The entry model in the C-Class soft-top lineup is good enough to leave you star-struck.
For: Rich cabin ambience; high level of safety; expensive air.
Against: More cruiser than bruiser; yet to upgrade to Apple CarPlay.
IMAGINE you’re the brother or sister of a famous movie star, who also has some theatrical talent, but has yet to achieve that big break – how do you feel about that?
Is there resentment or need to seek to share some of the famous family member’s glory, or are you just happy to simply get on with what you do and be glad for the chosen one?
If cars had feelings, then it would be fascinating to ask these questions of the C200 version of the C-Class cabriolet I’ve been driving.
While a soft-top situation always presents certain glam, obviously the more you spend the better that status.
Accordingly, it was probably best for all concerned that the base car I experienced for a week never shared space with the AMG 63 edition I also drove recently. Had that occurred, then the attention-gathering outcome would have been inevitable. The whole AMG thing just has so much more star power.
Viewed in isolation, though, there’s no argument the lesser opportunity suddenly looks more like being able to steal the show. While Oscar-winning potential on the dynamic side is forgone, it still puts on a decent performance.
Based off the C-Class coupe, the soft-top edition was unveiled at the Geneva motor show of 2016 and has been available since the height of summer locally. Actually, you’re right, what summer?
Though this was the last C-class variant to come out – the initial sedan first spawning a wagon, a high-riding crossover then a svelte coupe - Benz assures a topless format was considered right from the get go of latest gen car’s design. It suggests the current steel and aluminium platform was designed to be decapitated right from the start, so it’s stiff enough.
That it looks every bit the movie star is to be expected. This car has great bones. As a reproduction in smaller scale of the S-Class flagship limo, the first born sedan has been a big hit for the brand and every family member since – the wagon, the coupe and the GLC crossover – has been just as handsome.
However, if you’re out to make immediate impression, a cabriolet just hits the ball that much further.
Also, though it is not as spell-binding to look at as the AMG, the detailing is superb. Mercedes’ does budget posh really well, so even though this $89,990 derivative is the most restrained format – admittedly with a little AMG styling pack jewellery added (all extra ornamental bling rather than go-faster bits), bumping up the price by $2400 – the test car’s allure was at the point where those who chose to estimate the car’s price all came in well over the actual sticker.
Technically-speaking, the roof is also whizz-bang. Why not a metal top? The trend for rendering folding roofs out of metal seems to have come and gone, thankfully. A simpler fabric cover might not seem so interesting, but believe me it saves on weight and complexity, which is a good thing.
Anyway, this lid still looks expensive and is cleverly done. When the roof is up, the profile is very much like the coupe’s, which is smart on every sense, and there’s the usual magic trick manner to how it stows. Just as clever is the way it stows neatly into a recess above the boot, folding away into a more compact space than a retracting hardtop, which is great for luggage volume.
It’s wholly electric driven and, of course, also hushed and very rapid. The whole shebang opens and closes in a little less than 20 seconds, and can do so while the car’s driving at up to 50kmh. There are swank draught stoppers, also operating at the push of a button, and rollover protection is taken care of by pyrotechnic cartridges, which fire from behind the seats should the worst happen
The C-Class interior is one of the best features, good enough to surely leave Audi and BMW feeling gazumped and all the more appealing when it is exposed to sunlight, though beware touching the satin alloy finishes on a hot day.
Such is the Benz way that even the base cabin is lathered in high-quality materials; the leather is actually man-made but the soft touch plastics, ash-coloured woodgrain and metal that’s, well, metal are good stuff.
Fit and finish is superb and it pretty much oozes ergonomic excellence, save that – as in all modern Mercs – you have to get used to the gear shifter being a column-shift stalk that can, if you’re not paying attention, be easily nudged in neutral if this stalk is mistaken for the indicator wand. I know those who have.
Electric front seats, parking sensors, cruise control, a multi-function screen that incorporates sat nav plus Bluetooth audio and phone connections, multiple airbags, LED headlights, a reverse camera, blindspot warning, LED headlamps and a 360 degree camera and park pilot assist are all here.
Are we prepared, yet, to set aside snobbery and accept that a ‘mere’ 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol is good enough for the likes of this car now?
Well, true, it’s hard to think of this car without a silky six or a big-shove V8, but the times are changing, downsizing is the thing and it’s hard to imagine why you shouldn’t at least give this engine decent consideration. It’s hardly a spoiler by any means.
