Mercedes E550 cabriolet - fresh styling plus elegance

The modern automobile is more than just a way to get from place to place. A car can be a statement of purpose and status, or it can be a simple work of art. It can be away to interact with one's world, and an escape from that very same thing. The transcendent nature of the car is strong in convertibles, and the all-new Mercedes E550 cabriolet raises it to an art form.

Sharing underpinnings with the rest of the new-for-2010 E-Class, the new E550 cabriolet brings fresh styling, top-up and top-down comfort and radical new safety technology to the table, but that's not all. This four-passenger droptop also exudes a confident and comfortable pleasure for life that rubs off all too easily on the driver. One does not step lightly into the E550.

The styling hints at the Zen-like calm to be found within. Mercedes' new "cubist" face for the E-Class family retains the four-headlight layout that's become an E-Class trademark, but the headlights are now squared off. The two-bar grille sports a massive Mercedes logo, in keeping with Mercedes' coupe style, and the look is equal parts edgy and conservative, sharing the distinctive side treatment and more rakish lines of the E-Class coupe. Dramatically angled LED taillights improve visibility from the rear, and the E550 features subtle side skirting and standard 18-inch AMG wheels to go with the muscular rear fender treatment.

The angular look continues on the inside, with a five-gauge dash, burl walnut on the steering wheel and instrument panel, and crisp, razor-straight lines. The E550 Cabriolet looks hard-edged, but it's comfortable enough for a long drive in the country or a short road trip. The COMAND infotainment system is standard, and functions are accessed via a seven-inch screen in the dash, and Bluetooth connectivity is standard. Satellite radio and a navigation system are available, of course. With the top up, the environment inside the E550 cabriolet is almost indistinguishable from the coupe thanks to a well-insulated three-layer roof. Mercedes' drowsy-driving detecting Attention Assist system, just introduced on the E-Class, is also available on the E550 droptop.

Passenger comfort is paramount in this car. Mercedes has taken steps to reduce the downsides of driving without a roof as well. The proven AIRSCARF system of neck-warming air vents makes chilly-day motoring more comfortable, and the new AIRCAP reduces air buffeting in the cabin for all four passengers.

Mercedes' four-place convertible comes in two flavors: V6-powered E350 and V8-powered E550. The E550 is powered by a deliciously superfluous 5.5 liter 32-valve DOHC V8. Variable valve timing ensures that the delivery of the 382 horsepower on hand is effortless, so the E550 can float along quietly or launch with authority depending on the weight of one's foot on the pedal. The E550 makes words like "smooth," "solid" and "comfortable" seem inadequate; I may have to invent new adjectives. The big V8 under the hood operates without drama, so this car can be entertainingly quick or perfectly docile depending on your need. A seven-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment.

Even with the top removed, the E550's body is absolutely solid. It's a decent handler as well, thanks to a sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension. Up front, the E550 uses two-piece control arms and struts, while the rear is a five-link independent layout. Mercedes' Dynamic Handling suspension is standard on the E550 cabriolet, and adds electronically adjustable shocks. ESP stability control is standard. On the freeway, the E550 is comfortable and stable. Drilled brake discs and painted calipers are also standard, making the view through the open-design wheels more attractive. The PRE-SAFE emergency braking system is standard, and is now capable of applying full braking power in the instant before an unavoidable rear-end crash. This helps to decrease impact speeds and will reduce damage and potential injury.

Combining the many virtues of the E-Class sedan with open-air pleasure, the Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet is possibly the most elegant convertible that mere mortals can hope to afford. Of course, those mortals had better not be particularly hard up, as E350 cabriolet pricing starts at $57,725. The E550's $65,675 starting price may seem a bit dear, but when you consider that this is exactly what the 2009 CLK550 (the E550's predecessor) stickered for, it's clear that Mercedes has actually managed to make the MSRP more attractive.

All specs are for the 2011 Mercedes E550 convertible.

Length: 185 in.

Width: 70.3 in.

Height: 55.2 in.

Wheelbase: 108.7 in.

Curb weight: 4048 lb.

Cargo space: 11.5 cu.ft. (top up)

Base price: $65,675

Engine: 5.5 liter DOHC 32-valve V8

Drivetrain: seven-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive

Horsepower: 382 @ 6000

Torque: 391 @ 2800-4800

Fuel capacity: 17.4 gal.

Est. mileage: 15/22
By Chris Jackson - MyCarData