EXPERT REVIEW

Our view: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Photo of Kelsey Mays
Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is a refined Sunday driver that’s priced competitively against more purpose-built roadsters, and it’s well-executed to boot.

The E-Class Cabriolet comes in V-6 E350 and V-8 E550 variants, both with rear-wheel drive. Compare them here, or click here to compare the Cabriolet with the rest of the E-Class lineup. For a broader review of the E-Class, click here to read our take on the sedan. The following review focuses on the convertible, which we tested in E550 form.

Exterior & Styling
Mercedes updated the E-Class for 2014 (compare it with the 2013 here) with a sinewy expression that harkens to the brand’s redesigned S-Class flagship. Most noticeably, the nose retires the quad headlights that have characterized the E-Class since 1996; the new lights sit within singular frames. Mercedes says that vertical LED pipes preserve the beloved “four-eye” look, but that’s little consolation to fans of the old styling. (It is consolation, however, to anyone who endured grade-school mockery for wearing glasses.)

The car’s upright profile and carryover tail will remind onlookers that this remains the current generation E-Class, which hit dealerships clear back in summer 2009. As before, the E-Class coupe and convertible are still 7.1 inches shorter than the sedan but also (more significantly) 2.7 inches narrower.

Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard on the E-Class Cabriolet, with 19s optional. The convertible’s power soft-top can raise and lower at speeds up to 25 miles per hour; including the windows, it took 22 seconds to lower and 28 seconds to raise.

How It Drives
The headlong rush among European automakers toward relatively small, turbocharged V-8s has produced tantalizing results. Step on the gas, and the E550’s 402-horsepower, turbocharged 4.7-liter V-8 piles on effortless speed with only modest accelerator lag. It’s a welcome sensation, given Mercedes’ penchant for glacial accelerator progression. Punch the pedal, and the exhaust turns to a muted whine as the E550 Cabriolet moves with no discernable turbo lag and surprising quickness for its 4,048-pound curb weight — 429 pounds more than an E350 coupe. Credit the responsive seven-speed automatic transmission, which kicks down several gears with little delay to send the drivetrain’s 443 pounds-feet of torque (available at just 1,600 rpm) to the rear wheels. It’s more power than anyone needs, but it comes with a half-decent EPA-estimated 17/26/20 mpg city/highway/combined. Not bad for a V-8.

All the E550’s curb weight plays against handling, however. Adjusted to its Sport mode — part of a two-mode setup that comes on the fancier of two adaptive suspensions in the E-Class — the E550’s suspension keeps body roll reasonably in check, but the Cabriolet’s nose plows through corners with buckets of understeer for a rear-drive car. When you finally work the tail out, it comes free in a skittish, erratic manner. No match for aggressive cornering, the E550 is a straight-line cruiser.

The E350 Cabriolet might suit corners better, as it sheds 165 pounds versus the E550 — much of that over the front axle, thanks to its smaller engine (a 3.5-liter V-6 with 302 hp that’s EPA-rated at 22 mpg combined). Mercedes says the E350 Cabriolet hits 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. That’s plenty quick, albeit short of the E550’s 4.9 seconds.

Top-up cruising is quiet enough that you might forget this is a soft-top, not a hardtop, convertible. Ride quality is decent, but we’ve come to expect more from Mercedes’ adaptive suspensions. The Comfort and Sport modes lack a clear difference, and Comfort masks most imperfections but lacks the buttery-smooth damping of earlier adaptive-suspension E-Class sedans we’ve tested.

Interior
See our review of the E-Class sedan for detailed impressions of the interior. Suffice it to say the convertible, like the rest of the lineup, has minor revisions for 2014. The dashboard retains a conservative design and consistent materials, if little eye candy in most versions. (The high-performance E63 AMG sedan and Mercedes’ Designo versions raise the visual ante with stitched dashboard trim, which most E-Classes forgo.)

