I love convertibles, my fascination with all things without a top must emanate from a love for motorcycling. But on those two-wheeled wonders, where the wind in your hair sensation is left to the bare rustle around the base of your helmet, a convertible allows you to feel just that, the wind in your hair. India, obviously, is just not the right place for a convertible, period. Yet that has not stopped BMW or Mercedes from launching almost everything they have in their range that comes without a top, God bless their souls. So here's our take on the latest in the line of convertibles that is slowly making their march towards India, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet.
In this issue itself we have yet another convertible, actually a jeep without a roof or any shred of overhead cover and let me tell you it is just as sensational. The Thar of course looks butch and masculine but it's the aura of laying bare your insides that is perversely appealing. It's wholly narcissistic, driving with the top down is so attention grabbing. In the E-Cabrio that sense of attention is heightened because it's a German luxury car, everybody is going to look at the dude inside. And make no mistake the only accessory you need is amply endowed arm candy. Of course the E-Cabrio has a lot more to it. It is built on the E-Class platform and has the same elegant style that made the E-Class sedan a global hit. The Cabrio elevates that design by offering just two doors and it's the only cabriolet that also offers enough space for four adults to sit comfortably.
The interiors however are nothing like the standard E-Class. The 3-spoke steering wheel is sportier compared to the 4-spoke bit on the sedan and there are minute differences in the way the dashboard elements are laid out. The leather seats in nearly white shades are a perfect complement to the sky blue exteriors, but once across the Greater Noida expressway with the top down and the white slowly turned to a smoky grey.
So what you do is raise the top which takes 20 seconds and still allows the E Cabrio to look just as sensational. This is indeed a very good looking car with or without the top, and not because of a surrounding sea of autorickshaws, smoky trucks, premier Padminis, M800s and small buzzy motorcycles, but because it's genuinely jaw-dropping.
The E-Class Cabriolet available in India is the E350 trim which comes with the 3498cc V6 petrol engine. It makes the E-Cabrio a remarkably quick car because of the 276PS of max power and 355Nm of max torque. Like all Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, the E-Cabrio is rear wheel driven and all that power is channelled to the rear though a 7-speed gearbox. Don't expect me to elaborate too much on this drivetrain because we have tested it before. In short, the responses are quick, the transmission a bit slow and because it's an automatic you are really not going to have any drivability issues. That said, slip the transmission into sports mode and you have a car that does a 100kmph in just a fraction over 7 seconds, the quarter mile in 15.4 seconds and will easily hit the limited to 250kmph top speed.
This engine sounds delighted to be revved hard and never did it feel harsh and noisy. The V6 rumble is crisp to a point and post 5000rpm it sings in a rich baritone that to a petrolhead like me is soothing. Even with the top down at highway cruising speeds, just raising the windows, the sun visor and activating the Aircap system blocks out the wind and the associated whooshes.
Delivery is smooth and the tall ratios add to the refinement. Driveability thanks to a large torque spread, max torque is available from 2400rpm all the way up to 5000rpm makes this a relatively easy car to drive and achieve decent fuel efficiency. Slotting it into manual mode so I could choose when to shift gears got me 13.7kmpl on the highway and 8.3kmpl in the city leading to an overall fuel efficiency of 9.6kmpl.
A convertible elicits certain structural changes since a roof in any monocoque acts a stressed member. The lack of it means other sections have to be strengthened to keep it safe in case of an impact and provide sufficiently capable dynamics. This could suggest that the E-Class Cabrio gets heavier but the increase is minimal. Compared to the E-Class sedan, the kerb weight of the E-Class Cabrio is just 30 kilos more at 1765kg. Minor alterations to stiffen the suspension sort out the additional weight without the suspension ever batting an eyelid so what you get are dynamics that as good as in the sedan.
But as spirited as it may be, driving through corners in search of the next best corner, in a convertible, is just so unrefined. This car epitomises class and the classes are never seen rushing around in a hurry, they glide. If corner carving is what you're seeking you're better off with the E-Class Coupe.
So while the E-Class Cabrio is geologically composed at all speeds and across any sort of corner, it is best suited for cruising sedately. Allow the wind to gently ruffle your hair not make you look like a Kiss band member.
Electronically controlled suspension components judiciously make the decision if you need a stiffer or softer ride depending on the terrain. Alternatively you could just press the button needed to engage sports mode and that tautens the suspension, reduces the shift times and primes the ESP and the brakes for some fun. But let me add, you can't switch off the traction controls. It's a sentient being that always knows when you've effed up and comes in instantly to clean up your mess.
LIVING WITH IT
I admitted at the very beginning that I loved convertibles, but is it a car for every day driving? Not in a city like Mumbai it isn't. Driving around with the top down is going to be a health issue what with the smog and smoke, even if you evade the occasional bird dropping or spit bombs from passing buses.
But on occasions when you drop the top, the Aircap system which is an electronically activated wind deflector above the windscreen deflects wind and does not allow it to enter the cabin, and that includes the rear.
Safety is also addressed accordingly with state-of-the-art roll-over protection systems. The roll-over bars extend to protect occupants as soon as the airbag control system detects a collision, active safety systems such as ABS, ESP, Attention Assist which detects drowsiness and keeps drivers alert, Pre-safe that realises a crash is inevitable and preps various systems instantly to protect occupants and the Active Bonnet which pops up at the rear to prevent pedestrians from going through the windscreen.
Other comfort features include a Harman Kardon sound system, automatic seat belt feeders which are basically arms that pushes the seat belt closer to the passengers whenever the car is switched on and of course the soft top which can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 40kmph in just 20 seconds.
The problem with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet has nothing to do with the car itself. The idea of a drop top is simply ridiculous which is why demand is so dismal. We can hope it changes but then how do we change our driving environment? I'd love to own the E-Cabrio, and drive it on a holiday in the hills. There isn't any place else you could drive one without looking like a dust storm hit you and the insides of your car.
That said the E-Class Cabriolet is a headline grabber, and at around Rs 65 lakh ex-showroom Mumbai an absolute steal. Grab it before prices hit the roof!