First Drives

2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet First Drive: Benz Goes Soft

BMW and Audi are About to Have Seriously Sexy Convertible Company

BMW and Audi are About to Have Seriously Sexy Convertible Company

When impressing others with The New Hotness is the main goal, 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet buyers will want to be seen on the boulevard sooner than later. Just a year or two after the new C-Class convertible arrives this fall, Audi will introduce the redesigned A5 and S5 Cabriolets, and Infiniti is preparing a drop-top version of its sexy Q60 coupe. BMW‘s 4 Series hard-top convertible is about to be refreshed, and then there’s the new wildcard, the Range Rover Evoque crossover convertible. Is Mercedes‘ latest roofless car worth buying? I drove the C-Class convertible in 241-, 362- , and 503-hp forms to find out.

Start with design: If you’re not sure the car excites you visually, know that it looks great in person with the top down, and not bad at all with the top up. Considering the top will be up much of the time, try finding a C-Class your dealer has ordered in a more interesting top color than black. The dark brown option is tough to distinguish from the black, and red is the showiest option. One particularly attractive C-Class test car featured the fourth top color, blue, matched with blue paint. This should be no afterthought—if you’re forgoing the BMW 4 Series hardtop’s one-color, coupe-like style, take full advantage of available color combinations for Mercedes’ impractical two-door softtop. The 4 Series hardtop looks like less of a compromise (some may not even realize it’s a convertible), though, which may outweigh the benefit of a two-tone color combo on a soft-top convertible.

It’s true, the C-Class has twice as many seats as the SLC-Class (formerly called the SLK), but since the C-Class sedan’s rear seat isn’t even very spacious, there’s not much hope for the convertible. (It’s possible the upcoming redesign of the E-Class Cabriolet will offer more space for four average-sized adults.) In every C Cab test car I drove, the back of the front seats—what your knees will press into if you’re in the rear seats—were hard instead of a soft. Still, as occasional-use seats and bonus cargo space, the C-Class Cabriolet is likely to be about even with rivals from BMW and Audi. Cargo space in the Benz’s actual trunk with the top up is 8.8 cubic feet, just below the Range Rover Evoque’s 8.9 cubic feet, down from the 2016 Audi A5‘s 10.2 cubic feet, and up from the BMW 4 Series’ 7.8 cubic feet.

On back roads of eastern Italy and Slovenia, the C300, AMG C43, and AMG C63 S all performed solidly. The C300, offered in rear-drive and 4Matic all-wheel-drive forms, is expected to comprise a majority of C-Class drop-top sales, and the car’s turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 delivers. Base-engine luxury cars have come a long way (check out the Audi A4 2.0T sedan’s 0-60 time HERE), and the C300 is no exception. Rarely did I want more oomph than could be delivered by the 241 hp at 5,500 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque from 1,300 to 4,000 rpm, and the engine sounded better than expected for a turbo-four (not as good as the AMG-badged models, but still decent). The new nine-speed automatic provided smooth shifts; only in a couple slower-speed situations did it lag a bit.

The Mercedes-AMG C43 that’s next up in the C-Class range shares the same nine-speed but benefits from faster shift times, the automaker says. The reality is that with Mercedes’ Dynamic Select system standard on all models, any average driver can, without much trouble, adjust the car’s engine/transmission responsiveness, suspension, steering, and whether the standard engine stop-start is on. Paddle shifters are standard on the C300, but they were more useful on the C43, to make the most of the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6’s more muscular engine note and occasional snaps and crackles from the exhaust. The six is good for 362 hp at 5,500 rpm and 384 lb-ft from 2,000-4,200 rpm, helping the all-wheel-drive C43 hit 60 in a Mercedes-estimated 4.7 seconds. So it’s quicker and slightly louder than the C300, and the suspension is more buttoned down, though still comfortable. And, more important than the car’s sporty visual upgrades, it’s got AMG badges inside and out.

