When the summer sun starts to shine, all drivers at some point have thought; wouldn’t it be great to drive around in a convertible for a bit?
Driving a snazzy cabriolet connects you to the world as you waft along, enjoying everything nature has to offer. In my humble opinion; comfort, effortless delivery of power and being aesthetically pleasing are all must haves of any convertible. That is why I took two roofless Mercedes out for a spin to see which Benz beauty you should buy to enjoy the summer season.
When you think of luxury, style and comfort you think of only one brand; Rolls Royce. Most of us however can’t afford a luxury barge and next in line when I think of tip top quality is the trusty Mercedes. More often than not, the marque ticks most boxes most of the time and if you are looking for a great all rounder that happens to be able to lose its roof, it is hard to recommend anything else.
Two great cars
but which do you buy?
Poking around the classifieds, I found myself a SL350 first registered in 2009 and a 2012 registered E250. Both were handily at the Stour Valley Motor Company right around the corner, and owner very kindly lent me them to see what was what.
Despite the difference in age and power unit, the SL enjoys a 3.5 litre V6 petrol block while the E250 houses a 2.2 diesel, the drop top duo are both priced very similarly. The SL 350 could be yours fo £15k and the E250k at £14k.
Although both playing host to the Mercedes badge and both capable of dropping their hood, they cater to a different type of driver and I wanted to see just what differences there were between the two.
So I jumped behind the wheel to experience the world without a roof.
What does it drive like?
The first and very obvious thing about these two is that they cannot be described as particularly sporting or dynamic. This isn’t a bad thing but I’ve had many a conversation with motorists who assume, rightly or wrongly, that a convertible is a sports car. They aren’t. It is rare for mainstream, non high performance models to give you the sporty, exciting experience you may be after.
That said, the drive in both the SL and E class is pleasant. It’s less a swashbuckling romp around country lanes and more an open air tour of the countryside, allowing you to soak in your surroundings while the car quietly gets on with business.
Of the two, the SL gets the blood pumping when your right foot decides to get a tad heavier. The V6 makes a nice enough noise and the speed does accumulate effortlessly. The steering is responsive if not the sharpest and the auto gearbox is surprisingly well tuned to give you the gear you want just as you want it. It is built for straight line speed over deft cornering and is remarkably quick for something that is a heavy bit of kit. A tad ironic as SL stands for super licht which is German for super light….something it certainly isn't at 1800kg. It’ll get you to 70 mph in 6 seconds which is quick by anyones standards.
The E250 has a softer feel under what we will call “spirited driving”. What is nice is that even under hard acceleration, you don’t hear a horrible sound from the diesel engine. In fact, you don’t hear an awful a lot from anything. The E class is tranquility personified. The power oozes in a considered manner, never catching you out but making sure the E250 scoots along nicely. It wafts over the tarmac and the air suspension makes all the difference.
This is where these cars come alive.
Everything about the SL and the E Class is engineered to give their occupants a relaxing and comfortable ride. Both cars do a good job gliding over the terrible roads we have in the UK with only the most earth shattering potholes causing trouble.
Both cars come with wind deflectors, front and rear, meaning your carefully styled hair-do or hat of choice stays fairly untouched. The E class employs the rather clever AirCap system that keeps all four passengers shielded from the worst of the battering from nature whilst the roof is down. Via clever aerodynamics, those inside the E250 are placed inside a peaceful, wind free cocoon.
Heated seats warmly toast your rear end in both the SL350 and E250 and work well. The E class we tested also had the neck scarf option in the seats which blows warm air on your neck, which is very pleasant.
The tech available in each was nice to have but it is important to remember how far driving aids and technology have come in the best part of 10 years. Each car came with Satnav, bluetooth, parking aids (the E250 had a reversing camera as well as beepers) and electric seats. It goes without saying the tech was very different in touch and ability compared to a new Mercedes but it was there and it worked, that was enough for me.
And last but not least, the roof system. Thankfully you don’t have to jump out and fiddle with levers and bolts every time you want to put the roof up or down on these. The systems are electronically powered via nicely set buttons in the central console and once pressed, you can lose the roof in about 20 seconds. This can be done travelling up to 25 mph in the E250 but you will have to pull over in the older SL350 to save yourself from the rain that will inevitably drop in the summer.
Which one would I pick?
Both these cars, when new, would hit you hard in the wallet. The E250 started at £33k and the SL at nearer the £65k mark and were certainly premium in their day. As a result, whichever you choose today offers great value, especially to have a silver arrow on the steering wheel in front of you.
If physics was no barrier, I’d lift the V6 and looks from the SL350 and combine them with the comfort and ride of the E250.
But given that isn’t a choice I’d have to choose the SL350.
I enjoy a dynamic drive and having enough power to have a bit of fun along the way. Although both options don’t exactly give you the fun of an MX5 with the roof down, they are both supreme at gliding around whilst you enjoy the summer air.