As I write this, my wife is going topless.
She’s been doing it all week.
Topless up and down our street. Topless through the whole neighbourhood, in fact.
She’s gone topless to the local shopping centre and topless to work. A couple of days she’s even gone topless dropping our teenage son to school.
This is not her normal behavior. I suspect it’s because of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet that’s been in our driveway for the past few days.
The drop-top version of the latest Benz executive range is bound to have its effect on you, I suppose.
This is one of the world’s truly desirable machines – a slick German luxury coupe with the added allure of a fold-away roof. No wonder my wife has found it so hard to resist.
The cosmetic and mechanical tweaks that have breathed fresh life into the E-Class range, now approaching the half-way point of its model life, have made the Cabriolet version more desirable than ever.
The slinky, swept-back double headlights, complete with LED daytime running lights; the sportier, sharper front end and the bagful of new driver aids have given a fresh dose of appeal to this already-appealing convertible coupe.
The E-Class Cabrio is a relative newcomer to the Benz line-up – prior to the current E-Class generation, Benz’s mid-size coupe and cabrio wore the CLK badge.
And like the CLK, the E-Class comes with a relatively quick-folding cloth roof – rather than the all-steel version favoured by some other members of this aristocratic German family, including the baby SLK and its much more expensive sibling, the SL coupe.
The E-Class isn’t exactly cheap, mind you – with a starting pricetag of $88,900 for the entry-level E200 cabrio, ranging all the way up to the flagship E400 at $142,900.
We were lucky enough to test the E400 – a new name badge for this model range thanks to an all-new engine – a twin-turbocharged, 3-litre V6 that is quite a step up on Benz’s previous 3.5-litre. The new powerplant delivers substantially more urge, thanks to sequential turbo chargers boosting the engine’s output, and also improved fuel efficiency. Its 245 kilowatts and 480Nm of torque will whisk the cabrio to the speed limit in a tick over five seconds, yet requires only 7.7L/100km on average.
It’s a highly impressive engine – the huge torque outputs giving it an almost bottomless pit of thrust and yet delivered in a linear, creamy fashion.
For the moment, at least, the E400 represents the flaghip level of Benz’s executive sedan range and its coupe-cabrio variants, although some V8 versions can’t be too far away.
Yet so impressive is the E400’s powerplant it raises the question as to why you’d bother spending the additional cash for a V8 version of the E-Class.
Suffice to say there will be plenty of other Benz models bearing the 400 badge – and featuring this cracking new engine – in the months ahead. First of those is likely to be the new C-Class set to arrive later in the year.
Also on the way for the E-Class is Mercedes’ new 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic – another piece of one-upmanship over its German and Japanese rivals.
For the time being, though, our E400 Cabriolet had to make do with the latest iteration of the very good, well-evolved seven-speed version which we found to be unobtrusive and efficient, with the choice of Economy, Sport or Manual settings available to the driver.
Like its sedan sibling, the E-Class cabrio is something of a technological tour-de-force. There’s a total of 11 all-new driver assistance systems on this model, collectively called “intelligent drive”. The system is built around two cameras, mounted near the rear-view mirror, which virtually allow the E-Class to “see” where it is going. This incorporates a radar-guided cruise control system; frontal collision avoidance system; a Steering Assist function coupled with Brake Assist and “Junction Assist” to detect crossing traffic and pedestrians.
An Attention Assist device monitors the driver’s attentiveness and advises of their level of fatigue, while active parking assist and a 360-degree “bird’s eye” virtual camera help ensure minor bumps and scrapes are avoided.
The car will also dim its own headlights and reduce the cone of light to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic; it will also read various traffic signs and convey those messages to the driver. For instance, it will tell you when it senses you are exceeding the speed limit. Ingenious.
One of our favourites was the Surround View camera system – which projects onto the colour display screen not only the view from the rear of the car, but also from the front and corners. Somehow it blends all these images together to give you a wide-angle view of any obstacles as you pull in and out of parking spots.
The E-Class’s folding roof is relatively fuss-free – stowing itself in about 20 seconds and sealing up tight as a drum when the weather turns nasty. The glass rear window is a cut above the old plastic or Perspex versions previously seen in this style of roof.
The E-Class also uses a patented Aircap system – effectively a little pop-up wind deflector which sits atop the windscreen frame to further shield the cabin occupants from the buffeting which inevitably is part and parcel of open-air driving. The deflector automatically retracts when the car slows, to restore the car, as Benz says, to “its purest and most alluring”.
Our test machine came with a sublime Harmon Kardon sound system that included speakers dotted everywhere throughout the cabin, including one placed between the sculpted rear seats. Even with the roof down and the engine roaring, it’s possible to enjoy your favourite tunes without too much compromise.
As good as it is, the E-Class is not perfect.
It is susceptible to the shuddering or “scuttle-shake” so common to topless machines when they encounter uneven surfaces without a fixed roof to stiffen the chassis. In the Benz it’s mild but still noticeable.
Rear-seat legroom is reasonable but not fabulous for what is essentially a full-sized car. The electronic system that rolls the front seats forward to allow easier access helps the situation, as do the little electronic arms which extend to hand front-seat passengers their seat belts once the doors are closed. The cabrio gets two buckets in the rear, as opposed to the three-seat bench in other E-Class models.
Those in the front are further pampered by Benz’s clever AirScarf system – which pipes warm air onto the occupants’ neck when the roof is down, regardless of the temperature. Combine that with the heated leather seats and you could go topless just about any time of the year.
Just don’t tell my wife.
MERCEDES-BENZ E400 CABRIOLET
DETAILS: Two-door, four-seat luxury convertible with twin turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine and seven-speed automatic transmission.
TECH STUFF: 3-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 produces 245kW, 480Nm; seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shifters, rear-wheel drive.
FEATURES: Five-star safety rating with nine airbags, pre-safe pre-collision system; radar-guided cruise control with frontal collision avoidance system; Junction Assist system to detect and avoid side impacts; active lane-keeping system, adaptive headlights with auto dimming, automated parking system; 360-degree parking camera system; 14.7cm colour screen with satellite navigation, premium audio, pop-up wind deflector system; seat-mounted heating system for front-seat passengers, electric seats, windows and mirrors.
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds.
VERDICT: Grace with pace.
BOTTOM LINE: From $142,900 (plus onroad costs).