Cabriolet is a breath of fresh air

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 July, 2010, 12:00am

After 10 years of production, the much-admired, but dated Mercedes-Benz CLK Cabriolet is no more. The good news is that it has been replaced by the new E-Class Cabriolet, bringing the original concept of an affordable four-seat convertible Mercedes up to date.

There are five models in the new range, the car on test being the 250 CGI BlueEfficiency. The design loses the softness of the old CLK to match the rest of the E-Class family, with dramatic styling, bold lines and distinctive LED fog lights, but it's the roof which buyers will concentrate on. With multiple layers of insulation, the acoustic roof is as quiet, if not quieter, than an equivalent hard top, even at expressway speeds. At the touch of a button, the soft top stores itself in the boot in 20 seconds, and it can be raised or lowered while on the move at speeds of up to 40km/h.

In normal convertibles, air flow over the windscreen creates a vacuum in the cabin, resulting in buffeting and turbulence, especially in the rear. However, Mercedes has come up with an answer to this problem with an innovative and intriguing device called the AirCap, an aerofoil and mesh contraption embedded on top of the windscreen. On a blisteringly hot day, the result was an uncanny reduction in turbulence, while the cabin retained the chilled air from the climate control. The air in the cabin was fresher, even in heavy traffic, as no exhaust fumes were sucked in.

The driver is well catered for with a 14-way-adjustable powered leather seat, soft leather sports steering wheel, attractive instrumentation and a snug cockpit.

Nice touches abound, such as the automatic seat-belt feeder and seat controls, with three memory settings, positioned forward of the door handle.

Access to the rear seats is aided by the lack of external B-pillars, and front seats that glide forward and back automatically when the backrest is lowered or raised. Rear passengers have snug leather bucket seats and ample leg room.

The cabin is typically Mercedes, with a conservative design matched by very high quality materials, fit and finish.

Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, the turbocharged, direct-injection 1.8-litre engine is smooth and refined. Power is quoted at 204hp and torque output at 310Nm, sufficient for a 0-to-100km/h time of about eight seconds and a top speed approaching 240km/h.

With a weight approaching 1.7 tonnes, the Cabriolet is designed for cruising, not corner hustling. However, the chassis is well developed and the Cabriolet takes bends like a much lighter car, feeling nimble and reluctant to understeer even when pushed. The sophisticated suspension soaked up road irregularities with aplomb.

Among the safety features are nine air bags, increased rollover protection, concealed plug-in B-pillars for extra side-impact protection and Attention Assist drowsiness protection.

Stylish and thoroughly modern, the E-Class Cabriolet bristles with innovation and technology. The 250 CGI BlueEfficiency model is HK$649,000.