2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible Quick Spin: Introduction
Dear fellow Californians: If you want it to rain in order to help relieve the record drought we are experiencing, put me into a convertible for a week. Last spring, I drove my garage-queen Mazdaspeed Miata to an afternoon meeting, and it rained. Last fall, I drove that same car to downtown Los Angeles, and it rained. Now, during the week I’m reviewing the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet, the biggest storm SoCal has seen in three years is clobbering the region.
I’m not complaining. We desperately need the precipitation. So if you want more, I’ll schedule additional convertibles to review. For now, though, let’s talk about the E-Class Cabriolet.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible Quick Spin: About Our Test Car
The 2014 Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet is based on the E-Class Coupe, and in the process of removing the roof the automaker adds 232 pounds, weight gain that I assume is primarily attributable to structural reinforcements. While these two vehicles wear an E-Class nameplate, they are actually based on the outgoing C-Class Sedan platform, making them dimensionally smaller than the E-Class Sedan. That means they compete with the Audi A5/S5, BMW 4 Series, and Infiniti Q60. On the coupe side, you can toss the Cadillac CTS Coupe onto the list, too.
Now, with that in mind, the base price for the E350 Cabriolet is $61,125, including a destination charge of $925. My test vehicle is the more powerful E550 Cabriolet, which starts at $68,225. That’s more than the competition, and by a significant amount, yet the cars are not fully loaded.
If you want metallic paint, premium Nappa leather, a premium audio system, a navigation system, Keyless Go push-button starting, a reversing camera, and ventilated front seats, prepare to pay extra. A neck-warming system called AirScarf is also an upgrade, along with an active parking assist system, a blind spot warning system, and a lane departure warning system. A Driver Assistance Package adds active versions of those two latter safety features, plus a radar cruise control system with active steering assist, a forward cross-traffic assist feature, and a Pre-Safe Brake system with pedestrian detection capability. The E-Class Cabriolet is also offered with multi-contour front seats, and full LED headlights with automatic high-beam illumination and Active Curve Illumination.
My Iridium Silver Metallic test car had all of this stuff, plus a rear spoiler, and wore a price tag of $82,335. That number could have risen higher had Mercedes fitted the car with upgraded wheels, an illuminated grille star, a wind stop mounted right behind the front seats, a Wi-Fi hotspot, or any of the car’s other dealer-installed accessories.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible Quick Spin: Styling and Design
We’ve established that the 2014 Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet wears a high price tag, especially considering its donor C-Class platform and competitive set. Are you with me, though, when I tell you that I don’t think my E550 Cabriolet test car looks like it costs 82 grand?
Yes, there are upscale details and the swollen rear haunches recall modern Bentleys as much as they do historical Benzes. And I sure do like the updated styling for 2014, which adds some much needed aggression to the design. But if you ripped the seven Mercedes star emblems off of this car, removed the glitzy trim, and got rid of the fancy lighting, would you think this was a luxury car? Maybe not.
Inside, it’s a different story. This cozy 4-passenger convertible reveals its humble C-Class underpinnings in terms of its dimensions, but the E-Class Cabriolet’s cabin is styled to recall the larger E-Class Sedan and successfully blends premium materials with two-tone décor and lots of silver trim that, somehow, avoids looking garish. A few of the cabin’s details could use improvement given my test car’s window sticker, but my bet is that most people will feel like they got what they paid for. That’s critical to get right, no matter the price, because that’s where owners spend all of their time.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible Quick Spin: Comfort and Quality
Thanks to its optional multi-contour front seats, my E550 Cabriolet test vehicle proved quite comfortable for cruising, and when the road ahead turned kinky the adjustable seatback side bolsters helped to hold me in place as I explored the car’s prodigious handling talents. Further contributing to comfort levels on a cloudy day with temperatures struggling to surpass 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the optional AirScarf system proved effective at keeping front seat occupants warm. AirScarf blows toasty air onto the driver’s and front passenger’s necks through vents located just under the front seat head restraints. My test car’s front seats and steering wheel were also heated and, for hot summer days, ventilated.
