When you go to a five-star restaurant, you expect a great steak, but it's surprising when the bill turns out to be reasonable.
The Mercedes E400 cabriolet is like that great steak you thought would cost more than it actually did.
What It Is
The E400 cabriolet is the convertible version of the Mercedes E400 coupe, which is the two-door version of the midsized E400 sedan.
In addition to the two doors and the power soft top, it is also kitted out somewhat differently than the E400 sedan. For example, it comes standard with the twin-turbo V-6 engine that is optional in the E400 four-door.
The rear-wheel-drive E400 cabrio base price is $66,300. With 4Matic all-wheel drive, the price moves up a notch to $68,800.
The cabrio and coupe get almost all of the updates the E400 sedan/wagon received last year with one exception: For the moment, they come with only one engine, the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 that's optional in the sedan/wagon.
Unlike most two-door convertibles, the E400's back seats are not cramped.
All-wheel drive is available. The standard engine is a twin-turbo V-6.
Though it's a midrange E-Class, many of the high-end features formerly exclusive to the S-Class are now standard or optional.
What's Not So Good
Gas mileage and range drop a lot when you opt for AWD.
Price does not include a teenager to help you sort through all the touch/swipe/tap technology.
Under the Hood
The E400 cabrio (and coupe) comes standard with the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 that's optional in the E-Class sedan and E-Class wagon. So instead of 241 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque, you get 329 horsepower at 5,250 rpm and a mighty 354 foot-pounds of torque at just 1,600 rpm.
The power feeds through a nine-speed speed automatic transmission with driver-selectable modes (these also include chassis settings that can be configured individually to suit), and you can go all-wheel drive (4Matic) or rear-wheel drive.
Mileage with rear-wheel drive is 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. But with 4Matic AWD, the highway number drops by 5 mpg to just 20.
On the Road
The E's cabin is bathed in the backlit glow of whatever color you like (you have 64 choices), which accents the ethereal glow of the flat-screen main and secondary instrument panels. Warmth cascades over the art deco-looking air vents and dapples the leather.
You engage the V-6 by gently tapping the steering wheel-mounted toggle shifter down. This gives you the drive gear. Shift it up for reverse. Press the button at the end of the stalk for park. An available holographic head-up display projects vital info over the hood in your line of sight. And the sight over that long, graceful hood — with the retro-themed twin vertical speed humps pressed into it — is very pleasing.
With the top down, you'll be amazed how little your hair gets mussed. Airflow is managed by Mercedes AIRCAP deflector system.
With the top up, it's easy to forget it's a cabrio because the top fits tight as a snare drum and is multilayered and sealed. An option worth the money is the Mercedes AIRSCARF system, which provides heat around your neck and upper body and makes it not just feasible but comfortable to drop the top on chilly days.
At the Curb
The Big Benz has big room. There are 34.6 inches of back-seat legroom unlike the BMW 6 Series cabriolet, the car that's most similar otherwise. It has only 30.5 inches of legroom in its second row. That is a big difference.
That's all the more striking because the 6 cabrio is actually slightly longer overall than the E cabrio, at 192.8 inches compared with 190 inches for the Mercedes. Both cars have nearly the same space up front; the Mercedes has 41.8 inches of legroom, whereas the BMW has 42.1 inches. The cars also have virtually identical (and not much) trunk space: 11.5 cubic feet for the E and 11 cubic feet for the BMW.
You can order fast-heat seat heaters and heated arm rests, upper door panels and steering wheel, as well as massage driver and front passenger seats — luxuries that Mercedes first offered in the six-figure S-Class but are now available in the more accessibly priced E-Class.
The final point of order: The E400's base price is almost $20,000 less than the base price of the BMW 640i cabrio — no charge for the much roomier back seats or the stronger standard engine.
The Bottom Line
Most luxury convertibles aren't very luxurious for those stuck riding in the back. That's not the case here. Mercedes-Benz could probably get away with charging more for the E400 than BMW asks for the 640i cabriolet.
Better jump on it before that occurs to the company.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.