Where better to launch a soft-top Mercedes than on top of Mont Blanc

Mercedes lauds the success of its E-Class over premium rivals from the mountain top

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
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Year: 2017
Fuel: Diesel

It was fitting for Mercedes-Benz to mark the success of its E-Class range by airlifting its new convertible E-Class to the top of Europe's highest peak. After all, the premium brand has its heart set on becoming the best-selling premium brand on the market by the end of the decade.

When its executives set the target several years ago it was, frankly, laughably naive. Now it seems entirely credible, and while its expanding model line-up provides the basis for such grand plans, the success of the new E-Class is the real foundation for success.

To put some perspective on its achievement, consider the dominance BMW 5-Series has had over this part of the market over the last decade. It was the benchmark for every premium family car launched in this century. With the new E-Class, Mercedes stole its crown. Sales in Ireland have been driven by tempting financial offers across the Mercedes range, but there is no doubt that underneath this is a solidly impressive car.

This convertible represents the final chapter in the new E-Class story, and in terms of Irish sales it is more of an postscript, for this is a niche car. Convertible premium models with price tags of over €60,000 are reserved for the leafiest of Irish suburbs.


Two engines

When it lands in Ireland in September, the new rag-top will be powered by either a 1991cc, 4-cylinder, 184hp E200 petrol or a 1950cc, 194hp, 4-cylinder E220d diesel. Both will be fitted with Mercedes’ impressive nine-speed automatic transmission as standard, while for the first time, a “4matic” all-wheel drive version will also be available. Why anyone would be driving a large soft-top Mercedes in conditions requiring four-wheel drive is beyond me, but somebody must believe it worthwhile.

The key traits of this car are comfort and refinement, and it’s in keeping with the grand coupes of old, ideal of long cruising drives. The handling is astute and the automatic transmission is certainly astute enough to ensure power is always available at the flick of your foot, but it’s not the sort of car you expect to throw into a corner to the sound of screeching tyres. The E-Class has that on hand if you wish: the E63 AMG is the loud and lairy bully in the range, while this is its graceful sibling. A summer weekend crusing the wild Atlantic Way or even a cross-continental trek from Donegal to Dubrovnik seem eminently possible in the rag-top E-Class.

Prized peacock

That are of refinement and grace is also evident in the quality of the acoustic features in the car. While its clearly not as quite as a full metal coupe, the soundproofing on the fabric soft-top is a world apart from what we used to experience with convertibles, which often seemed as if they were clad in recycled shopping bags. Certainly the inner lining is on a par with its hard-topped cousins.

Putting the roof up and down takes just 20 seconds, and it can also be done while on the move at up to speeds of 50 km/h. However, driving along while folding up or down the roof does make you look like a prize peacock.

There is little more to be said about the interior, except that this remains one of the best in the business, particularly if you opt for the double screen centre console. Onboard tech features include the latest multimedia, touchpad, finger swipe and voice control items, along with comfort-adding draught-stop and neck-level heating systems similar to those fitted in other Mercedes-Benz open-top models. The new Cabriolet also comes equipped with the latest driver assistance systems. The system lets you hand over control - including steering - to the in-car system, but it has its flaws. On the motorways it reads the speed limit signs and adjusts the speed accordingly, while it will change lane at the flick of the indicator stalk. You need to keep regular contact with the steering wheel but the car does the rest. Yet on more complex routes with junctions and the like, the system gets easily confused and becomes more of a nuisance than a help. It’s a good example of where we are at with self-driving technology, both in terms of achievements to date and problems yet to overcome. We will undoubtedly see the cutting edge of this technology unveiled in the new S-Class next month.

For now Mercedes can bask in the glory of reaching the peak of the premium family car market. The E-Class can rightly laud its lead position over rivals: whether Mercedes can bring the rest of its range to such heady heights is going to be the real challenge.

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times