Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC AMG Line Cabriolet
Price from £54,460
0-62mph 5.5 seconds
Top speed 155mph
It’s easier to do some things in the dark. A cloak of invisibility makes us less inhibited, less bothered by the reproachful gaze of strangers, which is one reason why the only way to really experience a shamelessly luxurious sports car is by the light of the moon. Laughter mingling with a trail of cigarette smoke as you head for the south of France is one thing. But what if you live in south London? What if the only smell is fried chicken and the smoke is a leafier kind? Well then you keep the roof up and wonder why you didn’t just buy the coupé.
To sit in a cabriolet is to feel judged. Fellow road users think you’re a show-off (rightly); pedestrians and cyclists loom over you whenever you stop and have a good look. I don’t blame them; I do the same. But this week I’ve been at the wheel of the stunning Mercedes-Benz E400 cabriolet – and every time I dropped the top I felt horribly exposed. Look-at-him eyes followed me everywhere. Then I discovered the furtive joy of going nocturnal. Suddenly the prying eyes couldn’t take it all in. And gliding along empty roads as you snake through an illuminated cityscape is a drive-thru you won’t forget.
Clearly doing this in April can be miserably cold. But Mercedes has thought of that. The car comes with an Airscarf and an Aircap. That may sound a bit emperor’s new clothes, but sit back and you’ll soon feel warm air funnelling out of the headrest over your shoulders and caressing your neck. Meanwhile, a bubble of warmth is created under the cold air flowing over the top.
This new cabriolet is much the same as the coupé that was relaunched last year. It gets the same range of engines, the most powerful of which is the 328bhp 3-litre V6. There are certainly other cars on the road with more aggressive acceleration. Fine if you enjoy treating your belly like a punch bag. But none of them have the smooth, graceful performance of this one. Sports cars are often compared to speed boats – this one feels like a teak-decked Venetian launch. It’s as sassy as it is classy. The automatic gearbox is a nine-speed, and in a week of driving I didn’t once detect the moment when the car eased itself from one gear to another. To help you feel even more relaxed, the car comes with an abundance of assist systems. There are radars to guide you along motorways at whatever speed you fancy, while your mind turns idly to whether it will be paella or risotto for tea. You can actually take your hands off the wheel altogether until, after a few minutes, the car gently reminds you that, ultimately, it’s you who is in charge.
There’s a wide expanse of digital screens to be baffled by and an amazing 64-colour ambient lighting system. The roof itself goes up or down in 20 seconds at any speed up to 31mph. It’s all controlled from a single chrome button on the console between the front seats.
No one does four-seater cabriolets quite like Mercedes. It’s a glorious drive. The only problem is you have to wait until it’s dark to really let yourself go.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010