The sun lies low on the desert horizon, the trees and cactuses are throwing long shadows, and the landscape is doused with warm light. In less than 20 seconds, the softtop disappears behind the rear seats, and the engine—barely perceptible—springs to life. The beginning of a relaxed and indulgent drive into the Sonoran Desert?
Hardly. This trip requires the utmost concentration: We are riding along on one of the final engineering drives for the Mercedes-Benz E-class convertible, a model Daimler calls the cabriolet. At the wheel is Christian Früh, development chief for the coupe and convertible C- and E-class models. In another of several prototypes on this drive, the pilot is Peter Kolb, testing chief for the new models. One car is a Europe-spec E200, with a 181-hp turbocharged inline-four making even less power than the 241-horsepower four found in the base U.S. sedan, the E300. Another car has a four-cylinder turbo-diesel that’s so quiet you would be forgiven if you confused it with a six, but don’t expect to see that at U.S. dealerships, either.
In the U.S., the convertible will be an E400, like the E-class coupe, powered by a twin-turbo V-6 gasoline engine. In the coupe it’s rated at 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, and those figures are likely to be the same in the softtop version. Note that the day of V-8–powered E-class convertibles appears to be past, our fond memories of the E550 cabrio notwithstanding. Although the E63 sedan uses AMG’s thundering 4.0-liter V-8, the AMG version of this new cabriolet will most likely be an E50 powered by a turbocharged inline-six. Don’t look for that one in the first couple of model years, though. Every E-class convertible will come with Daimler’s own nine-speed conventional automatic. If Mercedes follows its usual practice of late, it will offer its 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system as an alternative to the standard rear-drive configuration.
This test drive is supposed to deliver the finishing touches on these most upscale derivatives of the E-class, the mid-size line that more or less defines Mercedes-Benz to a large portion of the general public. Many thousands of miles of development work preceded our ridealong. Unlike the previous E-class convertible that was actually built on C-class architecture, the new model is E-class from the ground up, with a heavily modified structure adding braces under the engine and below the trunk to make up for the rigidity lost without a steel roof. Using the E-class platform makes it quite a bit larger than the outgoing model, which was the brand’s only four-seat convertible when introduced. The new one will share showroom space with four-seat ragtop versions of both the smaller C- and larger S-class. Complete review on www.caranddriver.com, by Manufacturer