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First Drive: 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Cabriolet

CROZET, France — One of the hazards of driving a convertible everyday is cultivating a deep, dark tan. You might also see rugged mountains, skies full of stars, and a road ahead that offers endless possibilities.

Doing all of this behind the wheel of a 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Cabriolet offers plenty of hazards of this kind.

Like the new E-Class Coupe, the two-door Cabriolet features a long, ridged hood, low-slung grille, and a wide stance. Mercedes-Benz introduced its first E-Class Cabriolet 25 years ago, back when the convertible market in the U.S. was nearly extinct.

Christian Früh, chief engineer on the E-Class Cabriolet, says times have changed.

“People thought there was no future for cabriolets,” he states over lunch at the Jiva Hill Resort in eastern France near Geneva, Switzerland, where Automobile is testing the new model. “We disagreed. And look at where we are now!”

Today, Mercedes makes 19 convertible variants — 21, if you count models from Smart.

The AMG line Cabriolet tester we drove around snow-capped peaks in France, Switzerland, and Italy came in a fluffy shade called “designo diamond white bright,” with interiors that surrounded us in deep white/black Nappa leather. Plus, there was a black fabric top that went largely unused.

In addition to the model we drove, there’s at least a dozen colors to choose from as well as a 25th Anniversary edition that’s available in exclusive “rubelite red” paint with designo Nappa leather in macchiato beige and tizan red.

We got a closer look at that gem the following day near the top of Mont Blanc, which lies nearly 16,000 feet above sea level, when it was airlifted in by helicopter especially for the occasion — like a scene from a “Fast and Furious” sequel.

“Today, we have drop-top models in the C-Class, E-Class, and S-Class lines in addition to our longstanding roadsters. Why? Because people love them,” Früh says. “People like to reward themselves with a convertible.”

Früh also jokes that his wife now drives an S-Class Cabriolet and his life has been much better ever since. Of course, who’s life wouldn’t be?

But back to the E-Class, the latest model is bigger than its predecessor and rides on a 2.75-inch wider track that is noticeably different when its combined with the AMG tuned version that comes with larger 19-inch wheels and a standard Agility Control suspension. The amplitude-dependent damping system comes in handy, especially when tackling twisty roads.

And we drove countless winding roads over the course of two days and just over 200 miles during our trip in the Alps, the most extensive mountain range on the European continent, and home to the highest peak in Europe: Mont Blanc. The white mountain that is not only referenced in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” but in the Middle Ages, was thought to contain dragons and spirits buried beneath its frosty glaciers.

Our E-Class took on mile long tunnels, lakeside roads, ascents, descents, high elevations, tight switchbacks, beautiful runs through Alpine meadows, and even some light rain. The relatively relaxing ride took us through small villages renowned for their wine and cheese, picturesque local scenery, and occasional colorful graffiti.

Combined with the 4MATIC all-wheel drive, which is a first for the E-Class Cabriolet series, it truly inspires confidence as you maneuver around tight turns and slower vehicles in most driving conditions. Steering is precise, fluid, and responsive, in addition to providing a somewhat sporty feel.


Under the hood there’s a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine that delivers 333 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

The new cabriolet is packed with all the latest tech goodies necessary to get you to your destination safely. A complex network of sensors and cameras on the E-Class allows it to analyze driving conditions, recognize dangers, and react to them if you don’t — and sometimes even when you do.

During a ride through the Swiss Alps, its standard Active Brake Assist auto-stopping feature kicked in as the car approached a construction zone and the road narrowed significantly. Because the painted lines on the highway were off-centered, the cabriolet’s safety systems thought we were going to hit a construction barrier and it automatically applied the brakes to slow the car down.

On another occasion while backing out onto a narrow road next to the breathtakingly blue Lake Annecy in Doussard, France, it detected quickly approaching vehicles as the car rolled back and quickly applied the brakes before we had a chance to. It’s like having a guardian angel as your co-pilot, which can be both a blessing and a curse. (All the technology can make for a comfortable ride. But if you are the kind of driver who likes to control your machine, being second guessed by a computer can take the fun out of a day in the mountains.)

Mercedes dynamic select also allows the driver to drive in Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport +, and Individual modes. These functions along with its start/stop technology to help save fuel can all be thankfully turned off with a touch of a button if you prefer to wing it or burn fossil fuel like nobody’s business.

