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2016-06-13 10:26

Ferdi de Vos

BEST LOOKING MERCEDES CABRIOLET? Ferdi de Vos drove Mercedes' stunning C-Class Cabriolet in Italy. Image: Supplied

Trieste (Italy) – To celebrate an early European summer Mercedes-Benz has unveiled the first topless edition of its popular C-Class on the picturesque Dalmatian coastline and the undulating country roads of Slovenia.

A full range of nine models, including a brand new AMG 4Matic version, were presented, and four of these derivatives are expected to go topless soon, in the heart of the South African winter.

Some say (to paraphrase a certain ex-Top Gear presenter currently on a Grand Tour in Namibia) the new C-Class Cabriolet was actually preceded by the drop-top versions of the CLK, produced from 1997 to 2009, but while underpinned by a C-Class chassis, this model was part of the E-Class range.

Headed for SA

The C-Class Cabriolet models are expected to be introduced locally in July, and whilst Mercedes-Benz have not released prices yet the Coupe models’ pricing,

The C-Class Cabriolet models are expected to be introduced locally in July, and whilst Mercedes-Benz have not released prices yet the Coupe models’ pricing, ranging from just over R550 000 for the standard models to between R900 000 and R1.4 million for the AMG derivatives, can serve as reference. 

Remember, topless models always come at a premium.

Stylish cabriolet

Andreas Heidl, product manager for C-Class, confirmed this final C-Class derivative, based on the recently released Coupe, is a first in the range, and also rounds off Stuttgart’s cabriolet offerings varying from the S-Class cabrio to the SLC.

Visually the new entry-level model convertible share many design traits with its coupe donor – the obvious differences being it’s tightly stretched soft top with glass window, distinctively styled rear end and flat LED tail lights.

Gallery: 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet

The AMG versions are further distinguished by flared wheel arches front and rear, a wide track and large wheels that underscore their powerful looks.

Like the Coupé its suspension is lowered by 15mm compared to the sedan, and with a Cd figure of only 0.28 it is just as aerodynamically efficient.

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It also shares the Coupe’s intelligent lightweight construction, but the Cabrio is heavier, by more than 100kg due to its roof mechanism and comprehensively strengthened body shell.

Consequently, it features an exemplary stiff design – as required for high speed dynamics – and hustling it along the beautiful, twisty driving roads even the high-powered AMG’s displayed virtually no scuttle shake.

While it is a true four-seat tourer (with more leg and headroom at the back than the Coupe) it’s quite exceptional boot space of 360 litres (285 litres with the roof open) offers high everyday practicality.

Premium-class soft top

Based on that of the S-Class Cabriolet, the fully automated high-quality fabric soft top comes in black, but a multi-layer acoustic top in dark brown, dark blue, dark red or black is optionally available.

The roof can be opened and closed in 20 seconds, at speeds of up to 50km/h (although I’m unsure why one would like to activate it at that speed), and due to superb insulation it significantly reduces wind and driving noise – even at high speeds.

The electric Aircap draught stop system (essentially a spoiler integrated into the front windscreen frame), and the electric draught curtain behind the rear seats reduces interior turbulence, mostly for the rear passengers, at the press of a button. 

However, Aircap also induces more wind noise into the cabin, and we actually preferred top-down driving without it being deployed.

The system is part of the Comfort package, which also includes Airscarf neck-level heating for the front occupants by circulating warm air around the neck area when temperatures are low outside.

In the warm summer weather it was an unnecessary addition, but it could be handy in cold northern winter climes. Alternatively (and we suggest going for this option), one can order a retrofitted manual folding draught stop behind the front seats.

With the roof down, the coordination between exterior and interior design becomes apparent, such as decorative aluminium on the A-pillars and windscreen, and beltline trim strip extending to the soft top compartment.

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Interesting to note is the cabriolet specific rollover protection. 

It consists of two cartridges fully retracted behind the rear seats that are pyrotechnically fired if a roll-over is imminent – shooting out to provide a survival space together with the A-pillar.

The climate control system is also specific to the Cabriolet. With the roof closed, it performs in the same way as in the Coupe but with the top down the system adapts, making allowance for cooling or heating and responding sensitively to the transition zones in between.

The interior is similar to that of the C-Class Coupe but with features typical of a convertible, including heat-reflecting leather available in five colour shades (optional) and a matt silver chrome switch in the centre console for opening and closing the roof. 

As in the Coupe the sports seats with muscular side bolsters are particularly comfortable but rear passengers sit quite upright, which could long trips quite uncomfortable.

Numerous spec levels

In standard guise the Cabrio already has a high equipment specification, augmented by a wide range of individualisation options.

