Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet — You have arrived

By Al Vinikour

When was the last time you heard a convertible touted as a year-round vehicle? February 30th you say? Or was it June 31st? Historically, convertibles have been the white shoes of the vehicle world – they come out after Memorial Day and end the season on Labor Day. The 2011 Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet puts an end to that lore.

When was the last time you were able to hold a normal conversation in a convertible with the top down? Never, you say? The 2011 Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet puts an end to that problem.

When was the last time you’ve driven a convertible with the top down in the dead of winter? Never, you say? This type of lunacy doesn’t run in your family, you say? The 2011 Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet ends that misconception as well.

What can’t the 2011 Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet do? Darned if I know…I only drove 400 miles in one on a cloudless, warm day — and had the sunburned head to prove it. I’m through wondering how they put eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can; I’m now wondering how this much technology can be engineered into a car that is powerful enough to blow away the competition…and erase years from one’s age. (Ponce de Leon take note.)

Few areas of the country are greater test beds for a vehicle like the E-Class Cabriolet than the Smoky Mountains. Through a combination of twisty, curvy and demanding roads interspersed with high-speed freeway driving I was able to experience first-hand how this vehicle handles each situation. It could be my imagination but I swear I heard the car say to me, “Is that all you got?” (Keep in mind that it was said in German, so I think that’s what was said.) Always known for expert handling, the 2011 Cabriolet outdoes itself. Do you like body sway, Hans? Forget it…it’s gone. Like breaking traction around corners? Suffer! Do you like vehicles that are hesitant to respond? See you at the Schwinn dealer.

During mountain drives there aren’t many places to pass but there sure are a lot of obstacles between them. That’s why it’s comforting to have all those horses available when opportunities arise. For 2011, the E-Class Cabriolet comes in two versions – both engine-specific. The E350 is powered by a 3.5L all-aluminum V6 producing 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The maximum torque is available from 2,400 rpm up to 5,000 rpm. Talk about a sweet spot! It would take about six pages of copy to describe all the engineering that’s gone into this engine. Suffice it to say it’s not your father’s V6. Both of the engines are mated to a seven-speed Driver Adaptive Automatic Transmission w/Touch Shift.

The “big daddy” (or as the German’s say, “gross vater”) is the E550. It gets its name from its power – a 5.5L V8 pumping out 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque, with max torque available from 2,800 rpm to 4,800 rpm. There are few things that sound sweeter than that horsepower running through a throaty set of pipes. When passing opportunities present themselves with this much power at your disposal there’s not much of a risk factor to use it in short bursts as you “do your business.”

I could go on and on about the luxurious interior and all the sportiness and technology built into the 2011 models but the real story is in the convertible top itself. First of all the E-Class Cabriolet has been engineered to have the lowest noise level of any soft-top convertible. “Soft top” is kind of a misnomer because the top is one-inch thick and made with three layers of material. Furthermore, it can be lowered or raised in 20 seconds. An “AIRSCARF” in the headrest blows heated air from three settings to the back of the occupants’ necks. Also, Mercedes has engineered a device called the “AIRCAP.”

When its button (located in the center armrest) is pressed the wind deflector above the windshield is raised and the other deflector between the rear seats goes up halfway. The deflector on the windshield frame raises the airflow over the interior while the mesh screen slightly raises the air pressure in the interior, reducing backflow into the cabin literally creating a sea of heated air in the winter and cooled air in the summer. In other words…the Cabriolet can be driven year-round with the top down without having human popsicles in its comfortable seats. Pressed for time, Mr. Businessman? The top can be raised or lowered while the vehicle is moving below 25 mph.

If money is not the determining factor — and let’s face it, if it were you wouldn’t be looking at a Mercedes-Benz – for the extra $9,000 over the E350 the E550 is a heck of a bargain. The mpg differential is really not all that drastic and if you weren’t a little bit of a driving enthusiast you would probably not be considering a vehicle like the Cabriolet.

There are some cars you drive that get you from Point A to Point B; there are some cars you can’t wait to get out of; there are even some cars you’d rather not be seen in. I don’t know what kind of car(s) I’m describing but none of those reasons apply to the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet. You don’t need to be fluent in German to understand what it means to own one.


Base price: $57,725 (E350)/$66,675 (E550)
Engine:  3.5L V6/5.5L V8

Horsepower: 268 hp @ 6,000 rpm/382 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 258 pound-feet @ 2,400-5,000 rpm/391 pound-feet @ 2,800-4,800
Transmission:  Seven-speed automatic

Seating: 4

Wheelbase: 108.7 inches
Length: 184.96 inches
Curb weight: 3,948 pounds (V6)/4,048pounds (V8)
EPA Cargo Volume:  11.5 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons 

EPA rating: City/Highway -17/26 mpg est. (V6); 15/23 est. (V8)
Turning radius: 35.3 feet

0-60: 6.7 seconds (V6)/5.1 seconds (V8) 

Also consider: BMW M3, Audi S4

The Good:

• Great looks
• Terrific suspension

• Performance handling on any terrain
• Redefines a convertible as a year-round vehicle

The Bad:
• Horrendous positioning of cruise control stalk

The Ugly:

• Are you serious?