There’s also a Driver’s Assistance Package that offers semi-automated driving for speeds up to 130 mph that’s super fun to use on long stretches of less engaging highway. Apparently, Remote Parking Pilot is also available via a smartphone app — but we didn’t have the opportunity to test it out just yet.


Aside from the wider, sportier track, and tech, the E-Class can seat four passengers comfortably. Up front, there’s 0.6-inches of more headroom, 2.0-inches more shoulder room, and 1.5-inches more elbow space. Rear passengers get 4.0-inches more legroom, 0.5-inches of shoulder room, and 0.8-inches more elbow space according to Mercedes-Benz estimates.

In addition, rear seats are now heated to help encourage year-round use. Optional sun-reflecting leather is available in five flavors and is designed to increase comfort in direct sunlight.

“Whoever has sat down on a hot leather seat in shorts will thank us later,” Früh states.

Rear seats fold down and there’s enough space to squeeze in a snowboard or a pair of skis. Trunk space isn’t compromised much with the top down and there’s space for at least a large backpack and small suitcase. You’ll find approximately 11-cubic feet when it is open and 13.6-cubic feet when it is closed.


The acoustic soft-top drops or closes in 20 seconds at speeds up to 30 mph. It is available in black, dark brown, dark blue, and red. And when you do have the top up — it provides a good deal of shelter.

Johannes Scheffer, Mercedes-Benz soft-top development engineer, tells us more about its multi-layering process near the top of Mont Blanc, and later after dinner, at the Grand Hotel Courmayeur in Italy.

The fabric top features 10 layers of acoustic buffering insulation that drastically reduces wind and driving sounds. Scheffer shows us a section of it that is several inches thick, derived from the S-Class Cabriolet.

A 15-minute ride through the 7.2-mile long Mont Blanc Tunnel with it up and down easily demonstrates the sound differences provided by the new top technology. With the top up, it is much easier to have a conversation or listen to French rap music.

A post shared by Ed Tahaney (@edtahaney) on Jun 22, 2017 at 3:37am PDT


With the top down, an Aircap electric wind deflector system helps keep passengers cool by directing the flow of air over the passenger compartment. And its Airscarf heating system helps keep occupants toasty by directing warm air towards the neck area like a scarf.

Fans are built inside the back of the headrests to direct airflow on passengers in the back. Both systems help keep the air cooler or warmer inside the compartment for longer periods of time.


If you own or have driven a convertible for any amount of time, you know that using the windshield wiper fluid with the top down usually means getting the interior splashed while driving.

Not so with the Magic Vision Control wiper system that only sprays fluid on the downward movement of the wiper, so that fluid never finds its way into the car or on you. The system and wiper blades are heated at low temperatures as well.

The Command infotainment system is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay friendly and you can use your smartphone to start the engine, turn on the A/C, and open or lock the doors.

Overall the 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Cabriolet is one of the most civilized ways to explore new places, clear your mind, and work on your sun or moon tan.

Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but should become available closer to the Cabriolet’s release in the late summer.

That sounds like a good time to start planning your trip to the Alps.

2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Cabriolet Specifications
ON SALE Summer 2017
PRICE $67,700 (est)
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/333 hp @ 5,250-6,000 rpm, 354 lb-ft @ 3,500-5,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD convertible
L x W x H 190.0 x 73.2 x 56.3 in
WHEELBASE 113.1 in
WEIGHT 4,266 lb
0-60 MPH 5.5 sec
TOP SPEED 130 mph

The post First Drive: 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC Cabriolet appeared first on Automobile Magazine.


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Conquering the Magnetic North Coast 500 in a 1979 Porsche 911 Turbo

INVERNESS, Scotland — The big sky was as clear as the back roads we had driven to reach the lighthouse on the 330-foot cliffs of Dunnet Head. The most northerly point of the island of Great Britain, Dunnet Head overlooks Pentland Firth, a straight that separates the British mainland from the Orkney Islands and is known for its fast tides. The residents of Dunnet Head — razorbills, kittiwakes, and puffins — have a magnificent panorama from their cliff ledges as far as Cape Wrath 60 miles to the west.

Resting nearby is the silver metallic 1979 Porsche 911 Turbo we’re driving on the coastal tour of the Scottish Highlands that is the North Coast 500. I first traveled the little-known loop in 2001. Said to be one of the world’s greatest coastal routes, it can be considered Britain’s answer to California’s Pacific Coast Highway.

