You’re either a convertible person or you’re not, and if you're the latter then you’ll be wondering why any sane person would fork out the extra $13,500 to own the Mercedes-Benz E300 Cabriolet over its excellent Coupe equivalent.
But, while drop-top versions of two-door hard-tops used to be loathsome, flaccid sacrifices that traded virtually all dynamic merit for that wind-in-the-hair feeling, the modern interpretation of a convertible is far less compromised. That’s certainly the case with the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E300 Cabriolet.
What is the Mercedes-Benz E300 Cabriolet?
The all-new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet were introduced in 2017. They differed significantly from the previous generation, firstly because they were based on the E-Class sedan platform and not the smaller C-Class model’s basis. The Coupe was treated to an update in early 2020 and now it’s the convertible’s turn.
While you can get an E200 variant of the E-Class sedan and coupe priced from $96,900 and $101,900 respectively, the Cabriolet range opens with the more powerful and generously equipped E300 for $130,900.
With no obvious direct rival, it’s hard to put the E300’s value into perspective. On the one hand, Audi’s smaller and less powerful A5 Cabriolet makes the Merc look pricey from $85,400, but BMW and Lexus provide context at the larger, faster end of the premium four-seat convertible market with the $222,900 BMW 840i and $214,000 Lexus LC500.
The E300 Cabriolet’s value soon shapes up all by itself once you get behind the wheel. The latest MBUX information and entertainment system brings a vast pair of 12.3-inch screens butted side-by-side, dominating the cabin.
This is complemented by clean design, high-quality leather and stunning ambient lighting at night. Drop the roof after dark, flick the mood palette to light blues and there’s just a little of the incredibly luxurious Maybach 6 concept about the E300’s cockpit.
Unlike many larger convertibles like the Ford Mustang and Lexus LC500, the E300 has a completely useable second row of seats, meaning adult passengers do not have to ride with their knees around their ears.
The 2020 model's subtly updated looks are still head-turning without being ostentatious and the gorgeous Emerald Green our test car had been decorated in served as a reminder that it’s sad more Mercedes-Benz customers don't order interesting colours. It got a lot of comments.
Surprisingly, the boot is the only practical compromise to be found in the E300 Cabriolet. It measures 385 litres but shrinks further when the roof intrudes into its stowage area. That limits weekend getaways to two people with luggage occupying the rear seats.
On the open road, you won’t care what is or isn’t behind you because the E300 Cabriolet is all about the sky above and the way ahead.
What is the Mercedes E300 Cabriolet like to drive?
Tipping the scales at 1875kg, you might think the E300 is a little under-gunned with a 2.0-litre engine, but its boot badge denotes that it is equipped with the more powerful 190kW/370Nm unit. This provides surprisingly good performance if a little muted and without a notable, err, note.
The slick nine-speed automatic transmission can be a little lazy in its responsiveness at all speeds, but generally speaking, the rear-drive powertrain is refined and capable.
Far and away the most impressive element of the E300 Cabriolet’s repertoire, however, is its ride quality. In an age when vehicles of all classes – not just sporty models – hunt ever more dynamic and rewarding handling at the cost of comfort, the Mercedes is a breath of fresh air in every sense.
There’s a little chatter from the rear-axle around secondary ride, but the most striking element of the E300’s road manner is the ridiculously lovely primary ride. Its attitude and grace on all surfaces is exemplary and I’m struggling to remember a car that can match it for the money - but wait, it gets better.
Not only is the big convertible deliciously comfortable, its dampers are one of the best interpretations of adaptive technology. Flicking the drive mode switch up to sport and beyond progressively firms the ride and allows sweeping bends to be taken with enthusiasm and confidence.
While some systems lean excessively to either the soft or stiff end of the spectrum regardless of the driving mode selection, the Mercedes-Benz E300 Cabriolet's suspension calibration categorically aces the increments. You’ll never want to throw the cabriolet at a racetrack but the difference between opposite ends of the scale genuinely makes this convertible uncompromising.
In all modes, the front end is obedient, the steering, while light, has decent feedback and feel, and the balance of front to read grip is confidence-inspiring with the exception of the odd anomaly from the rear wheels when they encounter mid-corner imperfections.
There’s very little to let the E300’s side down but it doesn’t quite get a clean sheet. What looks like sophisticated parking assistance technology is rendered virtually useless in practice thanks to a sensitivity that borders on neurotic. Any kerb, pillar, wall, or vehicle within half a metre causes the system to freak out and if you yield to its nagging, your parking will look like a P-plater’s.
The technological niggles extend to the speed sign recognition system too which relays the wrong figure to the dash display approximately half the time.
That aside, for the main part the E300 Cabriolet is a profoundly relaxing car to live with. I’ve never driven a car in which I felt more content adhering to the speed limit or looking forward to speed bumps and other imperfections in the road.
There’s a perception that convertible Mercedes-Benzes are owned by more senior drivers, but perhaps that misconception partly originated in how a vehicle as relaxing and cosseting as this is actually capable of transforming your driving style.
Mercedes-Benz’s engineers could easily have programmed the slick nine-speed automatic to smash your pelvis to pulp with every upshift. They could have probably found space under the bonnet for the prolific hand-built twin turbo AMG V8 too. And the adaptive dampers could have been tuned to mimic granite in their stiffest setting. But to do that would be to detract from the purpose of the E-Class Cabriolet entirely – and it would be downright uncouth.
If you’re after a Mercedes that can generate enough g-force to relocate your liver to the passenger seat, or a model that can incinerate tyres and petrol like Piper Alpha, or a car that can accelerate like it’s been rolled off a cliff, the Mercedes-AMG line-up will leave you spoilt for choice.
BROWSE The full Mercedes-AMG family
In fact, AMG offers the E53 Cabriolet which has six-cylinder turbo power, a louder exhaust report and the corresponding chassis tweaks you might expect from something with the Affalterbach badge.
But there’s a sweetness to the subtle restraint of the entry-level E-Class convertible that would be a shame to overlook if you are an initiated convertible enthusiast.
In the absence of a clear rival, it’s hard to say whether the pricey E300 Cabriolet offers good value. Ultimately that comes down to a niche audience with the cash to splash. But the combination of its sublime ride when you’re nestled in a deep cabin with only the Australian summer sky above you? That’s pretty close to priceless.
PLUS Exemplary ride; surprising performance; second-row space
MINUS Neurotic parking assistance; lazy auto; tiny boot