All is not what it seems in Mercville these days. Take the new E-class Coupé and Cabriolet twins. They wear the proud E-class badge, yet strip away the verisimilitude and you'll spot the guts and garters from the C-class and E-class parts cupboards. But those looks are 100% new E, and we'd have to admit the new E-class convertible is a very elegant piece of soft-toppery.
We drove the mid-ranking E250 diesel first, nestling at the more affordable end of the range. E-class Cabriolets start at £33k and there are four petrols (E200 CGI, E250 CGI, E350 CGI and E500) and a clutch of diesels (E220 CDI, E250 CDI and E350 CDI). Doubtless the new bosses at AMG will soon enough have a barking mad, V8-fired sporting version too. Mercedes-Benz E250 CDI: introducing Aircap
The new E-class Cabriolet replaces the CLK soft-top and sticks with that car's canvas roof. The big innovation on the 2010 model is Aircap – the latest addition to the outdoor pursuit specialist's wardrobe after Airscarf. As its Ronseal name implies, Aircap is like a little hat that pops up from the windscreen header rail to stop turbulence. Sounds odd, looks odd. Works though.
Aircap rises electrically by 6cm, making the E-class Cab adopt a strange, top-hatted stance. Onlookers might gawp, but it does a jolly effective job of cutting drafts. The moment a rear-seat passenger is detected, a mesh rises between the rear head restraints to reduce back drafts. All in all, Aircap works well, keeping buffeting down to a minimum and hairpieces in place. The pay-off is quite a bit of noise, as the meshes and blockers push the slipstream around.Does the roof work well?
Sure. Merc claims a 20sec operation, although our test car seemed to take a more languid 25sec to flop down. It works up to 25mph, so you can go topless at the traffic lights. Watch out for boot space; 390 litres isn't massive, and it shrinks by 90 litres when the roof is stored away.
Roof up, the E-class Cabriolet is really refined. Makes you wonder why BMW persists with the folding metal roof on a 3-series.Merc E-class Cabriolet: the road test bit
This is the first open-top diesel Mercedes have ever made. A decision they'll regret? Far from it. There's no escaping a mild dervy clatter at start-up, but once you're on the go the 250 CDI provides effortless performance in keeping with a boulevard cruiser.
The 369lb ft of torque overcomes the five-speed auto's lack of ratios and means you'll spend less time hunting for lower gears as can happen in the entry-level petrol models. We've yet to test the V6 or V8 models, but you can surely bank on more refinement and performance for a diminishing returns on your bank account.
A solid bodyshell provides a stiff foundation for the chassis, and the E-class Cabriolet feels very together and relaxed. Little sign of body shake and the steering, brakes and gearchange all operate with a relaxed, well engineered pliancy. We should issue a typical overseas launch warning: the smooth Majorcan roads flattered the ride, and one or two rougher sections of black-top shook things up a little too much for our liking.Verdict
The E-class Cabriolet is another impressive convertible from Mercedes. More polished than the CLK, more affordable than the SL. It's far from perfect, and our brief foreign test drive was limited to the base four-cylinder models, so we await first impressions from the six- and eight-pot versions.
Technical innovation such as Aircap will draw attention to the Merc, but our first test suggests it will be a very close run thing against its arch rivals from Audi and BMW. Our worry is that the E will hardly blaze a trail ahead of the competition. But it is a very nice boulevard cruiser.