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Roadshow Video Reviews
2014 Mercedes E550 CabrioletCNET's Brian Cooley takes a drive in the new 2014 Mercedes-Benz E550 ragtop and tells you why he thinks it just might be the perfect Mercedes.
What do you get when you strip away the obnoxious excess of an S-class, but not the poise on the presence of a Mercedes in general? You get an E-class. This one in particular. Let's drive the 2014 revised E550 cab in Check the Tech. Now, the main thing I like about the E is that it's part of the new look of Mercedes cabin. This is a much flatter, sharper, a little more cornered-off, sort of a dash design. I'm making a point of this because this is a car that's trying to print younger; hence, that more aggressive face. Now, our car has got navigation. That's optional. Our car has got a backup camera. That's optional. We'll go over the pricing at the end of the piece, but not everything here is included even at the fairly lofty base price. Nothing new on the nav reg. We've seen that before. It's a good system. It's not my favorite out there, but it's definitely got things going for it that make it into the top tier, if you will. Nothing is surprising on the audio sources. In fact, there's actually more here than you want. You're never gonna use the SD card or the 10 gigabytes of hard drive storage. You would be kidding. But everything you need is in here. Not all of these are base by the way. I'm not a huge fan of the phone system for dialing simple things like going through the number and then going over to one end to pick up the call, the other end to hang up the call. It's a small thing, but you deal with it a lot. Now, one of the little globe icon, you've got Mercedes-Benz apps, internet streaming radio, and your serious weather, as well as the ability down here in the corner to go to the web. All of this is well and good except it's dog slow. I actually don't have time to show you a webpage on here because we don't have enough tape in our camera. Obviously, you're not gonna browse the web while you're driving. It doesn't work when you're doing that anyway, but this is an example of how slow this car's connection, and apparently, processing are as well, the various apps. The last time we used them were just as slow as they seem now. Mercedes has a bad habit of sending out press cars that don't have the apps authorized, so I can't actually show you those here. What does work well on this car is an amazing rearview camera. Look at the bird's eye view, a trajectory, not just for the rear hunches but also for the outgoing front fender, and then over on the right-hand side, you've got an almost mind-boggling number of views from low front to God's view front, to side going one way, side going the other way. Here is the overview of the rear and here is rear looking out. This is the best entertainment on TV. Now, the comfort controls in this car are manifold. You've got your three-level seat heater, three-level seat ventilation and cooling, three-level AIRSCARF. That's this nice little heater vent right here below the head rest. Very nice. And of course, you've got a button here that will summon the seatbelt to you 'cause it has these power retractors. There's a lot going on. Now, the drive controls in this vehicle. You got this old mannish column shift here. This tells you right here, this car does not have real sporting pretentions. You do have a Sport, Efficiency, and Manual toggles switch here to change into your three drivetrain modes. And over here is your adaptive suspension, Sport and Comfort, toggle. Those comprise the bulk of the drive controls with the exception of the ECO button here, which isn't really a drive control, but that's where you defeat the auto start/stop. We'll see if that's needed when we get on the road momentarily. Here is the problem with an E-class, at least this convertible, is once I get the seat back in the position where I would sit, I sure can't sit behind me. In fact, no human could sit behind me. That's a very tight gap. This is definitely a larger car than a C-class, but it's not a large car, at least not bad here. Now the convertible top on this E550 ragtop is quite a thing of beauty. First of all, there's a lot to it. You've got all these layers of canvass and sound deadening, and other kinds of padding and structure that make it like an inch thick. The whole thing goes from one direction to the other about 20 seconds, kind of industry norm. And notice, it doesn't necessarily go into the trunk but into a well between the second row in the trunk, but that doesn't mean it doesn't impinge on the trunk. Now, underneath this lovely clamshell opening hood-- I love that about a Benz-- we've got a 4.6-liter biturbo V8. That means two turbos, one on each bank of four cylinders. The result is 402 horsepower, 443 foot-pounds of torque, real torquey because it's a turbo; 0-60 is 5 seconds, which you might say, "It's okay. That's pretty good." Pretty good indeed because this guy weighs nearly 4400 pounds. See my earlier comment about real Mercedes. Seven-speed automatic is your only transmission choice. We're talking rear-wheel drive here. And the car gets 1726 mpg, which I suspect is a little bit optimistic. So, this is not your most fuel efficient car, but see 4400 pounds and see 5.0. I've got the top down now, but this car has topped us up. I really think it's as quiet as a sedan. It's pretty impressive. When you have the top down like I do, you'll really feel good about how they've managed the air flow over the top. It's really calm, and this AIRSCARF [unk] behind your neck, it's a great thing. I hate to get too excited about something silly, but it's silly and great. The power of this car is prodigious, not just how much there is, but how it really breathes well once you tap into it. And once you get into that power, whoosh, off you go. The downside is you've got turbo lag. You've got computerized throttle lag, and this seven-speed is sulky, not sharp. The blind spot and lane departure tech are interesting. Sometimes it will catch you drifting off the side of the road and yaw brake you hard back into the lane like that. Other times though when I'm in DISTRONIC cruise control and I want to just take me down the lane, it's so sudden that it almost lets me drift out of the lane. Okay, lights turning green. Lift off the throttle and get right on, let's see how it does. That was a quick restart. It took just that long as you could see in my pause, and it also didn't rattle the whole car. But that said, I'm still not a big fan of auto start-stop. Not yet. This is as good as it gets, but they still haven't got it smoothed enough for me, so I disabled it. What I'm also noticing in this car as I've driven it over the last few days is I've got some cow shake. You can always tell because the mirror, the rearview mirror here, kind of does this. It kind of goes back and forth sideways on a chunky road. I'm surprised to see that in a car this day and age, engineered in 2014. By the way, when you come to a stop in this car, you've got the option to use the automatic parking where you have to use the brake and pedal but it steers. That's nothing new. But they also have automatic parking spot exit technology where the car will get out of the space. I didn't know that was hard. I'm not sure it is, but I think Mercedes looked at it and said, "Hey, all you gotta do is reverse the software and call it a feature." So, it's in there. Oh, let's price this guy. Sit down. A 2014 E550 cab is a little over 68 base. Then we start dolling it up CNET style. Premium package is almost 3300 bucks. That's how you get a hard drive, the fantastic rear camera, and the AIRSCARF behind your neck. 2800 bucks gets you driver assistance, which is adaptive cruise, cross-traffic, and that active blind spot and lane- keeping tech. For 1500, you can get LED headlights and smart high beams. Almost 1300 for parking assist, which includes getting into the spot but also getting help getting out of it. Then come services. Embrace this 280 a year for a telematic set. Another 20 bucks a month gets you concierge, speed alerts and Location-based Traffic, and 14 bucks more per month if you want the apps to work. While you're at it, get the drive kit for your iPhone. 600 bucks gives you a unique iPhone specific interface. And if you have absolutely no self-esteem, another 500 more will get you an illuminated star on the grille. All in were just over 78 grand for a car that really only holds two people and barely enough of their luggage to go away for the weekend. So this is really one of the nicest second cars that the well-heeled can afford. Think of it as sort of a tender to go with your S-class yacht, but I am unmitigatedly in love with it because it has real Mercedes DNA in a package that is livable and definitely memorable.