Vehicle Comparisons

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible

Mercedes' E-Class Cabriolet brings an extra touch of class to the executive drop-top sector, a very cultured convertible that aims to set new standards for comfort and refinement in its segment. With the impressive built quality, slippery aerodynamics and high-tech engines, it's a tempting package for those wanting a drop-top to use all year round.

As you'd expect, this E-Class Convertible shares its engine ware with the E-Class Coupe, which means that all models get 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission and the headline news is the installation of a completely new 194bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine in the entry-level E220d variant. There are three other mainstream engine options; the 245bhp four-cylinder E300 and then two V6 variants, both of which come with 4MATIC 4WD. Choose between the 258bhp E350d diesel or the 333bhp E400 twin turbo petrol model. All variants are equipped as standard with 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission and the DYNAMIC SELECT system that allows you to tweak steering feel, throttle response, gearshift timings and stability control thresholds to suit the way you want to drive. If you opt to replace the standard DIRECT CONTROL suspension (lowered by 15mm over the saloon model) with optional adaptive damping or DYNAMIC BODY CONTROL air suspension, the DYNAMIC SELECT system's modes will alter ride quality too. There is "Comfort", "ECO", "Sport", "Sport +" and "Individual" settings to choose from.

Mercedes claims that handling response has improved this time round, thanks to this generation model's lighter weight and wider track. This isn't the kind of Executive segment convertible designed for a driving enthusiast though. Instead, the emphasis is on comfort and high-tech, with innovations including high-resolution MULTIBEAM LED headlamps and a DRIVE PILOT system that can virtually supply autonomous driving - depending on how you use it.

When the soft top is up, the E-Class Cabriolet has a silhouette similar to that of the E-Class Coupe. A striking front section with a low-positioned diamond radiator grille and centrally located star, LED High Performance headlamps, a drawn-out bonnet with power domes and fully retractable side windows underline the more dynamic looks of this generation model. The fabric soft top is available in dark brown, dark blue, dark red or black. More importantly, it can be fully opened and closed in 20 seconds when travelling at a speed of up to 31mph and buyers can specify the AIRCAP electric draught-stop system and the AIRSCARF neck-level heating system.

The roof's multi-layered structure with sophisticated insulation reduces wind and driving noise, which makes it easy for the occupants to hear each other talk, even when driving at high speed. The soft-top structure is equally effective when it comes to climate comfort, making the Cabriolet suitable for use all year round. After opening, it folds down into a bespoke compartment in the boot and a retractable cover separates the soft top from the remaining boot space. The boot capacity of 385-litres (310-litres when the roof is open) means the E-Class Cabriolet doesn't compromise too much on practicality. Plus 50:50 folding rear seat backrests create a through-loading feature for longer items.

Assuming that it's not lashing down with rain, here is a convertible you can use for roof-down motoring almost whenever you want. It can be cold or windy. Your journey may be at high speed. Or it may include rear seat passengers. Either way, it matters not. In few other five-figure soft-tops will you find yourself retracting the hood quite so often.

And that's the beauty of this car. It isn't the sharpest steer in its class. Nor is it the most lavishly equipped or the most affordable to buy. But it's the best at being all the things that typical executive cabriolet owners want their cars to be. And yes, it feels a class above its rivals, just as a Mercedes-Benz always should.

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BMW 4 Series Convertible

BMW 4 Series Convertible

BMW's improved 4 Series Convertible perseveres with a neat metal-folding roof that offers a different option to executive segment cabriolet buyers not already swayed by the competing charms of rival open-topped versions of the Audi A5 and Mercedes C-Class. You won't get the large boot and cutting-edge driving dynamics of the 4 Series Coupe, but compensations come in the form of refinement, security and drop-top desirability. In short, you'd like one.

