The Mercedes-Benz name evokes performance and luxury, but can be out of reach for most people. When the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan and coupe hit the streets, they brought S-Class styling and technology at a fraction of the price. Now, Mercedes-Benz adds three new convertible models to the C-Class mix, and like the hardtop versions also called the C300, AMG C43 and AMG C63S.
On a Mercedes-Benz sponsored trip, I got to experience all three under Italian sunshine.
You would need a keen eye to spot the differences between the three convertibles. They all feature a sharp horizontal crease along the side, upswept headlights and a curvy rear that puts Beyonce to shame.
And they all share the same convertible top, which open and close in 20 seconds at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. That's fairly quick, but instead of a one-touch button, you have to keep pressure on the switch the whole time, and press a second button to roll down all the windows. Fortunately, the top doesn't take up too much space in the trunk when down, leaving enough room for two golf bags or a few soft-sided bags.
These cars differ the most under the hood. The least powerful of the three, the C300 sports a 2-liter turbo engine that puts out 245 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, with power going to the rear wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission.
I sampled the C300 Cabriolet first, and it was immediately apparent that this is the entry-level model. Mercedes-Benz says peak torque occurs at a low 1,300 rpm, but the turbo takes a while to spool up, so the acceleration feels sluggish. Like the other two cars, the C300 has customizable drive modes, and I had to keep the car in Sport Plus if I wanted any kind of performance out of the transmission. Otherwise it just wanted to upshift as quickly as possible, all in the name of fuel economy.
The C300 cannot be driven in full manual mode. You can shift the paddle shifters for a little bit of control, but once you start cruising, the car defaults back to automatic. That's fine if you remember, but I downshifted in a roundabout and found myself in first gear and not the anticipated second gear, as the C300 had already shifted for me.
It was a bit chilly in Trieste when I first got behind the wheel, so I was happy to try out the Airscarf technology. Embedded into the headrest, a vent blows hot air onto your neck, like a warm breeze. Unfortunately, Airscarf only works with the heating system, so you can't use it to cool yourself off on a hot day.
The midrange AMG C43 convertible has just enough useable power to be thrilling. The 3-liter V6 puts out 367 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. The standard rear-biased 4Matic all-wheel drive system gives it most of the fun of a rear-wheel drive car but with a bit more stability and poise. The nine-speed automatic transmission is the same as in the C300, but with more power on tap, it felt completely different. It did great shifting on its own, but really hung the gears out to dry in Sport and Sport Plus modes. It skipped gears easily on the way down and with full manual shifting, it was easier to be in control of the car. In the C43, the driving modes were very distinct, with an obvious drop in throttle response when going from Sport to Comfort to Eco.
I never saw ninth gear in either the C300 or C43, even though I had some highway driving in both cars. I suppose it would require a slower pace on the highway, but that's tough to do in a Mercedes-Benz in the beautiful Italian countryside.
As it happens, my drive partner came very close to hitting a cat during our AMG C43 drive. It was obviously suicidal, but I can attest that the ventilated four-piston disc brakes work really well.
The big daddy of the C-Class convertibles is the AMG C63S. The 4-liter biturbo V8 puts out 510 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, all going to the rear wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission. My driving partner was behind the wheel for the curvy bits, where the rear kicked out on him pretty easily. The Sport Plus mode ratchets up the stiffness in the chassis to a point not felt in the other two convertibles. The transmission can be locked into manual mode, like the C43, but the lack of two extra gears means the car wails a bit more when pushed to the limit.
My driving segment was on a high-speed highway, where I felt comfortable pushing the C63S to 111 miles per hour and the AMG still had more in her. In fact, one of my colleagues saw 124 miles per hour, but that's a bit much for me on a public road.
Of the three, the AMG C43 offers the best driving experience. Sure, it doesn't have the same numbers as the C63S, but I was able to use more of the power on public roads in a safe manner. The C300 was just a bit too tame for my blood, but it should satisfy those who just want to drive a Mercedes-Benz and aren't necessarily worried about sports car performance.
The C-class convertibles will be available this fall. No word on pricing yet, but a Mercedes-Benz rep said the convertibles should be priced close to the coupe variants.
Above, some footage of an earlier iteration of the Mercedes-Benz C Class from the 2014 Detroit auto show.
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