Mercedes-Benz E400 is worthy of a second glance
Mark Smyth became reacquainted with a Mercedes-Benz and found it is still admired
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 three-pointed 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 E-Class 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 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.