Road tests / 8 December 2017, 3:05pm / Willem van de Putte
Johannesburg - Not having driven a Mercedes-Benz for a while it took me a moment before I remembered that the gear lever is a stalk on the steering column and then promptly forgot about it again at the first turn when I used it as an indicator, pressed the accelerator and went nowhere because it was now in neutral.
The slight rumble I heard through the soft top was an indication of things to come from the delightfully pleasant to drive Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic all-wheel drive cabriolet which has under the hood a six-cylinder, 3.0-litre twin-turbo charged petrol engine pushing out 245kW and 480Nm of torque.
You can also opt for either the E220d with a four cylinder 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 143kW and 400Nm or the E300 2.0-litre turbo petrol with 180kW and 370Nm.
They’re all fitted with a nine-speed automatic gearbox which even when driven hard in sport+ mode glides through every gear without so much as a hint of strain.
The Sport+ mode is one of five settings the others being sport, comfort, eco, and individual which allows you to configure the vehicle’s settings to your own liking. But having spent a week behind the wheel I reckon that almost all of your time will be spent in comfort mode where Mercedes-Benz seem to have blended the best of everything into one.
There are going to be times when you want to hear the growl of the engine and feel the power that comes with it though, and for that I set the individual settings which included manual, allowing use of the paddle shift. When you floor it, it’s not the tear-your-skin-off-your-face kind of acceleration but rather a deceptively quick no-fuss off-the-line movement thanks to the all-wheel drive system.
And if you do it with the top off as one should, it being summer, the wind really isn’t such a factor because of the Aircap automatic draught-stop system. If you do feel a bit chilly around the neck area you can always turn on the airscarf neck-level heater situated in the headrest.
Talking of which, the climate control system responds automatically whether you’re driving with the top up or down and while some may doubt its effectiveness it does actually work, as I discovered having driven to Hartbeespoort dam mid-morning and returning late afternoon.
Opening and closing of the electric roof is easily done with a lever that works with typical German precision; the one on test had the black option but you can also get it in brown, dark blue or dark red.
It takes 20 seconds to open or close and Mercedes-Benz says you can do it on the “fly” at driving speeds up to 50km/* , but with that amount of roof volume I wasn’t going to try.
The cabriolet is 15mm lower than the sedan version which does mean you have to be careful not to come into contact with tar when coming out of certain parking garages and speed bumps in and around Joburg.
Like the sedan and coupé models, the interior is all class and unmistakably Merc with nothing spared in quality from the heated leather seats, brushed aluminium, and soft-touch surfaces throughout the cabin.
Ride quality is almost perfect with the car on test fitted with the optional Air body control multi-chamber air suspension which allows you to control the settings and also automatically adjusts to suit how you drive and the condition of the road.
It’s larger than the previous model which allows more space for the two seats at the back. It’s not too uncomfortable but the front seats will have to be moved forward to accommodate two adults.
Then there’s the instrument cluster and infotainment system that had the wide screen display with two high-resolution 31cm displays under a glass cover. It can be operated using either the classic, sport or progressive setting using steering mounted touch controls, the touchpad or a controller in the centre console.
If it sounds like a lot, it is, and you’re pretty much going to have to be right up to date with technology or like me do a lot of trial and error and still not get to grips with everything within a week, or spend time and let a youngster with a passion for IT and cars try to explain it all.
I did, however manage to get the basic settings right without too much fuss.
As expected it has keyless entry and start - which is all very well except when your mate accidentally takes the keys when you drop him off and you arrive home, switch off, and can’t lock or start the vehicle, necessitating some irritating commutes to get said key.
With all that technology, I’m hoping that somewhere there’s someone working on a plan to warn the driver that he’s lost touch with the key.
You can even set the interior ambient lighting with 64 different colour shades to suit your taste or dfferent moods. All part of the R1 142 936 pricetag.
Safety-wise the E400 cabriolet has literally everything you need to keep you out of trouble and safe if things do happen to go awry.
It’s a thirsty car though, and after a week of combined driving the consumption showed 13.2 litres/100km
As a cabriolet the E400 is almost perfect and even though not everyone is mad about the design, it’s pleasantly understated with a lovely turn of speed, high quality interior, and brilliant ride quality even when pushed hard around the corners.