“There was an uncertainty about how will the cars [be] received from the market,” said Mercedes-AMG chief Tobias Moers in an interview, about the decision to rebrand midlevel models including the U.S.’ C450 AMG as the AMG C43. It wasn’t clear whether customers would accept the updated models as real AMG models, but Moers says “they did.”

If the halfway AMG model isn’t AMG-y enough from you, eschew that all-wheel-drive convertible’s 31/69 percent front/rear bias for the rear-drive C63 and C63 S. Both models get a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic—go to Europe if you want a six-speed manual paired with gas and diesel engines that would be considered underpowered by American standards.

Under the C63’s more muscular hood sits a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 with 469 hp and 479 lb-ft for the C63 and 503 hp and 516 lb-ft for the C63 S. Whether the S is worth the extra cost comes down to the importance of bragging rights (prices haven’t been announced as of this writing). You won’t be able to distinguish the C63’s 4.1-second time from the C63 S’ 4.0-second estimate, and we’d like to meet the guy who buys a luxury convertible to travel at the C63 S’ electronically limited top speed of 174 mph (280 km/h), up from 155 mph (250 km/h) on the C63 and C43, and 130 mph (209 km/h) on the C300.

Aside from bragging rights and rewarding quickness, the V-8 burble always in the background helps justify either AMG C63 model over the AMG C43. Still, the C63’s ride is noticeably firmer over harsh pavement than the other C Cabriolets, and you’ll be stopping more frequently for gas on that weekend road trip. The regular C63 is equipped with a mechanical limited-slip differential, and the C63 S gets an electronic one.

Read about how the C63 sedan performed in a comparison against the BMW M3 and Cadillac ATS-V HERE.

No matter the model, the C’s top drops in about 20 seconds at speeds of up to 31 mph (50 km/h); the 4 Series hardtop is just as quick but will fold only up to 11 mph (18 km/h). With the top up, the Mercedes was quiet enough, and I’m a huge fan of the Airscarf heated air vent integrated into the front seats that’s standard on the C300. A similar feature is available on the BMW, too, creating more temptation to put the top down.

The automaker’s long-time-in-the-making Aircap system, a super fancy wind- and draft-blocker, has a similar goal. A thin panel rises slightly above the top of the windshield and is joined by a mesh panel that rises from between the two rear-seat headrests. Partially explaining why I didn’t notice much of a difference from the driver’s seat, we hear the system is especially effective in increasing comfort for passengers who’ve fit in the rear seats. If you won’t use those rear seats often, the standard rear-seat-blocking wind blocker might be effective enough for those in the front seat. It turns out the system has the biggest impact on passenger comfort in longer cars, so it should make a good addition to six-figure S-Class Cabriolets.

Not everyone has that kind of money for a convertible, though, which is where the new C-Class Cabriolet’s rich interior comes in. The C300’s matte wood trim looks great, and the C63 gets beautiful carbon fiber center-stack trim. I’m less enthused about the C43’s light silver aluminum trim (wood is available), but at least the C300 and C43 offer the cool diamond-block grille trim we’ve seen on other Mercedes cars.

2017 C300 Cabriolet standard features include LED headlights, a rear view camera, heated power front seats, heated neck-warming front-seat vents, hands-free keyless access, and the Dynamic Select system.

Pricing for the 2017 C-Class Cabriolet hasn’t yet been released before the cars go on sale this fall, but we expect the base price to match the 4 Series hardtop right above $50,000 USD—that’s nearly a Smart Fortwo cheaper than Benz’s current least expensive four-seat drop-top, the E-Class Cabriolet. In this competitive class, what the C offers is a choice of engines and contrasting soft-top colors, backed by solid driving dynamics. If you don’t mind how common the C-Class’ face is and won’t be easily swayed by new four-seat convertibles arriving in the next two years, consider the Benz when you’re ready for a step up from the Camaro, Mustang, Beetle, and Cascada convertibles.