The North Coast 500 begins and ends in the frontier town of Inverness. With a population slightly less than 50,000, it’s the most populous place in the Highlands. As you can imagine, the population of vintage Porsches is even lower. This 930 hails from Yorkshire in Northern England, where its part of a growing collection owned by entrepreneur Mike Pickles.

We picked it up in Wakefield, where we loaded our luggage and camera equipment into the front trunk and folded rear seats. After a quick driver briefing, set out for Inverness on route A1, stopping for uneventful overnighter in Stirling, a town northwest of Edinburgh.

The tea-tray spoiler and flared rear wheel arches of the 911 scream 1970s German styling, and it’s still a head turner. It wasn’t long before I was enjoying the 911, a 36-year-old car that has the power of a Fiat 500 below 3,000 rpm but turns into a true supercar once the laggy turbos finally spool up. The giant rev counter and its 6,800-rpm redline sits center stage, and I feel cosseted in the high-backed, leather-edged, rally seats that feature a red tartan cloth insert, a nice touch for our Scottish adventure.

One of 1,637 produced by Zuffenhausen in 1979, the classic coupe sits well with modern traffic. It’s small by modern standards — just 168.9 inches long, 69.9 inches wide, and weighing in at a svelte 2,866 pounds. Dial in the 3.3-liter flat-six with exhaust-driven, turbocharged air-cooled engine producing 295 hp, and you have a classic car to rival most modern automobiles. Visibility through it’s panoramic windshield and elegant narrow A-pillars set back from my eye line is wonderful, but after four hours of driving, my right leg was stiff due to a strong accelerator spring, offset floor hinged pedals, and my size 11 driving shoes.

We started our adventure with a visit of the Glen Ord distillery, which makes whisky for the Singleton, Johnnie Walker, and Dewar’s brands as well as its own label, in nearby Muir of Ord. (I am blessed with a designated whisky taster for a travel companion — my wife, Beverley.) After a fascinating tour, our basic knowledge of the amber nectar was raised to a point where we were able to not only understand the method of production (which, to my surprise, includes the use of recycled bourbon casks), but more importantly, we knew what subtle flavors to detect while drinking a single-malt Scotch.

After the tour, we set out westward on the first leg of the North Coast 500, route A832. For the first time, the 911 was taken off its leash, the boost gauge rising as we passed local farmers in trucks. The road splits in Achnasheen, a mere 28 miles west of the distillery. We turned left onto A890, taking a 36-mile detour to visit Eilean Donan Castle built on the Kyle of Lochalsh. It’s a quintessential 13th century medieval castle, restored over 20 years starting in 1911 by Lt Colonel Macrae. The castle had been bombarded by an English frigate during the Jacobite rebellion and left in ruins.

A890 started out as a two lane with a smooth surface, and we pressed on through the deserted, treeless landscape near Loch Dùghaill, the Porsche enjoying sweeping through the bends in the mountain glens. Our pace was reduced when we encountered the first section of single-track road just past the lake. Driving these sections required a quick course in single-track etiquette, which dictates that the driver closest to the pull out waits for the oncoming vehicle to pass.

From the castle, we headed to the Torridon Hotel, our overnight stop. Located in spectacular Glen Docherty, the Torridon is a restored hunting lodge that sits on the shores of Loch Torridon. Built for the first Lord Lovelace in 1887, it is five-star in all respects, starting with the welcoming log fire in the lobby. Before dinner, we ambled to the paddock to meet a herd of highland cattle with shaggy ginger coats and long horns bred for the local environment. Every way we looked, the landscape was magnificent and worthy of a fine watercolor painting. The dinner, prepared by head chef David Barnett, was no less spectacular, and the hostelry is noted for its seven-course tasting menu.

The next day started with an eastward stint on A896 until it was time to take a left onto A832. The Scotch mist rolled in from Loch Gairloch as we navigated a coastal section of the road, which gave a spectacular view of the Western Isles before turning right into thick fog. The road is a mix of fast blasts on well-surfaced two-lane pavement across a peninsula followed by cautious driving along the twisty shoreline road that cuts into the cliffside.

At an overlook at Loch Ewe, a NATO refueling base, is a historic marker commemorating the lost crews of the Atlantic merchant fleets that mustered here before running the gantlet of weather and German U-boats on route to Russia during World War II. A local quote states: “The Loch was black with ships.”

