Buyers torn between the practicality of a sedan or SUV and the allure of a convertible no longer need to sacrifice. The latest convertible from Mercedes-Benz, the 2018 E-Class Cabriolet, has enough bells and whistles to cruise year-round.
Arriving at dealerships later this year, the redesigned mid-size convertible will feature the automaker’s optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive system for the first time, as well as a handful of other features conducive to cold-weather driving.
The open-top four-seater rounds out Mercedes’ mid-size E-Class family – currently comprised of a sedan, a coupe, and a station wagon – and joins the brand’s growing portfolio of convertibles, including those based on its C-Class compact car and S-Class large sedan.
“Simply put, a convertible can make you feel good,” said Christian Fruh, the E-Class Cabriolet’s chief engineer. “People reward themselves with a cabriolet.”
Mercedes is not alone in weatherproofing its drop-tops. The number of models on the market offering all-wheel drive has more than doubled over the last five years to include nameplates from Audi, Bentley, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche, and Land Rover.
“The all-wheel drive addition is especially popular among the German brands as they are striving to create a sportier driving experience and are not shy to add models to their existing line up,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of industry analysis. “Convertibles are a true luxury purchase, and providing options to these discerning buyers is something auto companies must do to win in this space.”
Mercedes brought a group of journalists to the Alps last month for a summertime drive that tested the new cabrio’s all-weather chops. From the sparkling waters of France’s Lake Annecy to Italy’s snow-covered Monte Bianco to gridlocked Geneva, the local climate offered sizzling sun, drizzling rain, and winter chills over the course of a single day, allowing the car to showcase a balance of power and comfort that suited the route.
Though tempered by the area’s stringent speed limits, the E-Class cabrio’s 329-horsepower, 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 provided plenty of power to pass slow-moving vehicles and whip through more secluded, twisty patches. The hearty, 180-mile quintessential Alpine route was not constructed for the average convertible, but this one proved its endurance; its comfort-tuned suspension and 4MATIC all-wheel drive system increased the car’s agility, helping it handle sharp, narrow turns safely.
The optional semi-autonomous system, which uses cameras and sensors to steer itself around cars and curves, handled straight highways and even some winding roads surprisingly competently, allowing us to take brief advantage of a convertible’s main benefit: enjoying the scenery (while keeping our hands on the wheel, of course).
The roof, a noise-resistant, layered fabric top designed to withstand road noise and inclement weather, opens and closes automatically in a convenient 20 seconds when the car is traveling up to 30 mph. When it was up, the cabin was as quiet as a sedan’s, allowing my driving partner and I to converse throughout the course, which included the reverberating, seven-mile Mont Blanc Tunnel (once Europe’s longest) that links France and Italy.
With the roof down, we could continue our conversation by activating the car’s AirCap system, a pair of pop-up wind deflectors at the front and rear of the car that mute road noise and turbulence and mitigate the wind’s effect on longer hair. When we hit cold patches, we didn’t have to raise the roof. The AirScarf, which Mercedes calls its “neck-level heating system,” provided a continual blast of heat toasty enough to let us enjoy driving under saturnine skies.
Inside, the new E-Class cabrio boasts nearly four more inches of legroom than the previous generation, split-folding rear seats that can accommodate all-weather cargo, and a trunk large enough for a couple of suitcases to outfit a brief Alpine jaunt. The car’s standard 12.3-inch widescreen cockpit provides a sleek look befitting the cabin’s wood trim and soft, heat-reflecting leather upholstery. (However, the interface’s GPS led us astray at times, a relatively common occurrence in a region rife with roundabouts.)
The car’s most all-weather feature might be its launch date: Starting at about $66,000 (and roughly $69,000 for 4MATIC), the E-Class Cabriolet arrives at U.S. dealerships later this year, well after convertible season.