the sun times Thursday, July 6, 2017

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Cabriolet comfortable, luxurious


First Drive: 2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet

Peter Bleakney Driving.ca COURMAYEUR, Italy ? Hot on the heels of the elegantly redesigned E-Class Coupe, Mercedes- Benz is launching a droptop version of this ritzy, two-door conveyance. Mercedes chose the Italian Alps to have us sample the 2018 E 400 4Matic Cabriolet; smart location, as the scenery is so spectacular here, one could be quite content with driving about in a motorized wheelbarrow. Ah, but this breezy E-Class proves to be the ideal vehicle for coursing the winding mountain passes and taking in the epic vistas, such is its level of opulence, ride comfort and sure-footed stability. The outgoing E-Class Cabriolet was built on C-Class architecture, but this new model rides on a slightly shortened version of the all-new E-Class sedan?s underpinnings. As such, it grows in all directions, with the 113-millimetre wheelbase stretch especially benefiting rear-seat passengers. The E-Class Cabriolet surely is a fetching number, showing the marque?s recent return to classic elegance under the watchful eye of design chief Gordon Wagener. Compared with the creased previous model, the 2018 is smoother and more organic, and sits on the road with an elemental purity. Consider this car a refreshing antidote to much of the shockingly over-styled stuff coming from Japan right now. All Canadian vehicles get standard AMG styling (optional in the U.S.) that bestows 18-inch alloys, a ?Diamond Grille? with chrome pins, AMG front and rear aprons, side skirts, upgraded sport brakes and Benz?s throwback power ridges on the hood. This convertible looks especially graceful with its lid tucked under the tidy tonneau cover. The rear flanks gently taper up and over to the deck, giving the haunches a muscular presence. The passenger compartment is ringed in brushed metal. Full LED headlights are standard, and out back we see slim LED tail lights featuring a new ?crystal? treatment with an intriguing granular look. The headlights are upgradeable to multi-beam LEDs with 84 individual elements per side that, among other things, bend the beam into corners. Sadly, the coolest aspect of these highlights ? the fact they can track oncoming vehicles, or ones you are following, and block out only the light that can dazzle the occupants ? is not certified for North America. I?ve seen this in action and it is a truly remarkable feature. Of course, the downside of all this is if little Billy happens to send a baseball through your headlight, there goes his college fund. The convertible E-Class bristles with all the connectivity, safety systems and semi-autonomous tech of its sedan sibling. But before we get into that, let?s take the few seconds to fold down the multilayer fabric top and experience this convertible in its grand touring element. It only takes a few kilometres behind the wheel to reveal comfort is king here. The seats are superbly contoured for longdistance support and the underpinnings are expertly calibrated to deliver a quiet, compliant ride that won?t ruffle your feathers no matter how bad the road surface. Some car manufacturers have forgotten how to tune a proper ?luxury? ride. Apparently, Mercedes- Benz has not. Specific to the E-Class Cabriolet are AirScarf and AirCap; the former blows warm air on your neck while the latter directs airflow over the heads of the rear passengers. Those with bare legs will appreciate the sun-reflective leather seating surfaces. And yes, the rear seats are suitable for actual-sized adults. The trunk is pretty small but the rear seats fold forward to allow for a pass-through. Canadian cars are all equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive and go down the road courtesy of a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, mated to Benz?s 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission with a fuelsaving ?sailing? feature, wherein it shifts to neutral when coasting. The V6 makes decent power ? 329 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 345 pound-feet of torque from a low 1,600 rpm ? but this is not an engine you will fall in love with. It lacks real character and gets a bit coarse in the upper reaches. The fact that Mercedes is moving back to straight-six engines says a shift is afoot. Nonetheless, for an Alpine cruise the V6 moves us along smartly and with little effort, and switching the drive control to Sport or Sport+ sharpens throttle response, firms up the steering and calls up more aggressive shift mapping. If equipped with Dynamic Body Control, the suspension firms up as well, giving the Cabriolet a decently sporting demeanour. The nine-speed automatic shifts smoothly and avoids unwanted gear hunting, even on these mountain roads. You can play with the shift paddles if you like, but the 9G-Tronic works best when you just leave it alone. As with all Mercedes-Benz products, the optional Premium Package could be considered essential. For $4,000, it adds an upgraded Burmester audio system, a power trunk with foot activation, proximity key access, heated front seats and armrests, illuminated kick plates, and most importantly, the 12.3-inch Widescreen Cockpit with three selectable display styles ? classic, sport and progressive ? that replaces the standard analogue gauge cluster in front of the driver. This screen sits adjacent to the standard 12.3-inch display atop the centre stack, giving you a swath of pin-sharp graphics that takes up a good chunk of dash real estate. If you do opt for the Intelligent Drive Package, know that your droptop sends out more radar and ultrasonic waves than a NORAD military base. The stereo camera at the top of the windshield peers down the road for half a kilometre, and this E-Class will dutifully follow traffic, steer itself (for a bit), nudge you back in line if you stray from your lane, change lanes on its own when you signal, and mitigate bad situations by assisting with braking and emergency steering manoeuvres. In a nutshell, the E-Class Cabriolet bristles with all of Benz?s latest safety and semiautonomous technology that was previously the purview of the topdog S-Class. Arriving at Canadian dealerships in August, the 2018 Mercedes- Benz E 400 4Matic Cabriolet no longer feels like a second-tier citizen in the Benz hierarchy. Short of ultimate mass and smooth V8 power, this six-cylinder E droptop offers everything the S-Class Cabriolet can in a tidier and more fuel-efficient package. Pricing will be announced closer to the August launch date.


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