2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Cabriolet

Georgia Lewis finds a well-made, reliable car, with a screen that means your 'do is protected from the wind.

Controlled thrills are on offer when the roof comes down on this variant on the conservative saloon.
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The E-Class range that Mercedes has diligently been producing since the 1950s, with "E" standing for "Einspritzmotor", which is German for "fuel injection", has never really had a reputation for fun and excitement.

The "E" could just as easily stand for "executive" or, dare I say it, "ennui". But there has always been a market for large, comfortable saloon cars, even in today's more frugal times and, as such, the E-Class lives on in showrooms to this day.

But there is the option of upping the fun factor with the E350 Cabriolet - all with just a touch of a button.

Just the other week, my colleague Neil Vorano, himself the proud owner of a convertible Alfa Romeo, wrote a blazing Air Bag column expressing real anger at drivers in the UAE who buy convertibles and never bother to open the roof, even at this time of year.

He is dead right, and his point is even more salient in the case of the E350 Cabriolet. With the black cloth roof up, the car is dark inside, rear visibility isn't great and it feels a little claustrophobic. In that state, it is basically a very large, dark, two-door car.

But push said button to retract the roof and things are instantly improved. The sun is shining, the sky is an approximation of blue and it is the perfect time of year for open-top motoring. From the outside, the E350 with the roof down is very eye-catching: the solid lines of the grille, the strong, aggressive headlights and the large, wide body are shown off to their best.

Neil also pointed out in his Air Bag that if he sees anyone driving around town with their convertible roof up, he will yell at them and they will be able to hear him. I discovered while driving along Airport Road, with the roof down, among drivers who enjoy changing lanes by barging without using their eyes, their common sense or their indicators, that it is all too easy to start a shouting match when you end up alongside one of these fools at the next red light.

If you are a shrinking violet type, you may not enjoy such traffic jam confrontation but I've got to admit, I found it strangely liberating.

In keeping with the E-Class's Captain Sensible pedigree - heck, in my last E-Class review, I recommended it as a suitable car for my grandfather - it comes with a few additions to make the convertible driving experience a little more palatable for some.

Push a little button in the centre console and two little screens will rise up, one between the back seats and one across the top of the windscreen. This has a noticeable affect on the cabin's wind levels. For although some drivers think the wind-through-the-hair sensation is liberating and life-affirming, others worry that their magnificent hairstyle will be ruined for the meeting/date/party. The nifty little screens are ideal for the vain even if convertible purists scoff at such things.

Also making this a user-friendly convertible is the fact that the roof can be put up or down while the car is in motion, perfect for that annual downpour, sudden sandstorm - or if you don't fancy an argument with an errant motorist.

And underneath it all, it is still a sensible E-Class, albeit one with a greatly reduced backseat. If you and your better half decide to breed, you will need to upgrade to something with four doors. Bear in mind you will also lose some boot space when the roof is down, which also makes transporting the pram somewhat impractical. But since when did anyone think of practicalities when they bought a convertible?

Still, this one is the convertible for the driver who is all about controlled fun. The E350 Cabriolet has the expected Germanically smooth ride, an excellent Mark Levinson sound system that is loud and clear and a leather-kitted interior that can best be described as inoffensive.

The 3.5L V6 engine will not give you the thrill or the sublime engine note of anything AMG-related, but it will still offer a pleasing amount of power, especially if you drive the car in the manual mode. The rear-wheel-drive set-up also helps take this car up a notch from merely being a staid saloon.

With a base price of Dh236,000, this car is not unrealistically priced - it is a safe, surefooted Mercedes for the affluent couple or successful single who wants a well-made, reliable car with the option of letting their hair down, albeit in a controlled manner.