The E-Class Cabrio’s two-person backseat, which has 2.5 inches less legroom than the coupe, still has decent space for adults. Access is easy thanks to front seats that automatically power out of the way when you tilt the backrest forward, then power back to their earlier position once you’re in. Padded surroundings, climate vents and a center armrest give backseat passengers premium confines, but anyone with longer legs won’t like the hard plastic of the front seatbacks.

When compared with the sedan, besides the expected backseat reductions, the coupe’s shape sacrifices about an inch of front-seat headroom and 3.7 inches’ shoulder room, but the Cabriolet — which of course lacks the coupe’s standard headroom-reducing moonroof — gains the noggin space back when the top is up.

Ergonomics & Electronics
Thanks to an intuitive, multilevel menu setup, Mercedes’ standard Comand is still among our favorite knob-based multimedia systems, though the dashboard screen is a bit small by today’s standards. The car comes standard with Bluetooth streaming audio and USB/iPod compatibility. Our test car had the optional Harman Kardon premium surround-sound audio, whose crisp sound quality impressed. It’s part of a $3,270 Premium Package, which also includes a navigation system, Mercedes’ AirScarf neck-heating system and a backup camera. That’s right: A backup camera, standard on a Honda Civic, remains optional on the $68,000-plus E550 Cabriolet.

Mercedes’ mbrace2 telematics service and iPhone-enabled Drive Kit add apps galore, but mbrace2 requires a subscription after the free three-month trial.

Cargo & Storage
Given its exceptional quietness — a typical disadvantage versus hardtop convertibles — the E550 Cabriolet’s soft-top has a lot of upsides. The trunk boasts 11.5 cubic feet of space with the top up, which is short of the coupe (13.3 cubic feet) and sedan (15.9 cubic feet).

The three-layer top folds into the upper portion of the trunk, separated by a semi-rigid partition that deploys downward from the rear deck. The top won’t power down unless the partition is deployed — a half-baked provision that preserves space for the folding top but allows bulky cargo to poke it upward, set off the sensors and stop the top moving down. Still, the usable space around the partition amounts to a decent 8.8 cubic feet.

Safety
The E-Class Cabriolet has not been crash-tested, and because of its structural differences, the results from the coupe and sedan don’t apply. Click here for a full list of safety features.

Mercedes’ standard Attention Assist system studies various driving parameters to intuit if you’re tired, then alert you to take a break. Also standard, a forward-collision warning system called Collision Prevention Assist employs radar to detect an obstacle and prime the brakes for faster action.

The sky’s the limit with safety options. Blind spot and lane departure warning systems are optional on both E350 and E550 convertibles, and a Driver Assistance Package adds Mercedes’ Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control with Steering Assist. The package also includes Mercedes’ Pre-Safe collision warning system, which augments the standard CPA with full auto-braking and pedestrian detection, plus enhanced blind spot and lane departure warning systems, which add corrective measures (mostly by braking certain wheels, in our experience) to nudge you back into your lane.

Value in Its Class
The E350 Cabriolet starts around $61,000, or $8,000 more than an E350 coupe. Another $7,100 gets you into the E550 Cabriolet, which adds no extra features save the larger engine and a few cosmetic differences. Both have standard heated leather upholstery and power front seats, but extras like navigation, premium Nappa leather, upgraded audio, the safety tech and keyless access with push-button start can add thousands. Get all the factory options, and the E550 Cabriolet tops out around $82,500.

It’s a curious car, this Benz. If you want to drop this sort of cash on a four-seat convertible, you’ll have a handful of European choices. The E-Class Cabriolet feels roomier and more upmarket, but less nimble, than a BMW 4 Series or Audi A5/S5/RS 5 convertible, but it’s still cheaper than most BMW 6 Series or Jaguar XK drop-tops. It’s a fish out of water — either a six-figure four-seat convertible at a steep discount or an overpriced entry-lux ragtop. I view it more as the former.

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