This including 13 variants of upholstery, seven trim variants, four soft-top colours, twelve exterior paint finishes (including a matt finish) and a roof liner available in black, porcelain and crystal grey. 

Numerous trim elements in sporty aluminium, carbon-fibre or fibreglass are complemented by open-pore wood trim in shades of brown and black. 

The AMG Line also offers special bumpers and sills with AMG styling, a diamond radiator grille, matt anodised aluminium trim strips on the beltline, A-pillars and soft top compartment, and 18" light-alloy wheels. Inside it includes a multifunction flat-bottom steering wheel and AMG sports pedals. 

The drop-tops are also equipped with a host of Merc’s Intelligent Drive safety and assistance systems, including Attention Assist, Collision Prevention Assist Plus and the Driving Assistance package.

And besides all Merc’s comprehensive standard safety systems the Cabrio’s also come equipped with window bags, integrated in the top edges of the front door panels. 

As has now become customary, an Edition 1 with distinctive trim and exclusively available in different shades of white, will also be available for a limited period. 

Overseas the Cabriolet will be available with a selection of powerful 4, 6 and 8-cylinder petrol and diesel engines with Eco start/stop function, plus an extensive 4Matic range – not to forget the AMG derivatives.  

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Eight petrol mills, with an output range extending from 115kW in the C180 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit to 375kW for the Mercedes-AMG C63 S 4.0-litre six-cylinder, will be offered. 

The diesels models are powered by a four-cylinder engine with SCR technology (Selective Catalytic Reduction) for exhaust after-treatment, delivering either 125kW (in the C220d) or 150kW (in the C250d).

4Matic all-wheel drive is available as standard on the C400 and C43, and optionally available on the C200 and C 220d, and all the “normal” models and AMG C43 uses the 9G-Tronic auto ’box, while the C63 models utilise AMG’s Speedshift MCT 7-speed sports transmission.

The C220d (with 4Matic available as option) and C300 models, as well as the 
Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic, C63 and C63 S have been earmarked for South Africa.
Drop-top dynamics

While steel springs and a selective damping suspension system are standard, all our open-top test cars were equipped with the optional Airmatic air suspension and Sports Direct-Steer system, gifting them even more agile handling.

The electronically controlled, continuously adjustable damping ensured surprisingly good ride quality on all the models, making the less powerful C300 (with a four-cylinder 2-litre mill delivering 180kW/370Nm of torque) particularly comfortable on the winding  roads.

With its Dynamic Select set to the sport engine and suspension setting, and steering to normal, it handled the hairpins and short corners with aplomb. Compared to the AMG derivatives (the 220d model was not available for testing) it felt quite lethargic (even with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 6.4 secs), but as a drop-top cruiser it was my favourite.

The new Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic – actually just the C450 AMG renamed – proved a revelation in cabriolet form. 

With its resonant V6 (identified by a red aluminium insert in the engine cover) delivering 270kW/520Nm it is deceptively quick (4.8 seconds from 0-100km/h claimed).

The Ride Control suspension with adaptive adjustable damping gave it fascinating agility, while the AMG Performance all-wheel drive with rear-biased torque distribution (a 31/69% split front to rear), a newly developed front axle and stiff kinematics ensured high cornering speeds and quite precise steering.

It also has a "manual" gearshift mode for the adapted 9G-Tronic transmission, enabling the gearbox to stay in a selected gear. 

Still, it lacks the “sound button” of the Coupe (it’s only available as option) to unleash the full sonorous potential of the V6, and its settings is softer that than of its more hard core tin-top counterpart.

For a cabriolet the top-of-the-range Mercedes-AMG C63 S, with its 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo engine with “hot inside V” and Speedshift MCT 7-speed sports transmission, is… well, over the top.

Besides a powerful, hand-built engine the C63 S also benefits from model-specific steering knuckles and a wider track and a new multi-link rear axle with a 25mm wider track.

It is also endowed with an electronically controlled rear-axle limited-slip differential (the 350kW C63 has a mechanical version), enabling it to accelerate out of corners earlier and improving traction from a standing start.

Four different AMG Dynamic Select transmission modes – Comfort (with ‘sailing function’), Sport, Sport Plus, Race (only on the C63 S) and Individual – influence the characteristics of the C63 derivatives.

Piloting it over the meandering route was fun, and it revelled in the perfect driving environment, proving ludicrously adept. 

Sport mode was more than enough to tackle the bendy bits, as the AMG’s ride was just too harsh and uncomfortable in Sport Plus (we didn’t even contemplate Race mode…)

But, one has to question the logic behind a convertible capable of blasting to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds and attaining a top speed of 250 km/h (electronically limited; 280 km/h with AMG Driver's package).

Read more on:    mercedes  |  south africa  |  new models  |  cabriolet

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