Mountain Wheels: Open-air grace and comfort in the new Mercedes-Benz E400 cabriolet (review) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Open-air grace and comfort in the new Mercedes-Benz E400 cabriolet (review)

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

My first time in the all-new Mercedes-Benz E-Class was a middle-of-the-pack bonanza, a beautifully updated and technologically overwhelming E400 convertible that drifted ominously close to $90,000 with a page and a half of options.

Committed online auto enthusiasts may have heard some recent speculation about the current administration's plans to block importation of German-made luxury vehicles, of my E-Class's ilk. I'd say that with the billions of tax dollars those red southern states have spent to attract German and Japanese carmakers to build their SUVs in the United States, that seems like a stretch. Stranger things have, of course, happened.

In the meantime, if you're upwardly mobile and looking for an open-air experience like no other, the E400 cabriolet is an awfully nice machine, with a low-swept, all-weather soft-top that hides away in seconds, providing a beautiful touring automobile with some very real space for two rear-seat passengers.

My test model's $68,800 base price quickly ballooned with a range of upgrades, which added high-performance-look AMG parts (19-inch twin-spoke wheels and grille and body tweaks), plus almost $10,000 in safety, upgraded sound and posh cabin comforts — the Air Balance cabin fragrance option of course being the most bonkers, especially in a convertible.

Mine was also equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive, providing an added avenue for year-round use, the first time it has been available on the cabriolet edition. Mercedes is really playing up the year-round angle, perhaps not exactly with Summit County winters in mind, but the added stability and a range of improved heating and comfort features will make for wonderful shoulder-season voyages.

Though $90K is a fair chunk of change for a topless ride, you're only digging part of the way into Mercedes's range of engines and models in the E-Class family. In my case, the new 400 designation denotes a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 that provides a healthy and easily accessed 329 horsepower.

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Other E-car options range from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder base model to a growing pile of AMG racers with nearly 400 or a full 603 horsepower (including every car reviewer's favorite unicorn, the E63 S wagon). There's also a new E53 that provides a unique, turbocharged straight-six to produce 429 horsepower.

I decided to check out the middle-of-the-pack E400's offerings with a very long drive all the way up to Saratoga, Wyoming, in the middle of last month's rainstorms. The bulk of the drive up and back was certainly not convertible weather, but it was also a good opportunity to see what the car felt like in that most unnatural state for a soft-top.

E400's 4,332-pound curb weight and altitude might seem like a bad combination, but the twin-turbo V-6 provided more than ample cruising and passing power, and got me about 28 MPG on a long highway route.

Overall rigidity and balance is also pretty admirable given the absence of roof, and while it's not quite as fleet-footed or nimble as either the smaller E-Class or its high-end AMG iterations, those who gravitate toward the E400 will not be disappointed, either.

The car's dynamic modes can ease you into eco-minded acceleration or make shifts and revs jarringly sporty; the optional air suspension system eases the overall ride.

The car features some very, very long doors, with an optional soft-close feature to avoid crunching your feet; the total lack of B-pillars means fantastic side and rear visibility with the roof up, which is often an issue with smaller convertibles.

The E400 is perfectly comfortable at 70 MPH with the roof down, and with the new Aircap system — aerodynamic bits in the window frame and a large-but-not-too-large pop-up airfoil behind the full-sized rear headrests — you might be able to enjoy a vivid conversation, or a cigar, or whatever a group of four do while cruising along at 70 with the roof down. Just be careful using the metal roof-control lever, located at the back of the center console, as it becomes really, really hot in direct sunlight.

My favorites of the shock-and-awe interior bits included the $1,300 magnolia wood dash and door trim, with lines painted to make the car look like a giant viola, plus the four-mode massage seats and a very wide, all-digital dash that can be reconfigured in almost endless variations of virtual instruments.