Our destination was Blackberry Farm, nestled in semi-rural Tennessee and not too far from the beautiful Smoky Mountain National Park. Perhaps it was our own less-than-urban upbringing that led us to picture a rustic property surrounded by bovine and their accompanying cow patties.
How wrong we were.
Turns out Blackberry Farm is one shwanky place, serving as home to about 60 guest suites and thousands of acres of rolling, forested hills and lush pastures. It was also the location where Mercedes-Benz chose to introduce us to the 2011 E-Class Cabriolet, a car that would ultimately disprove at least a few of the misconceptions we had regarding the all-season comfort and driving enjoyment offered by this non-AMG model.
Sales of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet start May 10, 2010.
Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.
#10. Plan on dropping at least $57,725 on a new E-Class drop top.
Pricing for the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet starts at $57,725 including an $875 destination charge. That’ll get you into an E350 with a V6 engine, dual-zone climate control and Bluetooth connectivity. There are also a slew of safety features, such as stability control, anti-slip regulation, an Attention Assist system that monitors driving style and alerts drivers when they appear to be drowsy, and standard airbags--including one for the driver’s knee and front head bags that pop out of the upper door panels.
Move up to the E550 Cabriolet and your dealer will be looking for at least $65,675. In exchange, new owners will enjoy a V8 engine, revised fascias and exhaust tips, and sportier suspension settings.
Of course, there are a number of options that make the 2011 E-Class Cabriolet even more desirable…and pricey. Among the niftier bits are heated and ventilated front seats, an AIRSCARF system that heats the back of your neck, intelligent cruise control, and rear-side airbags. Tack them all onto an E550 and you’re up into the high $70,000s.
#9. Retractable hard tops have their place. The E-Class is not that place.
If you’ve been following the convertible scene over the past few years, you know that retractable hard tops are gradually supplanting soft-top variants, with the former purportedly providing superior noise isolation, structural rigidity, and style.
Though it does build a couple hard tops of its own, Mercedes-Benz is bucking the trend with its 2011 E-Class Cabriolet for the sake of weight and space savings, not to mention what it sees as advances in soft-top technology. Case in point: the E-Class’s power roof, which makes the Cabriolet about 300 pounds heavier than a comparable E-Class Coupe, is comprised of three insulating layers that keep the cabin incredibly quiet. Drivers can raise or drop the top in about 20 seconds, at speeds up to 25 mph.
But, more importantly, the E-Class Cabriolet has always been a soft-top model and, as far as Mercedes-Benz is concerned, always will be.
#8. Cargo space is expectedly tight, but the story isn’t all bad.
Cargo space has never been a selling point for convertibles, but the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet does provide enough room for a large carry-on bag with a purse or sack of groceries on the side. That’s with the top down; with the top up, trunk volume increases by 30 percent. As an added benefit, a pass-through has been incorporated into the rear seat, meaning you can squeeze in a longer item that would have to be left behind otherwise. No, we’re not talking about space for a load of 2x4s, but the effort to increase cargo capacity is commendable. Interior storage includes various cubbies and cupholders.
If the E-Class catches your eye but the Cabriolet is just too short on hauling capability, consider the E-Class Sedan or coupe, which are already on the market, or the E-Class Wagon that goes on sale in June.
#7. Chassis and body flex are virtually non-existent.
Once an unfortunate feature of nearly every drop top that shared its underpinnings with a coupe and/or sedan sibling, body flex has largely become a phenomenon of the past. Where drivers once dealt with cars that twisted and creaked when traveling over bumps or winding through corners, newer convertibles offer tremendous improvements in terms of structural rigidity.
These advancements are particularly noticeable in the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet, which even with its top down feels just as solid as a comparable hard top. Even when tackling a set of railroad tracks on your favorite back road, you won’t feel the body bend or fight to prevent the interior rearview mirror from vibrating.
#6. AIRCAP really works.
Though it might sound gimmicky, Mercedes-Benz’s AIRCAP system really does work. Standard on the 2011 E-Class, AIRCAP is positioned above the windshield and includes a mesh material and a panel that rises about two inches. Used when the soft top is lowered, AIRCAP creates pressure that keeps warm air in the cabin and channels cooler air over and away from occupants. A wind deflector, positioned between the rear head rests (with integrated roll bars), prevents that cool air from curling back into the cockpit. The system is activated with a button on the center console, which is also where you’ll find the lever to control the top and lower or raise all four windows.
