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Driven: 2021 Mercedes-Benz E300 Cabriolet

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Driven: 2021 Mercedes-Benz E300 Cabriolet  

When it comes to luxurious four-seater convertibles, very few companies can rival the rich history of Mercedes-Benz. Over the years, the Stuttgart-based brand has introduced some exquisite drop-tops. Take the 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet, for instance. Over just 20 months in production, a limited run of V8-powered S-Class cabriolets were created. 

With just over 1,200 examples made, this powerhouse became an immensely desirable vehicle, with beautiful bodywork, a high-quality interior and a powerful 3.5-litre V8 under the sculpted bonnet. Of course, you paid for the privilege - it cost nearly U$15,000 in 1971, the final model year.

After that, it would take Mercedes another twenty years to introduce a four-seater cabriolet. The 90’s saw the Three-Pointed Star introduce the C124, a convertible version of the W124 E-Class sedan. The chiselled, angular looks whispered good taste and high-class motoring - and sparked a dynasty that is still going strong. 

Aside from a brief stint as the CLK, a four-seater Mercedes convertible has always had an ‘E’ affixed to the rear. The latest in a long line of Benz soft tops is the facelifted A238. AutoAdvisor spent some time with the E300 derivative, piloting the classy cabriolet through Clarens and the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

As always, styling is subjective. But we’ve got to say, the E-Cabriolet looks absolutely gorgeous. With the top down, it’s lithe and graceful - much like Mercedes cabrio’s of the past. The white paintwork looks exquisite, while the AMG Line Exterior package (no-cost) adds a subtle, sporty flavour.

Tug on the door handle and the heavy, pillarless door moves to reveal a high-quality cabin. The interior design is the same as in the sedan - and that’s no issue. The E has one of the best cabins in the business, melding solidity and luxury in a way that is nearly unmatched - there are a few Audi’s that can give it a run for its money, though. As we’ve said before, the MBUX infotainment system is brilliant. It’s easy to navigate, feature rich and offers everything you could possibly want - including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

At R1 276 640 (before options), buyers should expect a reasonable amount of standard equipment. They won’t be disappointed, Mercedes bestowing the E300 with plenty of toys. LED headlamps, cruise control and a reverse camera all form part of the standard kit. More importantly, on a convertible, is the standard fitment of heated seats, Aircap and Airscarf - which makes driving with the roof down on a chilly evening a more civilised affair.

For the price, we would like to see electrically adjustable seats and hands-free access with keyless-go made standard. While the new steering wheel design looks great, we miss the user-friendliness of the old tiller. Perhaps with time, you’d get used to it - but it’s nowhere near as intuitive as the one it replaces. Other than that, the cabin is a lovely place to sit. Space in the rear is usable, with small kids fitting perfectly. Adults can be accommodated at a pinch, but only for short distances.

Under the bonnet of the E300 sits a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, producing 190 kW and 370 Nm of torque. On the way down to Clarens, it performed admirably. Despite the decent power on tap, we never felt the need to push it. The torque makes the E300 a competent cruiser, wafting it along with ease. While a 300 badge on a Mercedes used to mean six-cylinder power, the turbo four-pot wasn’t far off in terms of refinement. The benefit of this downsizing comes at the petrol pumps - on the long road, we managed to average just 8.7 L/100 km. Not bad with luggage and four people on board.

The suspension is supple, soaking up the bumps and potholes gracefully. Despite the comfort-oriented ride, the E300 remains composed through corners. It isn’t intrinsically sporty but can provide an entertaining experience courtesy of the steering. But the E300 Convertible is no sports car, preferring boulevard cruising to hard-cornering.

Verdict

As a luxurious four-seater convertible, the E300 has very few peers. The powertrain provides a brilliant mix of performance, refinement and frugality. The exterior, particularly after the facelift, is a treat for the senses - it manages to be both restrained and aggressive at the same time. While we had hoped for more standard equipment (especially at this price), we can’t complain about the interior - apart from the steering wheel, of course. Right now, the E-Cabriolet remains unrivalled. Yes, the 4 Series Cabriolet is available in SA - and as good as it sounds - we just don’t think it will be able to match the E for space and refinement. If you’re looking for a top-down experience with zero sporting pretentions, this is the car for you. It’s stylish, well-built and superbly luxurious. It seems then, that when Mercedes follows their recipe for a four-seater cabriolet, it always comes out a winner.

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