First Drive: 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet

Behind the wheel: carrying on the Mercedes cabrio tradition

The Mercedes-Benz E350 cabrio that we drove provided the sort of relaxed, luxurious, isn’t-life-grand top-down experience that M-B open-top cars have offered sybarites since the Jazz Age. This is no sports car, and that’s fine; there’s sufficient power from the 3.5-liter V-6, which is mated to a seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and there’s far more than sufficient grunt from the E550’s 5.5-liter, 382-hp V-8. This is a grand touring convertible that’s all about giving you an unimpeded look at the world, not about making you fantasize about going racing. We’ll leave that role to the inevitable AMG version.

Although it’s not a sports car, the E-class still steers well, with good self-centering, and it has perfectly good body control and a ride that strikes the right balance between supple and firm. Sightlines are good, although the rear seatbacks and net do impede rearward vision a bit. If the V-6 doesn’t purr with pleasure when you hammer the accelerator, nor does it moan in protest. We’d think carefully about springing for the V-8 model: this car is all about what’s under the canvas top, not what’s under the hood, and the V-6 will handily meet most people’s needs and desires. Heck, we even drove a European-market four-cylinder turbodiesel model with a six-speed manual, and it did not lack for go.

Passenger pleasure

Strong winds were no match for the optional Harman Kardon stereo in our test car, which could be heard with clarity even in the rear seat. The rear-seat compartment, naturally, is a fairly intimate space, as passengers are staggered slightly behind the front seats, but there’s still room for a pull-down armrest between the rear seats, and the rear seats themselves are nicely sculptured, supportive, and comfortable. Rear legroom and footroom aren’t bad, either, unless you have a six-foot, three-inch driver in front of you.

The E-class cabrio: pure indulgence

So, no one needs a four-seat luxury convertible, but if you’re looking for a way to reward yourself or someone close to you this spring and summer, the new 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-class cabrio makes quite a statement. We prefer it in principal to any of the hardtop convertibles and therefore see the still-sharp Audi A5 cabrio, which also has a handsome fabric roof, as its main competitor. The A5’s biggest advantage is available Quattro all-wheel-drive, whereas the E-class is available only with rear-wheel drive.

The E-class, though, follows in the footsteps of an incredible array of large Mercedes cabriolets over the years, cars like the 220SE and 300SE cabs of the early 1960s and the W124-series droptops from the early 1990s. Those 1990s cars were amazing: solid, really good to drive, handsome, and painstakingly engineered. We’d venture that the new E-class cabrio does a much better job than the CLK cabrio at carrying the Mercedes-Benz torch

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