Believe it or not, if the front seat occupants are willing to move forward a bit, full-size adults can squeeze into the E-Class Cabriolet’s back seat, a task made easier by front seats that power out of the way to ease entry and exit. Once you’re seated in back, you’ll notice how high you sit off the floor, how narrow the seats are, and how hard the plastic on the front seatbacks is. But, there’s a center armrest designed to improve comfort, and the Mercedes AirCap system helps to reduce buffeting when the top is down.
Here’s how AirCap works. Once the E-Class Cabriolet gets underway, a spoiler over the windshield rises to deflect air up and over the cabin. At the back, extensions rise from behind the rear seat headrests in order to reduce backdrafts. Raise the side window glass, and this convertible proves remarkably draft-free. In fact, my wife commented that this car had the least blustery cabin of any convertible she’d ever been in.
AirCap is, however, most effective for front seat occupants. I put my kids in the back seat, a kindergartener in a booster seat and a 3-year-old in a forward-facing child seat. Installing the seats wasn’t easy, and neither kid really enjoyed the ride, complaining constantly about the cold and the wind. Obviously, we didn’t venture far from home.
The E-Class Cabriolet’s fabric top folds into the 11.5 cu.-ft. trunk. Because Mercedes elects to use a fabric top rather than a power retractable hardtop, the trunk offers a decent 8.8 cu.-ft. of cargo space when the top is folded down. If this doesn’t sound like much room, check out an Infiniti Q60 Convertible’s trunk with the top dropped.
In any case, sets of golf clubs can easily slide beneath the stowed top, and Mercedes includes a pass-through to the rear seat designed to accommodate skis. If only the trunk were a couple of inches deeper, owners could easily slide smaller suitcases under the top, leaving plenty of room to spare for a coastal road trip.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible Quick Spin: Features and Controls
Once you’ve settled in to the E-Class Cabriolet’s driver’s seat, you face an imposing array of dials, stalks, switches, and buttons littering the dashboard, door panels, steering wheel, and center console. The good news is that, with few exceptions, they are logically grouped and, with a short acclimation period, easy to find and use.
If I might complain about anything, the cruise control stalk is located on the same side of the steering wheel as the turn signal stalk. This arrangement, a Mercedes hallmark, reflects a greater separation of powers than in the past, but can still cause a bit of confusion for a driver new to the car.
The standard Cockpit Management and Data (COMAND) system is equipped with a display screen measuring on the smaller side of the scale, but it provides high-resolution graphics and 3-D map rendering when the optional navigation system is added to the car. This is not a touchscreen system. Instead, the driver or front passenger uses a rotary control knob and primary function buttons located on the center console to change between the different screens and to choose between menu selections.
Mercedes-Benz was one of the first automakers to employ this type of technology when COMAND debuted 15 years ago. Today, COMAND is relatively easy to use once the operator is acclimated to the system.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible Quick Spin: Matters of Safety
Mercedes-Benz prides itself on safety, and so the 2014 E-Class Cabriolet is equipped with a long list of standard and optional safety features. Every version of the car gets pop-up roll bars designed to protect occupants in a rollover accident, nine airbags including a set of side curtain airbags (a rarity in convertibles), Emergency Tensioning Devices and belt-force limiters for all four seat belts, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and an Attention Assist drowsy driver detection system that can tell when you’re sleepy and recommend a stop for rest. The E-Class Cabriolet also has mBrace2 telematics with a free 3-month subscription to Automatic Collision Notification and SOS Emergency Call services.
In addition to these features, Mercedes installs sophisticated radar units and braking components. Collision Prevention Assist uses radar to identify when a collision is likely to occur and automatically applies the right amount of braking the moment the driver steps on the brake pedal. Predictive Brake Priming is also standard, which places the brake pads closer to the brake discs when the driver rapidly lifts his or her foot off of the accelerator pedal in order to execute a shorter panic stop. An Automatic Brake Drying feature helps to maintain maximum braking capability in a rainstorm.
Beyond these items, the E-Class Cabriolet can be optioned with several packages that contain additional safety features. The Premium 1 Package is the most popular upgrade, and it includes a reversing camera that really ought to be standard equipment because it is really hard to see out of the back of this car, even with the top down. A Lighting Package adds LED headlights with Active Curve Illumination and Adaptive High-beam Assist, while a Lane Tracking Package equips the car with Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist.
