A week of testing the 2018 Mercedes Benz E 400 4MATIC Cabriolet left me:
- staggered by the density of its features list;
- awed by its massive digital instrument/infotainment screen/s;
- dulled by the actual driving experience;
- pleased by the creature comforts;
- and, confounded by this question: Why was I so bored by such a beautiful automobile?
No question, the Mercedes design team led by its estimable chief, Gordon Wagener, has done something wonderful here. There is purity in
the overall shape. There is a delightful balance from toe to tail. The car is elegant; the proportions are just right. We can all appreciate the complete and admirable lack of silly looking creases and unnecessary flourishes.
Bravo, Mercedes. At a time when too many cars look like origami gone wild, it appears that Wagener has wrestled the metaphorical chisel out of the hands of his designers. They have been told to put down childish things and immature affectations. Wagener has steered them to smooth, round forms like those in the legendary Jaguar E-Type and the best versions of Porsche’s 911. This E-Cab will age well, aesthetically.
You will, however, never be engaged and entertained by the driving experience. This is a car engineered for drivers who would rather take in the scenery than carve an apex. It is as exciting as a Barcalounger and equally comfortable, I should add.
With all its various semi-autonomous drive-control features – included in the $2,700 Intelligent Drive Package – the driver is reduced to a necessary inconvenience. Gotta have a driver by law, and of course to pay for this $80,300-plus-options rig. Still, I get the sense that those behind this car and those like it would rather let digital brains do the driving for us all.
I fear I am Don Quixote tiling at windmills. The fact is, Daimler, Merc’s parent, is a world leader in autonomous technology and this is important as consumer tastes and government regulators force the car business to steadily take the steering wheel out of the driver’s hands.
I can applaud the complex engineering here, while deploring its intrusion into the experience of driving, and how it robs us of our skills, our decision-making and the share-the-road community ethos that has been integral to modern society for 100-plus years. Just as Google makes you stupid, self-driving cars make you lazy and disconnected. Nonetheless, the self-driving age is nearly here.
Naturally, I turned off as many of the “active-assist this” and “evasive-assist that” as possible. Indeed, some of these items are troubling and troublesome – such as lane keeping assist that cannot differentiate between a smooth, elegant lane change and a drowsy driver drifting out of a lane. The computers are not foolproof, not yet.
I would say, however, that as a long-distance, point-and-go cruiser, the E-cab is an astounding success. Merc has taken the shortened
underpinnings of the latest E-Class and created an open-top car with decent rear-seat legroom, while making the ride comfortable in cold or warm temperatures. Give thanks to an assortment of wind deflectors and heating/cooling vents. The latter are called AirScarf and AirCap and they send warm air to your neck up front and across the heads of those in back.
Bystanders who watch you race by will admire this car. This is a looker of a car thanks to not only the design basics, but details and standard AMG styling bits: 18-inch alloys; the “Diamond Grille”; full LED headlights and taillights; AMG front and rear aprons and side skirts; and even the hood’s power ridges.
Top down, the tonneau cover hides the multi-layer fabric lid. That roof, when in place, keeps you cozy in the winter and the rain and muffles road and driving noises. Kudos, also, to Merc for the seats. If you cannot find comfort here, YOU are the problem.
On top of that, the leather seating surfaces reflect the sun, and the fronts themselves front slide forward and fold down for easy rear entry. There is a trunk, but even when the top is up, the space is small, though a pass-through is useful.
As for something as old fashioned as the powertrain, well, this standard AWD (all-wheel-drive) cabriolet has a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V-6 mated to Merc’s ubiquitous 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission. The latter has the comically named “sailing” feature that saves fuel by automatically shifting to neutral when coasting.
You will not be awed by the power (329 horsepower/354 lb.-ft. of torque); it is just adequate, even though Merc claims 0-100 km/hour in 5.5 seconds. Most of the time, the powertrain is inaudible and barely noticeable, until pushed hard, when its coarseness is revealed. Thus, the driving here lacks anything resembling character and that seems consistent with the car’s overall mission.
Okay, okay, the E-cab grows livelier when you shift the drive control to Sport or Sport +. This adds a bit of sharpness to the throttle response, while putting a soupcon of firmness into the otherwise numb steering, and some welcome aggression into the shift mapping. You will not, however, be wowed.
Finally, the cabin, which in standard form come across as a tasteful symphony of Nappa leather, open-pore wood in dark ash, subtle ambient lighting and technological interfaces that are almost intuitive.
I say “almost” because you will need some time to absorb the details of how to use and program the array of 21st century electronics: GPS navigation; satellite radio; Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity, depending on your phone; the optional 12.3-inch widescreen gauge cluster with three selectable display styles – classic, sport and progressive; the standard 12.3-inch display atop the centre stack; and so on.
Remember, this is an E-cab that can follow traffic, steer itself, nudge you back to your lane, change lanes when ordered by the signal stalk and brake and maneuver itself in emergencies. The sorts of things convertible drivers have craved for decades, no?
It sure is pretty, however.
2018 Mercedes Benz E 400 4MATIC Cabriolet
Base price: $80,300 As tested: $92,700.
Engine: 3.0-litre twin turbo V-6 (329 horsepower/354 lb.-ft. of torque). 0-100 km/hour: 5.5 seconds (factory figures)
Transmissions: nine-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.0 city/9.2 city using premium fuel.
Comparables: BMW 6-Series, Audi S5.
Premium Package ($4,800): 12.3-inch instrument cluster display, Burmester surround sound system, foot-activated trunk release, KEYLESS-GO, climate comfort front seats, rapid heating feature for front seats, heated front armrests, illuminated door sills.
Intelligent Drive Package ($2,700): Active Distance Assist, DISTRONIC, Active Steering Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Congestion Emergency Braking, Active Emergency Stop Assist, PRE-SAFE PLUS, Traffic Sign Assist.
Multicontour front seats with massage ($1,800).
Key Standard Features: All-season power soft top, power front seats with memory, heated front seats, AIRSCARF neck-level heating system, AIRCAP system, dual-zone automatic climate control, 64-colour LED ambient lighting, 50/50 split-folding rear seats, electric trunk partition, power-folding side mirrors, KEYLESS-START, illuminated entry system, HomeLink garage door opener, 12.3-inch high-resolution central display, analog gauges with high-resolution multifunction display, COMAND system with touchpad controller, 3-spoke Touch Control steering wheel, COMAND online navigation, voice control, FrontBass system, SiriusXM Radio with six-month trial, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, hands-free Bluetooth interface, Bluetooth audio streaming, dual USB audio ports, HD Radio receiver, DYNAMIC SELECT, lowered suspension with selective damping system, ESP Dynamic Cornering Assist, Active Brake Assist, ATTENTION ASSIST, rearview camera, LED daytime running lamps, LED headlamps and taillamps, Crosswind Assist, PRE-SAFE, 10 air bags, pop-up roll bars, Blind Spot Assist, adaptive braking technology, Active Parking Assist, SmartKey with KEYLESS-START, rain-sensing windshield wipers, MAGIC VISION CONTROL.