Andy Goodwin road tests and reviews the new 2013 Mercedes-Benz E-Class in E350 and E400 forms with pictures, specs and verdict.
While you'd describe the outgoing Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet as elegant, it was a bit too fussy in its styling to be truly pretty. What it did have was four seats, lots of badge kudos and an ability to keep you warm and unruffled with the roof down. This latest E-Class Cabriolet isn't particularly pretty either, and it's ditched some of that elegance in favour of some satisfyingly aggressive styling. The 2013 car also brings with it updated engines and enhanced tech, all of which should help it slot nicely somewhere between a Jaguar XK and a Porsche 911 -- on paper, at least. We headed off to Hamburg to put the thing through its paces and can now bring you our verdict in this first drive review of the E350 CDI 7G automatic AMG Sport and E400 7G automatic AMG Sport.
The pre-facelift Mercedes-Benz E-Class had quad front headlights which were overly fussy and made the nose look narrow. No wonder, then, Mercedes has ditched them in favour of much wider and more rakish single lenses this time around. Couple this with integrated LED lights, a deep grille and jutting chin spoiler and not only is the E-Class more desirable, people now dart out of your way on the motorway much more quickly as well.
As you pass, they'll be able to admire the neatly integrated trapezoidal twin exhausts and rear diffuser. The tail lights are wider to give the car a better stance and their LEDs even dim at night, or when you're waiting at traffic lights, which is very polite. The canvas roof does a good job of mirroring the lines of the coupe, but the car looks best when the top and all windows are dropped.
As cabriolets go, the Mercedes E-Class is a sensible choice. First there are the rear seats, which can accomodate real adults, although the seats of choice are definitely up front. The new E-Class is one of the least tiring cars with the roof down, as Merc has managed to take the wind out of wind-in-the-hair motoring. A nattily-titled Aircap spoiler deploys from the top of the windscreen, sending turbulence over the top of the car, where it's refused entry back inside by a wind shield between the rear headrests. Meanwhile, Airscarf breathes hot air on the back of your neck and powerful heated seats warm your bottom. This is a world away from a Caterham. The boot is decent with 300 litres of space with the roof down, or 390 litres with it up, but the height of the boot is restricted so tall boxes are a no no.
Performance & handling
The Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet is more "ooohh" to drive, than it is "oh blimey". Press the throttle down, then a bit further to wake up the seven-speed automatic gearbox and you'll surge down the road with little fuss. If you're in the 250 CDI it'll take 8.8 seconds to reach 62mph, while the new E400, which replaces the existing E500 as top dog in the UK, can do it in 5.3. The fact which tells you everything is this: the E400 has 480NM of torque between 1,400rpm and 4,000rpm, making it as far from a rev-hungry screamer as you can get. E-Class man (or woman) likes smooth, purposeful driving, and will leave track days to hooligans, thank you very much!
As far as we could tell, the sole function of the button labelled 'Sport' was to turn a small red light on and off; in either setting the E-Class remained resolutely cosy. Its best trick is refined cruising, where it excels. Sat on a German Autobahn near Hamburg at a steady 130mph, it was possible to talk in a quiet, refined and very British manner as the world hurtled by outside.
Economy & environment
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class's turbocharged engines are impressively clean. The 220 CDI emits around 130g/km of CO2, depending on trim level, so annual road tax isn't much of a worry. Economy of 58.9mpg and a 66-litre fuel tank will also make trips to the pumps few and far between. The popular 350 CDI with 252bhp will still return 49.6mpg, despite feeling as quick as you’ll ever need in the real world. The fact the 333bhp E400 emits 185g/km of CO2 is incredible, given it generates as much power as a BTCC or WRC car.
Equipment & value
The new E-Class range has just two trim levels, called Sport and AMG Sport, replacing the SE and Sport lines available previously. Sport cars get 17-inch alloy wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, leather upholstery with heated seats and partial LED headlights. AMG Sport gets 18-inch alloys, upgraded front brakes, AMG body styling and trinkets like a racy flat-bottomed steering wheel. It’s an impressively kitted out car and we still like using the Comand infotainment system, with its central jog wheel for scrolling through menus. You can go online in both cars and DAB digital radio is standard too.
Mercedes calls this car the safest convertible you can drive, and while it feels incredibly tough, the car would rather you never crashed in the first place. To this end, there's a host of tech which falls under the banner of Intelligent Drive. Radars monitor the front, sides and back of the car and can warn you or activate the brakes if an imminent collision is detected. Should the worst happen, there are enough airbags to refloat the Titanic, probably.
Mercedes knows its audience, and the new E-Class will suit them to a tee. It is incredibly easy to drive, comfortable and refined, allowing you to waft around like you are at the wheel of a junior Bentley Continental GTC. Embrace its lack of sporting intent and bask in the warm glow of its comfortable and well-appointed cabin, because this is a thoroughly good drop top grand tourer.
Model tested: Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet
Engine: E350 CDI 7G automatic AMG Sport, E400 7G automatic AMG Sport
Power: 252bhp, 333bhp Torque: 620NM, 480NM
Acceleration: 0-62 in 6.7, 5.3 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Economy: 47.9mpg, 35.8mpg
Emissions: 156, 185g/km CO2
Price: £38,465 to £49,635