Mercedes E500 Cabriolet Review - Luxury Travel Magazine

Blue Sky Thinking

By: Sam Tinson, Issue 43 – Winter 2010
(Review Mercedes E500 Cabriolet)


Weatherwise, I picked a bad week to test drive the new Mercedes E500 Cabriolet. For six days its fully-automatic, triple-insulated, sound-proofed fabric lid stayed firmly and depressingly closed as Sydney was relentlessly battered by torrential rain, flash floods and gale-force winds. Every day my fingers itched to pull the little lever on the centre console that would lift the lid on this state-of-the-art convertible, and every day the apocalyptic deluge outside caused me to think better of it, or risk the E500 becoming the world’s most expensive spa bath.

So when, on my final day with the car, I saw a patch of blue sky hovering over Sydney’s northern beaches, I decided to head straight for it. All going well I could enjoy a spell of carefree, wind-in-the-hair motoring and then lunch at Jonah’s, the exclusive Relais & Chateaux retreat perched high above the surf at Whale Beach, where whales and dolphins are a common sight from the lounge deck. You can get to Jonah’s via a 12-minute seaplane ride from Rose Bay, but I reckoned rocking up in a factory fresh convertible Merc was the next best thing.

Once out on the open road, it soon became evident that the E500, which replaces the CLK in the Mercedes line-up, was as keen as I was to reach sunnier climes. Packing a blustery 5.5-litre V8 with 285kW of power, it’s currently the most potent model in the new E-Class range, at least until the arrival on these shores of one bearing an AMG-badge. Driving the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission (7G-Tronic in Mercedes speak) the engine is a terrifically flexible unit, refined and responsive when cruising but capable of some seriously rorty antics when let off the leash.

The autobox can be overridden using the centrally-mounted gear lever or paddles on the steering column, but with 530Nm of torque available from 2800 to 4800 rpm the power is always there when you want it, making manual shifting more a pleasure than a necessity.

There is of course a ‘Sport’ mode – engaged via a discreet button on the dash – and it’s not merely for show. Pressing it firms up the suspension, tweaks the gear ratios and increases throttle response. If anything it’s a little too effective, making an otherwise immaculately behaved car twitchy and unpredictable. For those who love a spirited drive on an open road though, it delivers the goods, along with an impressive 0-100km/h time of 5.3 seconds.

Despite its wicked streak the E500 Cabriolet is at heart a cultivated beast. Cruising at speed with the top up the cockpit is so well insulated against noise and weather it’s easy to forget you’ve got a bit of cloth for a roof. In fact during my week scooting around a rain-lashed Sydney, cosseted by heated seats, soothed by the rich tones of the 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, even watching a spot of television while stuck in traffic (the E500 comes with a digital-analogue TV receiver as standard) it was hard to think of a nicer place to hole up in a storm. Seven-inch colour display hard-disc-based navigation, voice control six-disc in-dash CD/DVD changer and six gigabyte of digital music storage are also standard features in this model.

When I finally did get to open the roof (my hunch about heading north proved correct) the E500’s raft of technological innovations came into their own. The intelligent three-zone climate control sensed the change in temperature (it’s also responsive to sunlight, humidity and even air quality) and ramped up the heating accordingly; a touch of a button brought those heated seats online; another sent a cosy current of warm air rippling over my neck and shoulders from the Airscarf, a discreet vent integrated into the head restraint. Finally I engaged the Aircap, a foil that pops up over the windshield, deflecting air up and over the cockpit to reduce draught and wind noise. It’s simple but effective, especially at high speeds when the reduction in turbulence is most tangible. Opening or closing the hood takes only 20 seconds, and can be done at speeds of up to 40km/h. Mercedes claim that all these gizmos make the E500 Cabrio suitable for open top motoring in almost any season, and barring outright Biblical deluge it’s hard to disagree.

The only contentious aspect of the E500 is its slabby, aggressive styling, which people tend to love or hate. The LED running lights and split headlights garnered a lot of comments, not all of them flattering. However, with its sporty AMG cosmetics, split-spoke 18-inch alloys and wedge-shaped profile the E-Cab cuts a certain dash and when I pulled up at Jonah’s several staff and guests lost interest in the two whales that had been spotted in the bay earlier and came out for an approving tire kick. Tempted by a mouth-watering Mod-Oz menu from award-winning chef George Fransisco and those stunning panoramic views, I stayed at Jonah’s until some decidedly unfriendly looking rain clouds threatened to spoil my plans for a roofless ride home. The E500 is one very clever and capable cabrio. If only it came with sunshine as standard.

ENGINE 5.5 litre V8
POWER 285kW, 530Nm at 2800-4800
0-100KM/H 5.3 seconds
TOP SPEED 210km/h (electronically limited)
PRICE $186,950

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