Test Drive: 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet

Walland, Tenn. ? When the conditions are just right, there are few driving experiences more exhilarating than a convertible with the top down. ?However, depending on your tolerance for heat, cold or wind, the amount of time spent with the top down can often be quite limited.

The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet changes the rules and extends the open air time.? In essence, the E-Class has become sort of a topless time machine.

The weather was a pleasant 65 degrees, when I met my driving partner at the Knoxville, Tenn. airport.? As we walked out to get into the 2011 E350 Cabriolet, I pressed the button on the SmartKey, and the cloth roof moved quickly disappearing behind the rear seat in a mere 25 seconds.? Loading luggage into the Mercedes was a challenge, though.? With the top down, we could only get one suitcase and two briefcases into the trunk, so my suitcase sat belted into the rear seat.

Taking the long route to the elegant Blackberry Farm, where we were staying, the Cabriolet with the top and the windows down was pleasant, but windy.? After a few minutes of driving, we remembered the new Aircap feature Mercedes engineers had been perfecting since the early 1990s.? Opening a small compartment in the center console, I pressed the Aircap button and a small deflector raised about 2.5 inches above the windshield frame and another screen rose between the rear seat headrests.? Suddenly, the wind was channeled above the cabin.? Not only could we now talk in normal voice, my tall driving partner?s hair was no longer blowing in the wind?mine never blows in the wind.? We also noticed the luggage tag on my suitcase, which before had been flapping in the wind, just sat there now.

As we started into the Great Smoky Mountains, the temperature started to cool a little so we tried another of the Mercedes time machine innovations, the AirScarf?. Built into the front seatbacks, the AirScarf blew warm air onto our necks and heads making it quite pleasant. The warm air is drawn through a heating element and then is blown onto the passenger?s necks through an adjustable vent.? The fan automatically gets faster as the car speed increases, or it can be set manually.? It works great, and has become the most popular option on all the Mercedes convertibles.

It was a good thing we got some topless time, the first day, because for our long drive the following day it rained continually.? Mercedes engineers have not figured out how to extend the driving time in the rain, but the three-layer, inch thick cloth top certainly keeps the car comfortable in those adverse conditions.? Once inside, if I didn?t know I was in a convertible, I would have guessed the car was a coupe.? It?s quiet, absolutely shake free and has none of the telltale signs often experienced in a cloth top car.

The Cabriolet is available in two trim levels the E350 powered by a 268-hp V-6 engine and the E550 powered by a 382-hp V-8.? Turning a zero to 60 mph acceleration time of 6.7 seconds, the E350 is much more than a pretty top down cruiser, it?s a respectable road car well suited for aggressive runs down windy roads.? The V-8 on the other hand produces some serious performance capable of a 5.1-second 0 to 60 mph time, plus it produces that wonderful V-8 rumble that we all love to hear. The two earn city/highway EPA ratings of 17/26-mpg and 15/23-mpg respectively.? Base prices start at $57,725 for the E350 and $65,675 for the E550 including the destination charge.

Like all Mercedes models, safety is paramount and includes all the latest technologies, including the Mercedes Pre-Safe? that when combined with the Distronic Plus cruise system will actually initiate braking in certain circumstances.? The Cabriolets come standard with nine airbags and two rear seat side airbags as options.

The Cabriolet is probably the finest four-passenger convertible I have ever driven.? The styling will be classic for years to come and the level of luxury, comfort and performance is world class.

[Rating:9/10]

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