Is the average BMW 4 Series Convertible customer going to approach this car wanting to sling it around a bit? Provided the variant in question isn't the hot rod M4 version, I suspect not. Still, if you do like your driving, you'll be interested to hear that dynamic changes made across the range mean stiffer suspension and an upgraded steering set-up. These measures have resulted in a tangible improvement in both lateral and longitudinal handling properties, regardless of the load on board. The upshot is reduced roll, more neutral responses when driving at the limit, even greater straight-line stability and the wonderfully precise steering for which BMW is renowned. This applies to the standard suspension, as well as the M Sport suspension and Adaptive suspension.

On to engines. Diesel-wise, this means a choice of three units, starting with the 190bhp unit found in the 420d. Above that come the six-cylinder diesel models, the 258bhp 430d and the 435d diesel range-topper with a hefty 313bhp at its disposal. Petrol people get a 2.0-litre unit developing 184bhp in the 420i and 252bhp in the 430i. Above that sit two six-cylinder derivatives, the 326bhp 440i and the 431bhp M4 performance model. The xDrive 4WD system is an option on 420i, 420d and 430d variants and standard on the 435d.

But I haven't yet talked about the roof. If the sun comes out or the heavens open, it's nice that you don't now have to stop at the side of the road to either retract or erect it, though you do have to slow to a speed of below 8mph for the 20 seconds the three metal panels take to assume their necessary positions. When the top is up, the refinement you get is indistinguishable from that you'd expect to find in the 4 Series Coupe model, thanks to a number of design improvements made to this Convertible version. These include a sound-absorbing headliner that reduces wind noise by up to 2dB.

BMW alone persists with the metal-folding roof concept in this segment, so if you prefer this 4 Series Convertible to either of its two direct rivals, Cabriolet versions of the Audi A5 and Mercedes C-Class, that's likely to be the major reason why. The changes made to this revised model are really quite subtle. If you know the car well, you'll spot the new twin LED headlights that now come as standard. Another frontal change is found in the central air intake which has an aperture that increases in size towards the outer edges, adding a more imposing presence and greater sense of width to the entire nose section.

Otherwise, the recipe is as it was before. Having to create a pretty shape that effortlessly swallowed all the roof-work's sliding metal panels must be quite a design challenge but here, that's been expertly carried off, helped by the fact that like all the most modern folding hardtops, the BMW system - which takes 20 seconds to operate and can function at speeds of up to 8mph - uses three rather than two-pieces. The advantage of this is that you don't need a distended rear end on the car to accommodate the larger sections of a two-piece roof. The downside of stacking three rather than two pieces on top of each other in the boot is that when they're all folded and sandwiched together here, there's not a great deal of luggage space left. With the roof up, you'll get 370-litres of cargo capacity. But fold it down and that figure falls to just 220-litres.

And the rear seats? Well, getting to them isn't the easiest task in the world and once you're seated, there's just about enough room for two adults on shorter trips. At the wheel, there's a low-set driving position and a grippy three-spoke sports steering wheel. Optional on this car is the Air Collar, a concept first pioneered by Mercedes, with vents below the head restraints that can massage your neck with comforting warm air on cold mornings. Otherwise, everything is as it would be in a 4 Series Coupe.

Would this car be a more engaging driving machine without its weighty roof mechanicals? The extra sharpness of its 4 Series Coupe stablemate certainly suggests that. I sense though, that most buyers of this open-topped version will be quite happy with a more relaxed, comfortable demeanour. That is, after all, as much as competitors from Audi and Mercedes offer - and those brands can't deliver the engine choice BMW provides here.

In fact, a lot of boxes are ticked by this car if you can afford its asking price. You get impressive safety systems, high residual values, above average rear seat legroom and a sheer depth of engineering that rarely fails to impress. As a result, in many ways, it could be seen as the most complete contender in this segment and, best of all, it looks as striking and expensive as a convertible of this kind should when the sun's out and all is right with the world.

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Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang

With a 2.3-litre turbocharged engine offering the option of better fuel economy than the traditional V8, as well as a lower price point, this improved Ford Mustang should continue to be quite a success in Europe, especially in Convertible guise. The idea here is to provide sports car performance and 50 years of heritage for the same sort of money as a humdrum executive drop-top.

