2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class


2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet — Review

By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.0

Bottom Line:

The new E-Class Cabriolet is the first convertible from Mercedes-Benz to carry the company’s new design DNA. While the car is thoroughly modern, it’s the good old-fashioned V8 power that wins us over.
  • Excellent acceleration in E550 trim
  • Design language makes sense in cabriolet form
  • Intuitive navigation and climate controls
  • Feels underpowered in E350 trim
  • Aircap looks clumsy and adds a significant amount of drag
  • Throttle seems noticeably numb in the E350

View Pictures:  Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet

Mercedes-Benz has completely reworked the E-Class Cabriolet for 2011, integrating themes from the company's new design language and upping the horsepower. While the V8-powered E550 is a competent luxury convertible with precise throttle response, quick steering and an athletic suspension, the E350 is somewhat duller with its 3.5-liter six. Even so, the more laid-back E350 will likely be the better seller; most people don't require muscles on a luxury drop-top, they just want it to be fun and frisky.

Model Lineup
To keep things simple for U.S. consumers, Mercedes-Benz is offering the E-Class Cabriolet in only two trim levels, based on engine choice. The E350 gets a 268-horsepower V6 while the more potent E550 packs a 382-horsepower V8. Our European cousins are lucky enough to be able to choose from a variety of clean-diesel powerplants, including a 2.2-liter version that manages a healthy 44 mpg and still produces plenty of power. If you're thinking that sounds like a perfect engine for this car, you're right, but chances are slim that the 2.2-liter CDI powerplant will make it to the left side of the pond.

Both the E350 and E550 feature an insulated, retractable soft-top that does a surprisingly good job of keeping wind noise at bay, even at highway speeds. Mercedes-Benz bills the E-Class Cabriolet as a convertible you can actually use all year round, and the soft-top is a key ingredient of that recipe. The whole contraption can open or close in around 20 seconds with a push of a button. Even more surprising is that you can put the top up or down while driving at up to 25 mph. Mercedes-Benz has also done an impressive job of keeping the top from devouring trunk space, which has always been an issue with convertibles; the system folds primarily into a neat void behind the rear seats.

Both cars are also available with a slew of optional equipment that can make the convertible a perfect fit depending on your tastes. From two different Premium packages that boast everything from heated seats and a Harman Kardon 5.1 stereo system to intelligent headlights with curve illumination, it's easy to deck out your E-Class — for a price. Opting for the Premium 1 package will bring along the company's AirScarf system, which keeps your neck toasty with warm air from a headrest-mounted vent. The trick is well worth the extra money, especially if you plan on doing year-round top-down driving.

As we mentioned above, a 3.5-liter V6 engine produces 268 horsepower, along with 258 lb-ft of torque, in E350 trim. Those seem like solid numbers until you figure in the car's weight. At 3,785 pounds, the E350 is plenty heavy, and the lack of power compared with the V8 E550 is noticeable, especially in the car's throttle response.

The 5.5-liter V8 in the E550 delivers 382 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers transform the E-Class Cabriolet into a purposeful machine with plenty of speed on tap, even though the larger engine adds 135 pounds to the equation. Both the E350 and E550 make use of a 7-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to the rear wheels.

The EPA has yet to release fuel-economy figures on either car, but we wouldn't be surprised to see numbers remain fairly close to the E-Class coupe figures. That means 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway in the E350 and 15/23 in the E550.

Inner Space
The big news inside the E-Class Cabriolet is the new Aircap system. While the romance of blasting down the freeway in an open-top German convertible is sexy as can be, the reality could be anything but pleasant. To combat wind buffeting and turbulence inside the cabin, Mercedes-Benz incorporated a button-activated air dam that directs the airflow up and away from everyone inside — specifically, the rear-seat occupants.

The company says the system can be deployed at speeds of up to 100 mph and remain so all the way to either car's top end. Since the air moving around the car avoids the cabin, the result is a pocket of warm or cool air to keep everyone comfortable. The downside is that the net looks a little goofy and hurts aerodynamics.

On the Road
We weren't quite prepared for the difference that the additional 114 horsepower in the E550 would make compared with the E350. While there was nothing wrong with the less powerful E-Class Cabriolet, it didn't exactly strike us as a car that begged to be driven. Throttle response from the 3.5-liter V6 was sluggish at best, and somewhat tainted the rest of the experience. Even though there are no technical differences between the suspension in the E350 and E550, the V6 car simply felt less glued to the road than its V8 counterpart.

On the other hand, the E550 came with the sort of precision we've come to expect from Mercedes-Benz. Throttle response is lightning-quick from the 5.5-liter V8, and that makes the rest of the car feel all the more capable. Steering in both cars is light, but not detached, and the 18-inch wheels on the E550 give the car a more planted feel compared with the E350.

The 7-speed automatic transmission handles gear-swapping duties without any drama in both cars. No matter how hard we tried, we were never able to confound the transmission's logic, even with plenty of hard acceleration and easy motoring in traffic. While the touch-shift manual gear control is quicker than most "manumatic" applications we've come across, we'd still like to see the more sports-oriented double-clutch transmission of European offerings find its way into E-Class cars bound for the U.S.

Right for You?
On the whole, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is a fine car. While it will never go toe-to-toe with the likes of the BMW M3 convertible, it's not designed for that purpose. Both the E350 and E550 are built to take on competition like the standard 3-Series convertible from BMW, the IS C from Lexus and the G Convertible from Infiniti, and they do so easily. While Mercedes-Benz hasn't released pricing for the company's new drop-heads, we have to expect final figures to land within reach of the $50,000 range. Expect both iterations to go on sale in spring 2010.

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.


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BB03 - 9/23/2014 5:29:08 AM