For the safest E-Class Cabriolet, get the Driver Assistance Package. It includes a Distronic Plus cruise control system with Steering Assist, Brake Assist Plus with Cross-Traffic Assist, Pre-Safe Brake with Pedestrian Detection, Active Blind Spot Assist, and Active Lane Keeping Assist. This package also contains Pre-Safe Plus, which can detect when the E-Class is about to get rear-ended by another car, flash the hazard lights to get the other driver’s attention, tighten the seat belts, and hold the brakes to prevent the E-Class from moving during and after the impact.
The E-Class Cabriolet has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the E-Class Coupe on which it is based gets the top IIHS rating of “Good” in the moderate overlap frontal impact, side impact, and rear impact injury prevention assessments. Of course, these ratings don’t translate to the E-Class Cabriolet because it hasn’t got a rigid roof, but at least the convertible’s donor chassis and structure prove impressive.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
Equipped with a twin-turbocharged, 4.6-liter V-8 engine generating 402 horsepower and, more important, 443 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600 rpm to 4,750 rpm, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet features plenty of power. Considering that the car weighs almost two-and-a-half tons, it needs that kind of motive force.
A 7-speed automatic transmission puts the power to the E550’s rear wheels, and the driver can choose between Eco, Sport, and Manual driving modes. Paddle shifters are standard, and are the only way to choose your own gears. An automatic start/stop system does its best to conserve fuel, and I averaged 19.8 mpg over more than 150 miles of driving. That’s almost dead even with the EPA’s estimate of 20 mpg in combined driving.
The first thing you notice after you get into the E550 Cabriolet, push the engine start button, fire the twin-turbo V-8, put the car into gear, and get moving is the sense of heft the car conveys. It feels rock solid, until you cross a sharp bump and the structural degradation associated with the removal of the roof reveals itself in cowl shake.
No matter, this is a heavy car, a German car, and it sticks to the road like peanut butter to a dog’s mouth. Drive it normally, with the transmission in Eco mode and the suspension in Comfort mode, and the E550 Cabriolet is docile, almost dull, displaying sophistication and subtlety, the V-8 burbling quietly from beneath the hood.
Switch to Sport mode for both the transmission and suspension, and the car’s personality instantly changes, getting more aggressive. Go wide-open throttle away from a traffic light or down a freeway on-ramp, and the beast comes alive with a roar, effortlessly rushing toward triple-digit velocity.
This same Jekyll and Hyde character applies to the car’s ride, handling, steering, and brakes. You can choose to waft down the freeway from Beverly Hills to Santa Barbara with the cruise control set to 70 mph, or you can adjust a few things and slam the E550 Cabriolet down Mulholland Highway as an alternate, and far more enjoyable, route to the same destination. The E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet are not available in AMG format, one of two Mercedes models so afflicted. Frankly, after driving the E550 Cabriolet on Mulholland, I’m not convinced that the ultra-high-performance treatment is necessary for any reason beyond bragging rights.
My test car had the Driver Assistance Package, and while motoring up Pacific Coast Highway with the cruise control engaged, it was easy to feel the Steering Assist technology working to keep me centered in my lane. Also, any time I drifted over the white lane marker, the Active Lane Keeping Assist system intervened in order to tug the E550 left. While I certainly understand and appreciate the benefit of these systems, some refinement is necessary to soften response. Also, the Distronic cruise control doesn’t resume speed rapidly enough when traffic ahead regains speed.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
The 2014 Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet is expensive, but there is justification beyond asserting that money is simply the price of entry to three-pointed-star ownership. Impeccable engineering and high-quality materials certainly account for a big part of the cost, but Mercedes also provides buyers with lots of ways to personalize the car through color, materials, equipment, and accessories. And that’s how, if you liberally dip into the goody bag, you end up with an $82,000 E550 Cabriolet like my test car.
Is that justifiable? If this Benz featured more expressive and unmistakable styling, I’d say yes.
Mercedes-Benz provided the 2014 E550 Cabriolet for this review
2014 Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet photos by Christian Wardlaw
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