Down the hill in Aultbea, we made a short detour to the Isle of Ewe Smokehouse, where Graham the proprietor was busy preparing local farm-produced salmon for its two-day smoke. The drive had become a bit of a foodie adventure, and after purchasing some of the tasty fish in a vacuum pack, it was time to press on to Ullapool, a thriving fishing and ferry port built on a promontory. Rows of white cottages sat before a glorious mountain backdrop that, alas, was obscured by a rain shower as we passed through. Fortunately, we had been lucky enough to take in the view of Loch Broom earlier while looking at the Corriehall Gorge waterfalls.

We were not the only interesting vehicle enjoying the scenic route that day. Traveling in the opposite direction was a Bentley Continental, a brace of Aston Martin Vantages, and a trio of modern Porsche 911s.

Our next overnight stop was roughly an hour away in Scourie. We arrived at the Scourie Hotel in time to be given a briefing by Fiona, the owner, on where to find the best of the famous bright-yellow sandy beaches. It’s a reminder that you can’t beat local knowledge even in the era of the smartphone.

The cozy lounge was full of guests talking fishing, and one party was planning a boat trip in search of local otters. As I looked around, I noticed that the walls were decked with trophy river trout, and while leafing through the fishing log on the hall table, I noticed that records went back to 1912. The hotel has numerous rights to fish on local lochs, and generations of fishermen and women return to the hotel to fish the waters each year.

Fiona’s advice lead us to Balnakeil Beach, where we were greeted with a blue sky and fluffy cumulus clouds. It’s a classic crescent-shaped bay backed by dunes where the Atlantic rollers break a quarter mile out to sea. It looks idyllic, but a 25 mph wind makes for a bracing walk.

Back in the Porsche I prepared to launch the car up the 16 percent steep hill to Durness, where hot chocolate awaited at Cocoa Mountain chocolatier. Most of the day’s drive consisted of a tour around the beautiful sea Loch Eriboll, which was followed by a fast drive over moorland.

Because the 930 911 Turbo was a homologation special, Porsche engineers used the turbo and brakes derived from the 917 Can Am cars, giving it first-class acceleration and deceleration — useful attributes on this road trip. We developed a star system for the road sections, Beverley grading the stunning views riding shotgun, and I rating the driving pleasure, most sections earning top marks. On a long stretch to the Caithness, country traffic was so light, a Mercedes C63 AMG was the only car to pass us.

After the visit to Dunnet Head lighthouse we made our way to John O’Groats, the location of our overnight stay in the brightly coloured Natural Retreats apartments that cling to the cliffs on Britain’s far north. They’re a great stopover for location a group of couples tackling the North Coast 500. The location is named after Jan de Groot, a Dutch seafarer who operated his ferry to the Orkneys from 1496. The current ferry was in the harbor below preparing for summer services.

We turned south onto the 500’s final stage, route A9, which was traffic-free due to our early Sunday start. The highway meandered over the landscape, and progress was brisk, although care was taken on damp and slippery 180-degree bends. We had a delicious lunch in the Carnegie Courthouse in Dornoch, where the American industrialist became Laird in his later years.

After nearly 600 fantastic miles in the 911 Turbo, the final night was spent at the Factor’s House boutique bed and breakfast in the historic highland township of Cromarty. Situated northeast of Inverness, it overlooks the Cromarty Firth. Fiona and Graham gave us a warm welcome, their car park often accommodating North Coast 500 adventurers. We compared notes about what the London Times call one of the world’s top five coastal routes. Our conclusion is that, in our experience, it’s No. 1!

Trip Notes

The North Coast 500 route travels through a remote area of Scotland, and pre-booking for the limited accommodation is essential.

1979 Porsche 911 Turbo Specifications

ON SALE  1979
PRICE $34,150 (base)
ENGINE 3.3L twin-turbo SOHC 12-valve flat-6/300 hp @ 5,500 rpm,

304 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

TRANSMISSION 4-speed manual
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, RWD coupe
L x W x H 168.9 x 66.9 x 63.4 in
WEIGHT 2,866 lb
0-60 MPH 4.9 sec
TOP SPEED 162 mph

The post Conquering the Magnetic North Coast 500 in a 1979 Porsche 911 Turbo appeared first on Automobile Magazine.


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