We've yet to drive this improved model but on paper, the prospects look quite promising. The roof is fabric and must cover 4.7-metres of car. To start the roof retraction process, you have to twist a roof-mounted handle though from then on, the process is electric. Another potential irritation is that this process can only work when the car is at a standstill. Nor is there the option of a wind deflector.

While there will be many who don't see the point in choosing anything other than the 5.0-litre V8, Ford predicts a good take-up of the 2.3-litre Ecoboost turbo four. With UK pump prices being what they are, you can see the logic. It's not exactly limp-wristed either. With 290PS to call upon, it'll get to 62mph in around 6 seconds in six-speed manual guise. As an option, Ford now offers an auto transmission with no fewer than ten speeds. The brand claims that this new auto 'box offers greater fuel efficiency and improved acceleration. The gearbox's electronic control system enables settings that optimise performance for the car's various Drive Modes, plus there's real-time adaptive shift-scheduling that allows the transmission to adapt to changing conditions and select the right gear in any situation - from coast-road cruising to the drag-strip.

In short, for the right buyer, the 2.3-litre EcoBoost Mustang variant could now be quite a tempting proposition. Look at the ballistic V8 version though and your resolve might weaken. Its output has now been increased to 450PS, plus there's more low-end torque than there was before.

As for driving dynamics, well Ford claims to have improved these for European buyers with this enhanced model. Recalibrated shock absorbers should improve stability through corners, while the rear suspension has been stiffened with a cross-axis joint that reduces unwanted movement at each corner that can lead to body flex. Thicker anti-roll bars also better control body-roll for sharper handling. A new optional MagneRide Damping System can deliver a lightning-quick response to changing road conditions. Plus, there are two new Drive Modes in addition to the usual 'Normal', 'Sport', 'Track' and 'Snow/Wet' settings. 'Drag Strip Mode' optimises performance for maximum acceleration from standing starts. And 'My Mode' enables drivers to select their own preferred settings for performance, dynamics and exhaust sound.

In addition, the car also has a 'Good Neighbour Mode' that can be programmed to automatically limit the exhaust's noise output at pre-programmed times of the day to avoid disturbing your neighbours, not least when firing up the legendary 5.0-litre V8 early in the morning.

The Mustang may not have changed drastically, but it's still a head-turner. The new front end makes it look more elegant than muscular, and the sheer bulk gives it presence. More than anything else, though, it's still likely to be a novelty on British roads, and with the canvas hood of this Convertible version up or down, it'll draw attention.

Let's talk you through the changes made to this revised model. The bonnet profile is now lower with integrated air vents, combined with a revised lower grille design to give the Mustang a sharper, more aggressive face, while improving aerodynamics. The headlamps and tail lights have been re-styled too and at the rear, there's a sleeker bumper and a more aggressive diffuser.

Inside, Ford has tried to give the cabin more of the premium feel you get in notable German rivals. Soft touch materials now feature for the door linings and the door handles are finished in aluminium. The centre console features a smarter hand-stitched, soft-touch wrap, finished with stitching in a contrast colour for a more dynamic and upscale feel. Leather-trimmed, heated and cooled seats, and a heated steering wheel are also offered across the line-up for the first time for ultimate comfort. There's also now a customisable, all-digital, 12-inch LCD instrument cluster and the centre-dash infotainment system has been upgraded to 'SYNC 3' status, which includes 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone mirroring functionality.

This revised model has a classier feel, both inside and out - and the extra driving modes, additional safety features and 10-speed auto gearbox are all welcome additions. None of this though, has diluted this Ford sportscar's essential charm. A Mustang is all about the noise it makes, hence the appeal of this Convertible version. Without a roof, the 5.0-litre V8 should sound just great but Ford says it's tuned the alternative 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine to make nearly as potent a noise.

What that smaller engine will do is make the option of Mustang ownership available to more people. With a folding roof, a 5.8-second sprint to 62mph and almost acceptable fuel economy, this variant might be tempting. After all, there aren't many ways of getting this much heritage and this much drama onto your driveway for this kind of budget. Go on: try one.

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