Back in college, I was on a nature hike with a group of students when we happened upon a stream. Some stepped carefully from stone to dry stone to get across; others waded through the water. I noticed a tree branch hanging overhead, so I took a running start, grabbed hold, and swung freely to the opposite bank. (It wasn’t exactly wide.) A few more followed my lead.
As I was helping them plant their feet, another hiker snidely asked why we were crossing that way. “Because it’s fun,” I said, lightheartedly. “It’s irresponsible,” he answered. I muttered something immature and went on my merry way, content at having found a little extra joy for myself and a few others.
I hadn’t thought about that hike in years until I was standing in front of a gleaming new 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet. Of course, Mercedes makes a ton of sensible sedans, wagons, and crossovers these days. But it’s also been expanding its convertible lineup lately, with the C drop-top the latest and most affordable (relatively speaking) Benz cabriolet to date. And that means more people can have fun in the sun while traversing those asphalt and concrete streams.
If you believe Mercedes is bucking a trend, you’re not mistaken. The convertible market has been contracting, with the drop-top variant of the Lexus IS, the Volkswagen Eos, and Volvo C70 among others all going away in recent years. Benz, meanwhile, can’t seem to build enough of them: C-Class, E-Class, S-Class, SLC, SL. Don’t be surprised if a few more appear soon. Even without counting the Smart Fortwo Cabrio, you’re looking at arguably the most expansive convertible lineup in the industry.
This latest cabrio similarly expands the C-Class family more than ever before. Unlike its predecessors, the latest W205-generation model was envisioned from the get-go to include a sedan, wagon, coupe, and convertible, and that’s not counting the GLC crossover, GLC Coupe, and SLC roadster—vehicles all loosely associated with the C-Class range. Sadly, the wagon is the only body style we won’t be getting Stateside. There are also powertrain options that won’t make the transatlantic voyage from Europe, where Mercedes will offer the new 2017 C-Class cabrio with two diesels and five gasoline engines—and that’s before delving into AMG territory.
American buyers will have to get along with three engine options, but they’re good ones. Benz’s now familiar turbocharged trio for the C cab comes in four-, six-, or eight-cylinder flavors, with output more than doubling from one end of the range to the other. Our choices start with the C300, packing the automaker’s 2.0-liter turbo four, good for 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, paired to the brand’s nine-speed automatic transmission and available in either rear- or 4Matic all-wheel drive. The AMG C43 (previously known in sedan form as the C450 AMG Sport) is motivated by the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 with 362 hp and 384 lb-ft delivering the power to all four wheels through the same gearbox. Then there’s the Mercedes-AMG C63, which packs roughly the same 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 as the AMG GT and available in two states of tune: 469 hp and 479 lb-ft in standard form, or 503 hp and 516 lb-ft in S spec. The engine is mated to AMG’s well-worn seven-speed automatic with power routing to the rear wheels. We had the opportunity to sample all three (the C63 in top S trim) on our test drive in and around Trieste, Italy, and found each to have its own personality.
We started our drive at the top with the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. Where its rivals have been retreating to smaller, six-cylinder turbocharged engines, Benz and its Mercedes-AMG team have stuck to its eight-cylinder guns. Our verdict after several hours behind the wheel? Pure madness. How else would you describe an automaker channeling more than 500 horsepower to the rear wheels in one of its smallest models? Truth be told, especially on the relentlessly twisting, narrow roads along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, we found it a bit much. Maybe we’d be singing a different tune to this state of tune if were we driving it around a race track, with clearer lines of sight and no oncoming traffic. That said those inclined towards track sessions probably aren’t choosing a four-seat cabrio—no matter how nimble or powerful—for the purpose.
Really, a car like this is first and foremost meant to serve as a boulevard cruiser, which brings us to the C300 at the other end of the spectrum. Although it has less than half the horses as the C63 S, the C300 isn’t exactly a slow poke. It’ll run from 0 to 60 mph in sub-6, which was the gold standard not so long ago for performance luxury automobiles. Not surprisingly, next to the C63 the C300 felt decidedly more laid back and better suited towards cruising than speeding. It still proved willing to play in the twisty bits, though, and we even got the tail to step out a bit on a damp, winding road. For most buyers, the C300’s comfort-oriented package should more than suffice and possibly make the journey that much more relaxing, as a cabriolet should.
