At the launch of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-class convertible, the German carmaker brought along some classics from its past. We were thus reminded that golden oldies such as the 1971 280SE 3.5 were great four-place convertibles that could be hustled at reasonable speeds but couldn’t be considered sports cars.
It was a smart move, because the new E-class convertible isn’t sporty like the droptop versions of the BMW 3-series or Infiniti G37. Instead, it’s a beautifully made, solid cruiser that has space for four, drives well, is quick, and has some style.
A Classic Formula
The E-class cabriolet doesn’t feature a folding hardtop, using instead a traditional cloth roof that’s nearly an inch thick. The top is sealed well and seemed to be nearly as quiet at highway speeds as a metal roof. It takes about 20 seconds to furl and unfurl, with another five seconds added for all four windows to chug up or down. One benefit of the cloth top is that it allows for decent trunk space: 11 cubic feet with the top down and 14 with it up. That’s a great deal more commodious than the trunks of folding-hardtop convertibles when their tops are lowered.
Although the car looks like an E-class sedan with the roof removed, down to the gawky crease over the rear fender, it’s dimensionally closer to the C-class. (Remember, the E-class coupe and convertible effectively replace the old CLK-class lineup.) The wheelbase is 106.9 inches, which is about two inches shorter than the C-class sedan’s and 6.2 inches shorter than that of the four-door E-class. Although the wheelbase is slightly shorter than the cozy BMW 3-series convertible’s, the rear compartment is spacious enough for two full-size adults to hang out and enjoy an alfresco automotive experience.
Neither car will set an enthusiast’s pulse racing, but the E350 and the E550 are highly competent vehicles. We couldn’t detect any cowl shake over bumpy roads, and these convertibles provide a satisfying ride on the highway, particularly in more-relaxed E350 form. The V-8’s growl under hard acceleration is seductive—as is its pace—but we felt the V-6 was better suited to the car’s overall demeanor. Through the twisties on the island of Mallorca, the car was capable, but the steering is slow on-center and isn’t particularly talkative; the car is tuned for comfort rather than hauling the mail.