Higher elevations within the Smoky Mountains, where the air was crisp, presented us with the perfect opportunity to evaluate AIRCAP’s efficacy. Not only did it work, we noticed that the cabin remained quiet and turbulence-free. Also working to keep us warm and comfortable were triple-setting heated seats and another trick up Mercedes-Benz’s sleeve, AIRSCARF. This optional feature warms the necks of drivers and front passengers by blowing heated air through a vent located just below the head rest.
#5. Comfort reigns supreme in the 2011 E-Class drop top.
Like any good luxury car, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet coddles its driver with a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, rich leather upholstery draped over shapely and supportive seats, and a memory function that controls the seat, steering wheel position, and power mirrors. Front passengers also benefit from multiple power adjustments, including those that comfort your lower back and others that keep you snug in corners. Regardless of whether the soft top is up or down, occupants are provided ample head and leg room as well as upscale touches like padded sills and armrests.
Rear passengers are also treated to their share of comfort with power sliding front seats that ease entry and enough leg room for our five-foot-eight-inch-tall editor. The area is a bit narrow for two average-size adults, and the seatback a tad too upright, but these accommodations are better than you’ll find in many four-passenger convertibles. That being said, head room becomes tight with the top raised, and for the driver, large rear head rests (and the wind deflector) do nothing for visibility.
#4. The COMAND central control is relatively intuitive.
A fair number of buttons may make the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet’s center dash look intimidating, but managing the audio and climate control systems is fairly straightforward. Blue and red arrows show you how to adjust the cabin temperature, though the digital readouts can be hard to decipher in direct sunlight. Other functions, such as changing the fan speed or activating the heated seats, are accomplished after quickly associating yourself with the myriad buttons. The sound system isn’t so simple, but we found ourselves changing FM stations and surfing through satellite categories in no time with the help of the COMAND central control. Tap and rotate the system’s dial next to the shift knob, and you’ll be able to use your Bluetooth-enabled phone, check traffic with the optional navigation system, and more.
#3. Non-sport models don’t usually handle this well.
First, let us come right out and make it clear that the 2011 E-Class Cabriolet is not a BMW M3 fighter. Mercedes has not designed its newest drop top to battle in that ultra-sport class. However, we found the E350 and E550 to be immensely stable and, frankly, a lot more fun than initially expected.
Under the Cabrio’s skin is a strut-type front suspension complemented by a multi-link setup out back. The E350 is available with an Agility Control suspension system, but the E550 comes standard with what Mercedes calls its Dynamic Handling suspension (as well as larger front brake discs).
The result is a vehicle that greets corners with surprising confidence, exhibiting lots of grip with its 17-inch (E350) or 18-inch (E550) tires and minimal body roll. As an added benefit for more sporting drivers, the stability control system grants a good bit of latitude, so you’ll be able to hang the rear end out a bit before being safely reigned back in. Drivers with more tranquil tendencies will be equally pleased by the comfortable and controlled ride.
#2. The V6 is decent, but, ahh, that V8…
With 268 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Cabriolet’s V6 is hardly the most powerful engine on the block, though it does work with a seven-speed automatic transmission to help the car reach 60 mph in 6.7 seconds (Mercedes-Benz estimate). A sport mode makes the E350 feel much more responsive by keeping the revs up longer, but likely at the expense of fuel economy that’s rated at 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
For routine daily drives and playing on twisty roads with short straightaways, the V6 is a fine choice, though it doesn’t really compare to the E550 Cabrio’s V8, which is also mated to the seven-speed gearbox. Pushing 382 horsepower and 391 lb.-ft. of torque, the E550 reaches 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, quickness that you certainly feel from the driver’s seat. However, as is the case with the V6, you’ll want to stick with sport mode unless lumbering along at low rpm is your idea of a good time. Fuel economy comes in at 15 mpg city/23 mpg highway. Those figures are noteworthy, but what impressed us most about this engine was its refined feel. If you’re looking for a smooth V8, this 5.5-liter mill is among the best.
#1. Inherent convertible deficiencies aside, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is hard to fault.
For many car buyers, convertibles simply aren’t practical. They lack cargo space, comfortable seating for more than two people, and lose their appeal when the temps drop. Mercedes has addressed each of those issues with its 2011 E-Class Cabriolet, and while this car will never serve as a legitimate substitute for a family sedan or luxury crossover, there’s more utility here than shoppers might expect. Consider the pass-through trunk and true four-passenger capacity as proof. And, after a day and several hundred miles spent behind the wheels of E350 and E550 Cabriolet models, the new E-Class convertible showed itself to be a worthy consideration for drivers who seek a sweet balance between sedate cruiser and sporty tanning bed. Put it all together and you have a ride that’s easy to love and hard to fault.