Post-global launch, in the August issue of CAR magazine I labelled the Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe as the “quintessential mid-range coupe for buyers whose budgets don’t stretch much north of R1 million”. On Germany’s buttery smooth country roads, Benz’s revised two-door rode beautifully, performed with gusto and was whisper quiet.
Fast-forward three months since that launch event and I’m behind the wheel of an E500 Cabriolet. I haven’t started it yet because I’m worried that that initial glowing impression would be eroded on our decidedly more challenging blacktop. And would the big body, when shorn of a rigidity-enhancing roof, wobble and creak?
Within 5 km all my suspicions have disappeared. The elements that make the tin-top such an appealing purchase are all present: a comfy cabin that’s constructed with care, excellent refinement thanks to the presence of Aircap (a netting structure that pops up from the windscreen header and directs air over the cabin) and a secondary blocker between the second row of headrests, and potent performance thanks to the mellifluous 4,7-litre V8. But even more impressive is the fact that Benz has somehow managed to reinforce the structure of the vehicle to commendably resist scuttle shake without also turning it into a heavy, cumbersome beast.
An undoubted highlight of the facelifted range is Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus, which keeps the LEDs on high beam even if there is oncoming traffic or a vehicle in front, as part of the light cone is masked out by a mechanism in the headlamp module to avoid dazzling other road users. These headlamps (standard on the E400 and E500) work incredibly well; not once during a two-hour night-time drive did an oncoming vehicle flash its lights.
Negatives? Rear-seat legroom is very tight (don’t believe your local Merc salesmen when he promises seating comfort for four) and the cabin design perhaps does not shout “premium” loudly enough. Furthermore, Aircap creates quite a bit of wind noise and climatised front seats are a R13 100 option. Ouch. Lastly, I’m not sure the redesign is very elegant. The rear aspect is stylishly simple, but the new headlamps and lower skirt are too fussy.
The E-Class two-door (and the preceding two generations of CLK) has always found itself in a class of one. Lower down the rung, Audi offers the A5 Coupe and Cabriolet, but they’re neither as classy as the Benz twins nor do they compete on price and spec. At the other end of the spectrum, the BMW 6 Series Coupe and Cabriolet cost vastly more (the 650i Cab is a whopping R250 000 dearer than the E500). Likewise, the aged Jaguar XK 5,0 V8 demands a quarter mill extra.
So, does the E500 maintain the “quintessential” tag? Almost, but not quite. I’d sign on the dotted line for a 245 kW/480 N.m E400 and pocket R150 000…
Model: Mercedes-Benz E500 BlueEfficiency Cabriolet
Engine: 4,7-litre, V8 biturbo-petrol
Power: 300 kW at 5 000 r/min
Torque: 600 N.m at 1 600 r/min
0-100 km/h: 6,12 seconds
Fuel consumption: 9,1 L/100 km
CO2: 213 g/km
Top speed: 196 km/h
Price: R999 445
Maintenance plan: 6 years/100 000 km
Service intervals: determined by onboard computer
0-60 km/h: 2,96 seconds
0-100 km/h: 6,10 seconds
40-80 km/h: 2,06 seconds
80-120 km/h: 3,04 seconds
100-0 km/h: 2,89 seconds (average of 10 braking tests)
CAR fuel index: 10,92 L/100 km