Test Drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet

How the impressive car held up on the tiny roads between Italy and Slovenia

by Abigail Bassett

There is something romantic about cruising through a place that feels still somewhat wild and untouched. A place that has served as the crossroads for trade, culture, and war for centuries has plenty of stories to tell in its red-starred roadside markers and tiny houses whose walls line the roads of small towns, making it feel like you’re driving through deep, impenetrable moats. Gliding back and forth across the border between Italy and Slovenia in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet makes that romanticism even more tangible.

Developed side-by-side with the swooping lines of the C-Class Coupe, the drop-top version of the baby S-Class cuts the striking and familiar lines of a brand new Mercedes-Benz. Swooping belt lines and shoulder lines finish in a flare of a taut, if not perhaps slightly Sebring-styled, rear that was specially designed for the Cabriolet. This is the first of its kind in Mercedes-Benz’s mid-level C-Class, and, top up or down, the Cabriolet carves out a distinctive niche in the luxury car brand. Robert Lesnick, the man who heads up Mercedes-Benz’s exterior design for everything from the tiny A-Class to the flagship S-Class, grew up in the mist-shrouded hills of Slovenia. In a recent interview at the New York Auto Show, he talked a bit about how the new design language came to be. “The main drive behind creating the exterior proportion of the entirety of the Mercedes-Benz car line-up was the attraction of the human body. Things that by instinct you think are right make sense in design,” Lesnick tells us.

That design gives the C-Class Cabrio an air of luxury and approachability, both inside and out. It sits lower than its four-door counterpart, and runs on 17-inch wheels with an optional upgrade to 19-inchers. From the front—the most striking angle—you get the three-pointed star and a diamond grille that pulls back into a long and taut hood, then up into a multilayer soft-top roof. While the Cabriolet lacks the Coupe’s sloping roofline when the top is up, it still maintains the spirit of the C Coupe. Inside, the cabin is all C-Class. Luxe fabrics and materials like open pore wood, brushed metals, and supple leathers envelop occupants. You also get Mercedes’ easy to use technology interface that includes the COMAND system. Toggle through settings, temperatures, radio stations, and features of the C-Class using the rotary wheel nestled between seats to customize your experience. Sure, the C-Class Cabriolet is technically a four-seater but, like its Coupe brother, the rear seats are small by adult standards. Cargo volume with the top down is surprisingly ample and can, according to Mercedes, accommodate two golf bags and an overnight bag in the trunk.

Also included in the 2017 Mercedes C-Class Cabriolet is a suite of technology that assists with both driving comfort and safety. Mercedes’ stellar (though optional) semi-autonomous system Distronic Plus allows the driver to set a selected speed and then rest their fingers lightly on the steering wheel as a series of cameras and sonar and radar sensors do the rest of the work to follow traffic and/or lane markings. All levels of the C Class Cabriolet come equipped with systems that help drivers stay focused and can autonomously brake at up to 124mph. The system can also brake at up to 31mph for stationary vehicles.

Driving a convertible in poor weather might seem like an uncomfortable task, but the C-Class Cabriolet makes the irrational seem perfectly logical. As Christian Früh, the Director of Development of the C-Class says, “This is not a purely rational car. It speaks to the heart, too. Marriage works better if you appreciate the mind and the heart.”

That “heart” consists of just three increasingly powerful engine variants for the U.S. market wrapped in various levels of trim—the Mercedes-Benz C300, the C400 4Matic, the AMG C43 4Matic, the AMG C63 and AMG C63 S. Choose a 4, 6, or beefy 8-cylinder engine to up the power from a base of 245 hp to a whopping 510 hp. The C300 and C400 get Mercedes’ 9-speed automatic transmission while the C63 varieties get a 7-speed. Step up through the product line and you get an increasingly sporty experience with more torque and a stiffer ride. An optional air suspension allows for a softening or stiffening of the ride based on road conditions and how hard you want to drive. Despite the added weight of the convertible top, the C-Class Cabriolet feels agile in corners and is well-balanced and communicative on tiny European roads that can sometimes be less than perfectly smooth.

This is not a purely rational car. It speaks to the heart, too. Marriage works better if you appreciate the mind and the heart

The entry level C300 gets Mercedes’ suite of dynamic selections that adjusts steering feel and engine responsiveness (and if you opt for the air suspension, it will adjust ride as well), based on your preferred mode. Choose Eco mode for the gas-friendly experience, Comfort for a more responsive and direct experience, Sport and Sport+ for the more raucous driver-focused runs, and Individual to find your Goldilocks setting. Sport and Sport+, while fun on twisting mountain roads, seem a bit over-the-top for the C-Class Cabriolet, but tooling around medieval towns in Comfort is prime for the luxury touring experience.

The sad truth is that most of the time, the C-Class Cabriolet will be driven with the top up, because it’s positively silent and cozy. But when the top is dropped you can utilize the optional Air Scarf technology that blows heated or cooled air onto the backs of the necks of the front passengers. Combined with the clever adaptive climate control that fluctuates based on speed and ambient temperature inside the cabin, you can drive with an open sky view in temperatures other cabriolets would balk at. Mercedes also includes an optional Air Cap system that raises and lowers a draught stopper at the top of the windshield and at the rear of a car—effectively enlarging the interior wind bubble and reducing the air turbulence for occupants. In wet, grey Slovenia these combined features were more than welcome, especially when it began to rain. The top can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 31mph which proved helpful when we got caught in a downpour on the motorway.

Exact pricing hasn’t been released yet, but it’s expected the 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet will start at approximately $50,000.

Images by Abigail Bassett