wouldn’t be?
But back to the E-Class, the latest model is bigger than its predecessor and rides on a 2.75-inch wider track that is noticeably different when its combined with the AMG tuned version that comes with larger 19-inch wheels and a standard Agility Control suspension. The amplitude-dependent damping system comes in handy, especially when tackling twisty roads.
And we drove countless winding roads over the course of two days and just over 200 miles during our trip in the Alps, the most extensive mountain range on the European continent, and home to the highest peak in Europe: Mont Blanc. The white mountain that is not only referenced in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” but in the Middle Ages, was thought to contain dragons and spirits buried beneath its frosty glaciers.
Our E-Class took on mile long tunnels, lakeside roads, ascents, descents, high elevations, tight switchbacks, beautiful runs through Alpine meadows, and even some light rain. The relatively relaxing ride took us through small villages renowned for their wine and cheese, picturesque local scenery, and occasional colorful graffiti.
Combined with the 4MATIC all-wheel drive, which is a first for the E-Class Cabriolet series, it truly inspires confidence as you maneuver around tight turns and slower vehicles in most driving conditions. Steering is precise, fluid, and responsive, in addition to providing a somewhat sporty feel.
A CLOSER LOOK
Under the hood there’s a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine that delivers 333 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
The new cabriolet is packed with all the latest tech goodies necessary to get you to your destination safely. A complex network of sensors and cameras on the E-Class allows it to analyze driving conditions, recognize dangers, and react to them if you don’t — and sometimes even when you do.
During a ride through the Swiss Alps, its standard Active Brake Assist auto-stopping feature kicked in as the car approached a construction zone and the road narrowed significantly. Because the painted lines on the highway were off-centered, the cabriolet’s safety systems thought we were going to hit a construction barrier and it automatically applied the brakes to slow the car down.
On another occasion while backing out onto a narrow road next to the breathtakingly blue Lake Annecy in Doussard, France, it detected quickly approaching vehicles as the car rolled back and quickly applied the brakes before we had a chance to. It’s like having a guardian angel as your co-pilot, which can be both a blessing and a curse. (All the technology can make for a comfortable ride. But if you are the kind of driver who likes to control your machine, being second guessed by a computer can take the fun out of a day in the mountains.)
Mercedes dynamic select also allows the driver to drive in Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport +, and Individual modes. These functions along with its start/stop technology to help save fuel can all be thankfully turned off with a touch of a button if you prefer to wing it or burn fossil fuel like nobody’s business.
There’s also a Driver’s Assistance Package that offers semi-automated driving for speeds up to 130 mph that’s super fun to use on long stretches of less engaging highway. Apparently, Remote Parking Pilot is also available via a smartphone app — but we didn’t have the opportunity to test it out just yet.
IN AND OUT
Aside from the wider, sportier track, and tech, the E-Class can seat four passengers comfortably. Up front, there’s 0.6-inches of more headroom, 2.0-inches more shoulder room, and 1.5-inches more elbow space. Rear passengers get 4.0-inches more legroom, 0.5-inches of shoulder room, and 0.8-inches more elbow space according to Mercedes-Benz estimates.
In addition, rear seats are now heated to help encourage year-round use. Optional sun-reflecting leather is available in five flavors and is designed to increase comfort in direct sunlight.
“Whoever has sat down on a hot leather seat in shorts will thank us later,” Früh states.
Rear seats fold down and there’s enough space to squeeze in a snowboard or a pair of skis. Trunk space isn’t compromised much with the top down and there’s space for at least a large backpack and small suitcase. You’ll find approximately 11-cubic feet when it is open and 13.6-cubic feet when it is closed.
DROP TOP IT
The acoustic soft-top drops or closes in 20 seconds at speeds up to 30 mph. It is available in black, dark brown, dark blue, and red. And when you do have the top up — it provides a good deal of shelter.
Johannes Scheffer, Mercedes-Benz soft-top development engineer, tells us more about its multi-layering process near the top of Mont Blanc, and later after dinner, at the Grand Hotel Courmayeur in Italy.
The fabric top features 10 layers of acoustic buffering insulation that drastically reduces wind and driving sounds. Scheffer shows us a section of it that is several inches thick, derived from the S-Class Cabriolet.
A 15-minute ride through the 7.2-mile long Mont Blanc Tunnel with it up and down easily demonstrates the sound differences provided by the new top technology. With the top up, it is much easier to have a conversation or listen to French rap music.
With the top down, an Aircap electric wind deflector system helps keep passengers cool by directing the flow of air over the passenger compartment. And its Airscarf heating system helps keep occupants toasty by directing warm air towards the neck area like a scarf.
Fans are built inside the back of the headrests to direct airflow on passengers in the back. Both systems help keep the air cooler or warmer inside the compartment for longer periods of time.
MAGIC CAR WASHERS
If you own or have driven a convertible for any amount of time, you know that using the windshield wiper fluid with the top down usually means getting the interior splashed while driving.
Not so with the Magic Vision Control wiper system that only sprays fluid on the downward movement of the wiper, so that fluid never finds its way into the car or on you. The system and wiper blades are heated at low temperatures as well.
The Command infotainment system is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay friendly and you can use your smartphone to start the engine, turn on the A/C, and open or lock the doors.
Overall the 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Cabriolet is one of the most civilized ways to explore new places, clear your mind, and work on your sun or moon tan.
Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but should become available closer to the Cabriolet’s release in the late summer.
That sounds like a good time to start planning your trip to the Alps.
|2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Cabriolet Specifications|
|ON SALE||Summer 2017|
|ENGINE||3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/333 hp @ 5,250-6,000 rpm, 354 lb-ft @ 3,500-5,250 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD convertible|
|L x W x H||190.0 x 73.2 x 56.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.5 sec|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph|