TOUCH OF CLASS

If Cary Grant were a mo­tor­car, reck­ons jon wall, he’d prob­a­bly be a Mercedes-Benz E 400 Cabri­o­let, a so­phis­ti­cated old-school charmer if ever there was one

Prestige Hong Kong - - TOYS -

It may not be widely recog­nised in our youthob­sessed cul­ture, but the ben­e­fits of grow­ing old are many. Ac­cord­ing to “re­search”, the el­derly – among whom I must by any reck­on­ing now be counted – tend to be hap­pier in their own skins, have a higher sense of their own worth and care less for what oth­ers think of them than do their more youth­ful coun­ter­parts. Although I wouldn’t for one mo­ment claim these for my­self, we’re also said to be smarter, wiser and more emo­tion­ally sta­ble. In­deed, af­ter hav­ing dreaded the on­set of de­crepi­tude for decades, join­ing the ranks of the su­per­an­nu­ated has turned out to be far cooler than I ever thought it would. A cou­ple of months ago I dis­cov­ered an­other ad­van­tage of old age, when the kindly folk at Mercedes-Benz of­fered me a set of wheels for a lengthy jour­ney I was plan­ning with my son and daugh­ter-in-law. Not so very long ago I’d have been hold­ing out for the most adrenalised ma­chine they could pro­vide, but in­stead of some street fighter on steroids they sug­gested some­thing far less ex­treme: an E-Class 400 Cabri­o­let. As this so­phis­ti­cated soft-top wasn’t ex­actly what I’d had mind I quickly re­cal­i­brated, aban­don­ing no­tions of ter­ror­is­ing other road users along our 2,500km route and in­stead re­fo­cussing on be­hav­iour more ap­pro­pri­ate to my sup­posed ma­tu­rity. Not that I wasn’t look­ing for­ward to the E Cab, be­cause I’ve been a fan of Benz’s cur­rent pre­mium-ex­ec­u­tive con­tender since my first ex­pe­ri­ence of the four-door sa­loon in early 2106. Then, it struck me as a car that does most things re­quired of it – which es­sen­tially re­volve around waft­ing a quar­tet of de­cent-size adults and their bag­gage over con­sid­er­able dis­tances and in great ease and style – pretty much per­fectly, and I haven’t seen fit to change my mind in the in­terim.

There’s also, how­ever, a Jekyll-and-Hyde as­pect to the E-Class. Be­cause what’s nor­mally a se­date, sober and dis­creetly lux­u­ri­ous sa­loon also serves as the ba­sis for the fe­ro­cious AMG E 63 S, which, with more than 600bhp un­der its bonnet and a glo­ri­ous V8 sound­track that con­jures no­tions of Bat­tle of Bri­tain dog­fights, vies with BMW’s M5 as the best su­per­sa­loon money can buy and is hands-down the most char­ac­ter­ful. Equally be­guil­ing, but in dif­fer­ent ways again, are the E’s coupe and es­tate ver­sions. While the E 400 Cabri­o­let is a good deal more re­strained than the 63, it’s hardly de­void of mus­cle – and that’s no bad thing, as this sub­stan­tial soft-top weighs al­most 2 tonnes even be­fore pas­sen­gers and bag­gage are loaded on board. Up front is a splen­did biturbo V6 whose 3 litres (the num­bers in Ger­man car names these days bear scant re­la­tion to en­gine size) are good for 328bhp and, from 1,600 revs, 480Nm – the lat­ter be­ing key to get­ting all that mass in mo­tion. Power and torque are fed to all four of the Cab’s wheels via Mercedes’ nine-speed multi-clutch gear­box and the smart 4MATIC sys­tem, and our car was also op­tioned with air-sus­pen­sion, a com­bi­na­tion that sug­gested smooth and as­sured progress on most sur­faces and in al­most ev­ery weather con­di­tion we’d be likely to en­counter on our jour­ney. Un­like the pre­vi­ous E Cabri­o­let and the CLKs that pre­ceded it, which sat on a smaller C-Class plat­form, this lat­est model is the gen­uine ar­ti­cle as it shares its un­der­pin­nings with the E-Class – and that trans­lates into greater length and, most im­por­tant, a mean­ing­ful in­crease in legroom for rear-seat pas­sen­gers. Ad­di­tion­ally it means that the cur­rent rag­top E is a far more hand­some car than the one it re­places, for those ex­tra cen­time­tres (it mea­sures around 4.83 me­tres from end to end) help turn it into a thing of ex­tra­or­di­nary el­e­gance, in spite of the con­sid­er­able girth that’s ac­cu­mu­lated around its hips. For­tu­nately Mercedes has re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to opt for a fold­ing hard­top, as the multi-layer fabric roof – which when raised in­volves no trade-offs in wind- and rain-proof­ing, or in­te­rior noise – looks es­pe­cially fetch­ing in an old-school sort of way. In fact, decked out as our car

