Sunday 26 February 2017

A merc with a view... for €72k

Here's to the good times . . . let's lift the roof one more time before the summer slips away and autumn dampens our expectations.

Forgive me for the effervescence. I am not, as you've probably guessed, the bubbly type.

But it is the only way to be when you set about owning or driving this week's car. If you are not prepared to be massively positive when you drive a €52,000-plus luxury Merc, then frankly you have no reason to be in it.

So one must decide at an early stage to set aside one's everyday practical concerns while behind the wheel.

Now, I like the E-Class a lot -- as a great mid-size saloon. But a four-seat cabrio for up to €72,000? Well you have to admit: it's a challenge. So let's pick it up and see where it gets us.

There is always a danger that by sticking a soft roof on a saloon body you end up with the motoring equivalent of a small hat being pulled tightly over a fat head.

This cabrio is not afflicted with that I'm glad to report. It's a classic, smart soft-top to look at. Indeed I would say it is a real eye-catcher and Mercedes have done a serious job in making it look the part. Doing so can not have been an easy task. Unfortunately there are sacrifices to be made to accommodate your good-time cabriolet fantasy.

There is a noticeable, much-to-be-lamented shortage of useable space in the back seats. No, it is not the end of the world and yes you will get a couple of (smallish) people in there but you see when you are told it's a four-seat E-Class you have anticipations of space. When they are not met you carry the disappointment with you.

And the boot, even though apparently spacious, has too narrow and angled an aperture to properly exploit the inner room. These are by far the two biggest minus points.

Among the major pluses are the cabin, engine and handling. The long broad snout hides a diesel engine that they have managed to keep quieter than a sinner in the confessional. It purrs and performs though you will not get that zzzzaaappp in your back when you slam the pedal to the floor. Its 0-100kph acceleration felt all of its 8.8 seconds.

The fun part, the enjoyable element, is in the mid-range pep on overtaking or slipping up to motorway speeds. And I was surprised at how economical it was -- I am not renowned for taking the 'greenest' route anywhere.

Combined with a suspension that reacts to the surface timbre and the sort of twists and turns your journey presents you with, it keeps the rumbles at bay but lets you engage with the energy. A nice, well-judged balance is so often down to personal preferences. There's an impressive agility to it that is not replicated in a cabrio of this size that I have driven for quite a while.

Given the week that was in it we didn't have an awful lot of roof-down time but let me tell you they have this 'air cap' device to keep the wind from blowing your hair, hat or toupé all over the place. I'm not sure it works that well.

I had a complaint or two from a fashionista in the back seat. By contrast the device they call the 'air-scarf' does work rather well. This blows air-conditioned hot air around you from little slits near the summit of the front seats.

The roof made little or no fuss about being dispatched to the innards of the boot or, indeed, to being restored to shelter three of us at the onset of a heavy shower. The cabin is easily recognisable from the saloon and coupe with copious quantities of comfort, entertainment and driver aid functions.

There was a nice, sensuous feel to the leather upholstery and once I was up and driving it was easy to leave the woes and worries of a wett-ish August week behind.

That is what cars like this are supposed to do otherwise there is no point in bothering to spend the money on a motor with a soft roof and less room than its sibling.

However, I must take issue with the audio system. I think this is a tad too complicated. All I want is to find the station, wavelength or track almost without thinking or having to push three or four buttons.

More positively, I think they've got the price to an attractive level for those at whom this car is aimed. Of course, it is a niche motor that will be of interest to relatively few.

I could -- and did -- spend a fair bit of time in it. For a relatively large car it felt nice and compact and was ridiculously easy to drive and park.

Yet it was nice to be in that rather exclusive world for a few hours every so often over the test period.

So here's to the good times, however short and ephemeral. With a car like this you can still dream . . . a little.

What: Mercedes E-Class 2dr cabriolet 220CDi BlueEfficiency Avantgarde (2,143cc, 167bhp, 0-100kmh in 8.8secs), automatic transmission, rear-wheel-drive, 5.4l/100km, CO2 143-165g/km, VRT is 20pc-24pc and annual road tax is €302- €447 depending on version.

Cost: From €52,275. Car on test €72,220. Delivery, related charges extra.

Target market: Executives with a penchant for the slightly exotic, cabrio lovers, wealthy singles/ couples.

Plus: Looks, engine, cabin, agility, price, equipment.

Minus: Cabin space, boot room, comfortable rather than exhilarating acceleration.

Standard equipment: Zonal air con, sleepy-driver warning alert, several airbags, neck-level heating system, range of active and passive safety technology.

Others to consider: Audi A5 cabrio, BMW 3-series.

Star rating - 79/100

Wonderful: but sacrifices must be made to accommodate top-down fantasies

ecunningham@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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