Wor­thy of a se­cond glance

ROAD TEST/ Mark Smyth be­came reac­quainted with a Mercedes-Benz and found it is still ad­mired

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

It has been a long time since we had a Mercedes-Benz on test, so long in fact that we were start­ing to won­der if we were go­ing to have to lie to Mercedes SA and tell them we are Mo­tor­ing In­flu­encers. Some might say we are in­flu­en­tial but don’t ever call us in­flu­encers. Se­ri­ously, don’t.

For­tu­nately and be­cause we never lie, we did not have to go that far and while the last car we had on test wear­ing the three­p­ointed star was an E-Class back in Au­gust 2016, we were happy to see an­other E ar­rive in the car park. This time it was the E400 4Matic con­vert­ible.

It was kind of like meet­ing a friend you haven’t seen for a while, a friend who still looks as good as ever. Ex­cept in this case the con­vert­ible ver­sion looks even bet­ter than the sedan, in the same way the S-Class coupe looks much sex­ier than the saloon on which it is based.

It did not take long to find that oth­ers agreed. I have a thing called the se­cond-glance test. It’s not sci­en­tific. Drive past peo­ple on the street and then look in the mir­ror to see if they have turned their heads to look as you pass. Sim­ple, but al­most ev­ery­one took a se­cond glance at the E-con­vert­ible.

Even my daugh­ter’s school prin­ci­pal greeted us one morn­ing at the gate to tell us it was the car she wants the most out of ev­ery­thing I have driven into the car park. That’s say­ing some­thing when you con­sider that I have dropped my daugh­ter off in As­tons, Fer­raris and Porsches.

So the E400 4Matic looks good, par­tic­u­larly with the roof down. But it also looks good with the roof up. That mul­ti­layer fab­ric roof is the same one as fit­ted to the S-Class, which means it is one of the best in the busi­ness. With the roof up, the sound in­su­la­tion is su­perb, with only the oc­ca­sional el­e­ment of ex­ter­nal noise fil­ter­ing into the cabin.

That cabin is some­thing of a work of art, es­pe­cially at night. Or as I found out, when parked un­der a tree in the drive­way. I made the mis­take of show­ing my four-year-old how to scroll through the dozens of colour choices for the am­bi­ent light­ing and that was it. Ev­ery day for the pe­riod we had it on test she would sit in the front pas­sen­ger seat scrolling away and chang­ing the colours. One morn­ing I ar­rived in the of­fice car park to find I was bathed in pink.

But the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is not child’s play. It takes a fair amount of get­ting used to. It is more intuitive now and more con­nected than ever, but still not per­fect. It is com­ple­mented by those fan­tas­tic 12.3-inch dis­play screens, al­though the cowl­ing does re­mind me a lit­tle of an early 1980s Toy­ota Corolla.

Re­mem­ber when the EClass was a Free State farmer’s car? Now it is a tech­fest, full of giz­mos, lux­ury and a fair num­ber of cool de­sign el­e­ments like the or­nate air vents.

It is also a four-seater con­vert­ible. Usu­ally we find the rear seats have about as much space as the third row of seats in a packed SUV, but this time was dif­fer­ent. The space is good and while I am not sure adults are go­ing to want to spend an en­tire long jour­ney in there, most of the time they are go­ing to be more than ad­e­quate. And yes, they can also take two bulky child seats. I think it might have been the best school-run ve­hi­cle ever, for my two any­way.

We drove in the city en­vi­ron­ment; af­ter all, that’s where this car will spend most of its time. Here it was all about com­fort. The in­te­rior fea­tures lots of it, but there is also the tech­nol­ogy that helps you deal with daily things. While we had it on test, Joburg had that sur­prise cold snap and the Airscarf heat­ing proved use­ful. The model was also fit­ted with Air Body Con­trol, an elec­tron­i­cally-con­trolled air sus­pen­sion sys­tem that al­most elim­i­nated the many bumps in the road. It was never wafty or wal­lowy, in­stead it al­lowed you to take a deep sigh, turn up the mu­sic and coast to the of­fice.

Not that you only have to coast though, be­cause play with the mul­ti­ple Dy­namic Se­lect modes, switch it into Sport or Sport+ and un­leash the 245kW and 480Nm. The en­gine note is sporty, al­beit far from AMG ter­ri­tory, and the car pulls well when you want to get a move on. It also han­dles well, al­though Type: Tur­bocharged V6 petrol Ca­pac­ity: 2.996cc Power: 245kW at 5,250-6,000r/min Torque: 480Nm at 1,600-4,000r/min Type: 9G-Tronic nine-speed au­to­matic Type: All-wheel drive 0-100km/h: 5.5 sec­onds Top Speed: 250km/h Fuel Con­sump­tion: 8.6l/100km Emis­sion: 194g/km be­ware the tra­di­tional all-wheel drive un­der­steer.

But it is not a sports car. It verges on be­ing a sports GT in the tra­di­tional sense of be­ing a car you can chuck a week­end bag into and head through the moun­tains to the hol­i­day home be­fore drop­ping the roof. But it is also great around town. And the school car park.

EN­GINE TRANS­MIS­SION DRIVETRAIN PER­FOR­MANCE (claimed) STAN­DARD FEA­TURES

LED head­lights, day­time run­ning lights, leather up­hol­stery, heated front seats, cli­mate con­trol, cruise con­trol, Co­mand in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, park dis­tance con­trol, seven airbags, adap­tive sus­pen­sion, 18-inch al­loy wheels

COST OF OWN­ER­SHIP

War­ranty: Two-year/un­lim­ited km Main­te­nance Plan: Six-year/100,000km Price: R1,142,936 Lease*: R24,284 per month

The E400 def­i­nitely has pres­ence when it comes to de­sign.

The in­te­rior, left, is crammed with tech but it is not as com­pli­cated as it may look to some. Be­low: Sim­ple lines cover a good all-round pack­age.

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