With the AMG Line body kit and fancy metal­lic paint, the E 400 Cabri­o­let bor­ders on the knock­out

was with the AMG Line body kit, 19inch 5-twin-spoke Sport al­loys and fancy metal­lic paint, the Cabri­o­let bor­ders on the knock­out, es­pe­cially when the roof is stowed in­side the boot and the broad pol­ished band of alu­minium that en­cir­cles the cabin is fully re­vealed, much like the rear deck of a clas­sic mo­tor yacht. In­evitably, rear-seat ac­cess is ham­pered by the ab­sence of two doors, just as valu­able boot space is taken up by the folded roof; oth­er­wise, trav­el­ling four-up in the E Cab in­volves no com­pro­mises when com­pared with the reg­u­lar sa­loon. With its top-qual­ity leather, wood and met­als, its ritzy in­te­rior is more or less iden­ti­cal, from the su­perb (and su­perbly up­hol­stered) seats that even af­ter hours of oc­cu­pancy are a plea­sure to park one’s back­side on, to the vin­tage-Hol­ly­wood glam­our of the dash, with its mul­ti­coloured am­bi­ent-light­ing bar and cen­tral row of cir­cu­lar air vents, though that’s given up-to-date im­me­di­acy by the pair of 12.4-inch TFT dis­plays tak­ing up more than half its width. Top down (an ex­er­cise that takes around 20 sec­onds), wind buf­fet­ing is min­imised by the Air­cap sys­tem, which in­volves twin re­tractable wind­break­ers, one above the front screen and the other be­hind the back seats; front pas­sen­gers are also spoiled rot­ten with Airscarf, a nifty fea­ture that jets toasty warm air from the head­rests on to cold necks. For me, though, the most com­pelling as­pect of my week’s stew­ard­ship of the E 400 Cabri­o­let was sim­ply the mag­nif­i­cent way in which we were trans­ported the length and breadth of Bri­tain, the silken V6 pro­pelling us in a gen­tle rush, the nine-speed trans­mis­sion slip­ping im­per­cep­ti­bly from gear to gear, and the air sus­pen­sion float­ing us along hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of mo­tor­way tar­mac with pil­low­like soft­ness. You can, if so in­clined, se­lect a more ag­gres­sive drive mode than Com­fort, though I never once felt the need; less a sports car than a pleas­antly sport­ing one, the Cab is per­fectly ca­pa­ble of cov­er­ing vast dis­tances and leav­ing slow­coaches in its wake even at its most laid-back – and it’s all the more en­joy­able for it. En­gage Sport Plus and mash the ac­cel­er­a­tor to the car­pet and it will can­ter to 100km/h in a cred­itable 5.5 sec­onds. Throw it into a bend and, not­with­stand­ing the some­what airy steer­ing, it will haul you around se­curely, no prob­lem. Not that you’ll likely feel like try­ing ei­ther; it just isn’t the kind of car in which to play the hooli­gan. In­stead, re­lax into those glo­ri­ously comfy chairs and let the Mercedes-Benz E 400 Cabri­o­let en­tice you with its old­fash­ioned re­fine­ment and lux­ury, for this world of hy­per­cars and ab­surdly hot hatches also needs qui­etly op­u­lent au­to­mo­biles such as this. In­deed, out of all the ve­hi­cles I’ve driven in the past 12 months it’s this one whose key I most re­gret­ted hand­ing back af­ter my ten­ure. Old age? Pos­si­bly – but then only a hy­per­ac­tive young­ster could re­sist se­duc­tion by such a classy and gra­cious charmer as this.

OLD-SCHOOL SO­PHIS­TI­CA­TION AND GLAM­OUR MEET CON­TEM­PO­RARY TECH IN THE E 400 CABRI­O­LET

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