Mercedes E400 cabrio

Stuttgart takes top-down approach to touring

DANIEL GARDNER

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

A CAN opener is often all it takes to turn an accomplished coupe into a floppy, drop-top dud. But fortunately thatís not the case with the Mercedes-Benz case with the Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic cabriolet, which joins the new E-Class range alongside its sedan, coupe, wagon and All-Terrain brethren.

We struggled to see the relevance of the 4Matic all-wheeldrive system beneath the coupe.

Itís clear from other models that the new Eís rear end is capable of dealing with the 245kW/480Nm from Mercedes-Benzís 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and besides, coupe drivers may occasionally aspire to a little tail-out action.

But it makes more sense when handling the footwork of the convertible. Top-down motoring is all about grace and composure, and thatís precisely what this rag-top E400 offers.

The nine-speed auto is eerily intuitive, the claimed 0-100km/h dash of 5.5 seconds is entirely believable, the cabrioletís steering has lost little of the precision of the coupe, and the traction of allwheel drive makes every kilowatt easily accessible.

Barely perceptible column shake over uneven surfaces is about the only dynamic side-effect of the decapitation. Otherwise, the cabriolet is a fun and lively companion for a classic Australian cross-country road trip.

The E-Class cabrio also scores highly for cosseting its occupants.

Mercedes-Benzís Airscarf front occupant neck warmers are as comforting as a cuddle, complemented by hardcore seat heaters that can actually sting on the toastiest setting.

With the roof stowed the E-Class cabriolet offers a surprisingly calm cabin but that serenity can be further enhanced with an electrically folding wind diffuser. The device is very effective in reducing cabin turbulence but cannot be raised without an aerofoil that simultaneously extends from the top of the windscreen. The secondary wing dramatically increases wind noise and detracts from the cabrioletís good looks.

The extensive selection of comfort kit allows roof-down fun to continue even when the weather has other ideas, but when the fabric top is closed, the cabin offers impressive insulation from the elements and noise.

Neat features such as rear-seat interior lighting sewn into the roof remind passengers that theyíre riding in something special. We even managed to get the roof to operate at nearly 70km/h, which is impressively useful.

Cost of cabriolet ownership for the E400 4matic carries a $12,000 premium over the equivalent coupe, and while thatís a relatively small proportion of the total outlay, itís still a lot of spray tans.

PLUS & MINUS

Retains much of the coupeís dynamic ability; overall refinement Itís pricey; wind diffuser aerofoil interrupts the bodyís clean lines Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mercedes-Benz E400 4matic cabriolet 2996cc V6 (60į), dohc, 24v, twin-turbo 245kW @ 5250-6000rpm 480Nm @ 1400-4000rpm 9-speed automatic 1935kg 5.5sec (claimed) 8.7L/100km $157,500 Now

Cab charge

If the E400 is too pricey you can opt for the $123,500 E300 cabriolet instead. It ditches a pair of cylinders, one turbocharger and two driven wheels to save you $34K; the 1991cc four applying its 180kW/370Nm through the nine-speed auto to the rears only. Performance off the mark is surprisingly zesty for a 2.0-litre turbo in a relatively porky machine but its shorter legs become apparent at higher speeds and when overtaking. i f li d