The C43 middle child emerged as our favorite. It fairly evenly splits the difference between the C300 and C63 in terms of displacement, cylinder count, and output, but its sporty demeanor and performance capabilities bring it closer to the eight-cylinder model, not a surprise given the AMG in the name. The C43 takes just 4.7 seconds to reach 60 mph, compared to 6.3 seconds for the C300, 4.1 for the C63, and 4.0 for the C63 S. It transmits its power through Benz’s nine-speed gearbox (like the C300) and comes with all-wheel drive as standard equipment (optional on the C300 and not available on the C63). As you’d expect, it’s a more willing dancer than the C300, but it won’t threaten to bite your head off at every turn like the C63. It’s also considerably lighter and a couple inches narrower than the C63, and shares most of its bodywork with the base model, making it easier to position on narrow roads than the somewhat overdone and unwieldy C63.
Cycling through the dynamic control modes elicits an incremental transformation in the vehicle’s behavior as the steering, transmission, and suspension alter their temperament from Eco and Comfort modes through Sport and Sport+. There’s also a programmable Individual setting for the driver’s own favored combination and even a Race mode for the C63. We inevitably favored the two Sport modes in whichever version we drove, but we were left with little doubt that each had its place.
Regardless of which engine you choose and which mode you put it in, the new C-Class Cabriolet has a lot to offer as a whole. Packaging a four-seat convertible in an aesthetically pleasing form presents its own unique set of challenges, but to our eyes, the designers did a bang-up job. It feels well-built, and its interior is fitted with all the creature comforts and top-notch materials you’d expect from Mercedes. Despite the wide-open cabin, torsional rigidity felt solid with no trace of the cowl shake that once plagued open-top models. We resisted closing the roof as colder winds blew, taking advantage of the wind-buffeting mechanisms (including Benz’s available Aircap wind deflector at the top of the windshield frame) to enjoy leisurely conversation even at highway speeds. But when the rain started falling, the acoustically insulated soft-top kept us well sheltered from the elements, taking just 20 seconds to open or close, even at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
Two days of driving from Italy into Slovenia and back again didn’t leave us as tired as we might have emerged from less pampering modes of transportation, and we dare say we enjoyed riding shotgun under the open sky almost as much as driving it. (Almost.) We did encounter a few small issues, however. Chief among them was a frustrating satellite navigation problem that routinely failed to distinguish between a curve in the road and turning off it, instructing us to turn where we needed to stay on course and failing to direct us which way to go at junctions. The wide center stack and console struck us as somewhat overbearing, especially swathed in the C63’s glossy expanse of carbon fiber. And clearing the C63’s massive side bolsters on ingress proved a small hurdle, though we appreciated how well the seats kept us in place once under way.
Those relatively minor issues aside, we were impressed by Benz’s transformation of one of its core models into an open-air experience that excels as both breezy cruiser and supercar-like performer. Equally striking, however, is how Mercedes has found the time and resources to add more convertibles like the 2017 C-Class Cabriolet to its stable and bring them to a new market segment where more customers can get at ’em. Chalk it up, then, as a win for the fun set, which cruise at their own chosen speed with the wind in their hair while thumbing their noses at the responsible crowd.
2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet Specifications
|Price:||$51,000 (C300) (base RWD)|
|Engines:||2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/241 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 1,300-4,000 rpm; 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/362 hp @ 5,500, 384 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,200 rpm; 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/469/503 hp @ 5,500-6,250, 479/516 lb-ft @ 1,750-4,500|
|Transmissions:||7-speed automatic, 9-speed automatic|
|Layout:||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine RWD/AWD convertible|
|EPA Mileage:||18-23/25-30 mpg (city/hwy) (est)|
|L x W x H:||184.5-187.0 x 71.3-71.9 x 55.5-55.2 in|
|0-60 MPH:||4.0-6.3 sec|
|Top Speed:||130-174 mph|