What is it about convertibles that make them so pointless yet so popular?
In this UV-blasted State they’re a waste of time during most daylight hours. Add in the strange WA summer just finished, where there were few balmy evenings to enjoy some alfresco driving.
Then, when I picked up the new Merc C-Class Cabriolet, the weather gods decided to dump about 120mm of rain on Perth. At least I could check the roof didn’t leak.
And yet I lost count of the number of family and friends who were desperate to go for a spin, and sat in awe when I pressed the button that took the roof down in about 18 seconds, at speeds of up to 60km/h.
And not just this Merc. The BMW 230i, Audi S3, Jaguar F-Type and Mazda MX-5 (my favourite of these hooded heroes) — mention you’ve got a soft-top to test and suddenly people’s faces light up.
In the case of the C-Class, that reaction is justified.
I was in the two-door C300, which is $99,990 plus on-road costs and is the second spec level of four, which tops out with the C63S AMG at $179,900. But with the “humble” C300 you still get a car that looks like a dream and drives like one too.
It’s super-smooth but there’s oomph when you need it, with great pick-up and little turbo lag. You get the occasional rumble from the dual exhaust pipes but, really, this is all about refined luxury.
It’s powered by a 2.0-litre turbo unit which can get you to 100km/h in 6.4 seconds without much effort. And the accelerator pedal is so soft your foot feels like it’s in a slipper.
The steering is super-sharp and the nine-speed auto gearbox doesn’t skip a beat. In fact because it’s all so quiet the gear changes were music to my ears. There’s paddle shifters, too, if you want to go manual. No cheap plastic here either, but tactile metal.
The choice of driving modes comprises Comfort, Eco (which is stodgy), Sport, Sport+ and Individual. I kept it in Sport and enjoyed the extra revs and punch, and decent suspension.
The quality inside matches the ride. Close the door and the seatbelt buzzes forward so it’s easier to reach without dislocating your shoulder (a big problem in coupes with long doors). The plush leather sports seats are heated and there’s a neck warmer, though sadly no cooler. The seats, of course, can be electronically adjusted and set to suit your needs, plus there’s extra lumbar support.
The dash, doors and steering wheel have black leather with white stitching, nice circular chrome air vents for the dual- con system and “black ash open pore” woodgrain touches.
There’s also a raft of safety measures and a head-up display. Meanwhile, the 7.0-inch infotainment screen houses the excellent sat nav, DAB digital radio (allied to 13 Burmester surround-sound speakers) and reversing camera with 360-degree bird’s-eye view. It’s controlled by a combination of a dial and touchpad which is a pain at first but, once you get the hang of it, is pretty good.
Not so good is the gear control, which is on a stick on the right of the steering wheel, where most Asian cars have their indicator. It means that if you want to indicate left, and use the wrong hand, the car goes into neutral. Scary.
The only other big issue I had was the wind noise coming through where the soft-top joins with the front of the car. And there’s not a great deal of space in the boot — 360 litres with the roof up.
But still, that’s all forgotten when you look at the 19-inch AMG alloys and hypnotic front grille with little circles of metal that seem to float.
Oh, and of course, there’s that roof.
Possibly the nicest Merc I’ve driven. It’s a work of art, too.
Model C300 Cabriolet
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission Nine-speed automatic