Four reasons to put down your phone . . . and the top.
So yes, we are a long, long way from the time when most every automobile on the market offered a droptop variant, which makes the new 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-class cabriolet all the more exciting. Convertibles are inherently entertaining, which is one reason the style is more common in two-seat sports cars, but the C-class cabriolet is a true four-place convertible
2017 Mercedes-Benz C-class Cabriolet
It’s a marvel that convertibles still exist in an era when many drivers care less about driving than they do about phone connectivity and in-car infotainment. Put the top down and, more often than not, sun glare washes out that colorful center-console display. No matter how good the wind blocker is, buffeting usually reduces hands-free communication to shouting, “I’ll call you back.” And these are the new problems. Like roaches and polyester, the tort lawyers and their aversion to risk that nearly drove convertibles to extinction in the 1970s are still with us. Carmakers have had only middling success with alternatives such as removable roof panels and retractable hardtops. Sunburn is still sunburn.
Based on the C-class coupe, the convertible similarly will be offered in four distinct models when it goes on sale in the fall. The four-cylinder C300 is the base car, available with either rear- or all-wheel drive. There’s a big jump up to the all-wheel-drive, six-cylinder C43 AMG on the next rung. At the top of the model range are two rear-drive, eight-cylinder cars, the Mercedes-AMG C63 and C63 S. All C-class cabriolets have turbocharged engines and automatic transmissions, a nine-speed unit with the four- and six-cylinder engines, a seven-speed one with the V-8s.
But now semi-autonomous driving and other advanced safety features such as collision warning and autonomous braking are available throughout the C-class model line, including the cabriolet.
The C43 gets bigger brakes, 14.2 inches in diameter in the front and 12.6 in the rear, versus 13.0 inches front and 11.8 rear in the C300. The C43 also has a sportier suspension tune and a quicker steering ratio, as well as a rear-biased (31/69) torque split for the all-wheel-drive system. Both cars ride on the same staggered tires, 225/45R-18 in the front and 245/40R-18 in the rear. The C300 we drove rode softly on its optional air suspension, and even when we dialed up the drive mode to Sport+ it never felt overly harsh. The C43’s adaptive suspension also seems to be tuned on the more comfortable side, although with better body control. There’s a huge gap in performance between the C300 and the C43, one that makes you wonder if Mercedes might find room for the 330-hp V-6–powered C400 it sells in other markets but doesn’t yet plan to offer in the United States.
This generation of C-class already has raised the bar for Mercedes-Benz’s most popular model, and the introduction of this convertible can only help the brand continue to succeed at its strategy of filling every niche—even one that seems perennially at risk of disappearing.
And, of course, Mercedes also offers its complete COMAND infotainment system in the convertible.
The statement rings true aesthetically, as well. The convertible is almost a carbon copy of the coupe, with the same mini–S-class styling and beautiful interior.
optional three-layer acoustic top seals and insulates well enough that you might think you’re in a coupe when the top is up. If it’s chilly, the Airscarf vent in the seat backrest—a system recently under legal fire for patent infringement in Germany—will blow warm air on your neck. Alas, Airscarf comes only on the standard seats, so if you opt for the sport seats in the AMG cars, you’ll have to raise your blood temperature by driving.
That should be easy enough, as the 362-hp C43 is quick. Even working against a claimed 4145-pound curb weight, the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 always feels powerful. Not so the C300, as its 241-hp 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder feels just as sluggish here as it does in the coupe. Both cars have multiple drive modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual) and steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, but only in the C43 can the nine-speed automatic be locked into manual mode. Shifting with the paddles is quick, but left to its own devices the transmission is probably smarter than you are, skipping as many gears as needed to keep the engine singing.
Ditto the equipment list, which includes much of the Mercedes technology that used to be reserved for the top-of-the-line S-class.
Mercedes claims 4.0 seconds for the C63 S in the sprint to 60 mph, or 0.7 second quicker than its claim for the C43 version. It is also fast, hitting an electronically limited top speed of 174 mph, according to the carmaker, whereas lesser models are capped at 130 mph. Both C63 and C63 S get limited-slip differentials; the former’s is mechanical while the latter’s is electronic. The S also gets dynamic engine mounts. Like the coupe, the C63 convertible benefits from a wider track and more negative camber facilitated by a dedicated rear suspension that’s not shared with the C300 and the C43. The result? It claws at the road like that grizzly bear inThe Revenant. Unfortunately, the steering isn’t quite so lively; the C43’s rack actually has more road feel. The ride can be brutally stiff in the Sport+ drive mode (and we didn’t even try the additional C63-only Race mode), but dial back the settings and the C63 S feels almost as compliant as the C300. For fans of AMG’s house tuning—count us among them—the C63 S cabriolet will feel both familiar and sublime.
Yet the four- and six-cylinder models still resemble each other more than they do the V-8–powered cars. Of the full-bore AMGs, we drove only the C63 S, and from the moment we fired it up and goosed the throttle to hear the lionlike roar of its sport exhaust it was obvious that this beast is unlike any other compact convertible—from Mercedes or any other carmaker. The 4.0-liter V-8 paired with a seven-speed automatic is a well-known and proven combination in other AMG models including the C sedan and coupe. (Mercedes told us that it will offer a total of 48 AMG models lineup-wide by the end of 2016.) Here in the C63 cabrio, the twin-turbo V-8 makes 469 horsepower, and in the C63 S a stunning 503, rivaling most muscle-car engines for power density. Torque in the S is an equally impressive 516 lb-ft, a number that also speaks to the inherent solidity of the cabriolet’s structure, which somehow resists the engine’s efforts to twist it into a 4250-pound martini garnish.
Perhaps more importantly, they all have the same sort of quite literally over-the-top convertible technology that Mercedes has used in other droptops higher up in its pecking order. For days when the C-class is sitting under a hot sun, Mercedes offers special sun-reflecting seat leather. At speed, the Aircap system deploys a spoiler from the windshield header, which is as strange looking as it is effective. Wind-deflecting abilities are augmented with a huge wind blocker behind the rear seat; on the freeway wind buffeting is as if you were traveling at half the speed.