It’s not staggeringly stonking, of course. However, the direct injection and turbocharging mean the claimed 135kW and 300Nm outputs seem quite realistic; while tyre-screaming is not really part of the picture, it’s an engine that doesn’t seem to strain. It’s capable of a good turn of speed. Just give it time to get off the line.
As is often the case, the key is not so much the power, which in this instance occurs at a dig-deep 5000rpm, as the torque: maximum muscle come in from between 1200-4000rpm, which makes for effortless and efficient pull and, at open road speed especially, surprisingly swift and relaxed progress.
The cabriolet is the first C to go to a nine-speed automatic. It’s a real treat, because the previous seven-speed was something of a treat. The shifts are often barely perceptible ratios selected for the autobahn actually suit this environment pretty well; making for strong economy potential for the big easy-going trips, and though the engine is more for cruising that charging, the box will move down a cog or two without too much reluctance when faced with tighter roads or ascents.
Having a performance engine is all well and good, but Benz is canny enough to know that the top priority for the majority of convertible buyers isn’t so much the driving dynamics and the total wind-in-the face experience.
Accept the C200 Cabriolet in that vein – and, it’s actually pretty easy to – and the living is easy. What impresses is how very well engineered it is.
While this is not the most engaging of engines performance-wise, you don’t really mind because it goes about the job with huge smoothness and has a broad enough spread of torque that the gearbox is also nice and schmoozy. I liked the overall refinement of the powertrain and was surprised how premium it felt.
Also, let’s face it, the ideal remit for an open top car – especially when driven in al Fresco mode – is simply to drive at comfortable pace, generally on comfortable roads. Speed isn’t really a huge requisite cos it’ll just end up messing up your hair.
In respect to that, Benz does cover most angles, with a clever wind blocker above the top of the windscreen that acts like a little aerofoil to deflect the wind flow just that little bit higher than the cabin. For sure, effecting this – and also the usual ploy of having, once speed reaches highway pace, the side glass up – is really more beneficial for those seated up front. Rear seat occupants will still cop a fair bit of the slipstream and run the risk of the occasional bug in the face.
The coupe-like silhouette suggests rear head room might be comprised, but actually it’s not too bad for that; the greater issue for those in the back is that, because of the shape of the roof, it’s a bit claustrophobic. Lifting the lid solves that, of course, and also makes access and egress a lot easier, because there’s no need to duck down.
I ran the car with three friends on board and, while that feat required enough compromise to suggest an E-Class cabrio might be better for that job, it wasn’t too uncomfortable given that we were only entertaining short distance hops. Tall type will find their knees pressed up against the back of the front seats if similarly tall people are occupying them. Even so, I had thought that the bigger challenge might be to accommodate their luggage in the boot, though we somehow managed that, too.
Running solo in the car with the top down felt like a special pleasure. The C200 in any body format doesn’t explore the ‘driver’s car’ ethos as patently as any BMW or Audi, but where it recompenses is with a ride quality that wins nothing but favourable comment.
Also, from the driver’s seat you can enjoy the car with the side windows down without too much buffeting; the seat’s adjustability is broad enough to allow you to drop yourself down into the cabin as much as you like, which in itself makes a big difference to how much of the slipstream is felt.
The swishness also stretches to how the infotainment copes. The stereo needed turning up a bit, but not to the point where others in the traffic stream will wonder where the noise is coming from. The Bluetooth operation is brilliant. I’m not sure where the microphone locates, but I could still make and receive phone calls and be heard while speaking in normal tone, which seemed quite an achievement. Try that in plenty other open cars and people will wonder if you are caught up in a hurricane. With the roof up, there’s only the slightest hint of wind noise that enters the cabin at speed.
Highway driving is the forte; country roads less so. The C-Class has a great chassis, but the throttle isn’t snappy, the steering isn’t as sharp as you might expect and the handling a little on the doughy side. The chassis is rigid enough to withstand obvious flexing, but it gets unsettled by bumpy surfaces.
Better than a boulevard cruiser but not exactly a sports model either, the C-Class cabrio is a model that many aspire to be seen in but relatively few will actually buy into.
It’s a relaxed car for relaxing days; the day I drove it 160kms on the open road was brochure perfect: I set off late on a balmy afternoon and, quite literally, drove into the sunset.
Around town, you will have no gripes – the drivetrain is smooth, quiet, and effortless and it looks like a million dollar ride. Highway driving is relatively laidback, it’s certainly no fast lane hog but more of a cruiser.
Park outside a fancy restaurant, though, and you can expect plenty of interest. It’s a classy-looking car. Which is the whole point, really.