Mercedes C-Class Cabriolet

Popular Benz flips lid for the first time

ALEX INWOOD

IT SHOULD have been the perfect place to launch a new convertible. Iím in Italy, in the middle of summer, on the coast, where the winding roads flirt with the sea. But itís raining. Really raining.

Itís a shame because before me sits an AMG C63 S Cabriolet, and it looks brilliant. Aggressive, stylish and elegant all at once, it shares the C-Class Coupeís flared arches, angular nose and tough stance on staggered, deeply dished alloys, but dropping the roof adds an extra splash of class.

Promises to go like stink, too.

Under the bonnet is AMGís 375kW/700Nm boosted V8, which should be fun on slippery roads.

Believe it or not, this is the first time Mercedes has offered a cabriolet version of the C-Class.

The larger CLK plugged the gap a while back, but no ragtop before this has worn a dedicated C badge.

Like the Coupe on which it is FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE based, the Cabriolet is pitched at younger buyers and Aussie versions score AMG line styling as standard, which brings bigger wheels and a more aggressive bodykit. We also get a thicker Ďacousticí version of the cloth roof, which can be opened or closed in 20 seconds at up to 50km/h.

Four variants are coming Down Under, two tweaked by AMG.

Regular versions include the entry-level C200 and mid-spec C300, both of which are powered by a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, producing 135kW/300Nm and 180kW/370Nm respectively.

AMG models include the allwheel- drive turbo V6 C43 and the C63 S you see here.

Power is sent solely to the rear wheels in the C63, a fact all too obvious on wet Italian bitumen.

Gentle prods of the throttle send the traction-control light into blinking fits, yet even in these sodden conditions it feels trustworthy. The cabrio has the same wider tracks and sophisticated multi-link rear suspension as the C63 Coupe and the dynamics are predictable, with excellent roadholding.

Cabrio versions weigh about 125kg more than the Coupe, and while the extra heft blunts the C63ís cornering and braking slightly, it remains a seriously fun car to drive quickly.

Mercifully, I score some dry running in the C43 and C300.

The C43 misses out on the C63ís blistered arches and menacing stance, but its 270kW/520Nm twin-turbo V6 ensures it feels a proper AMG product. It has oodles of grip, thanks to all-wheel drive with a 31:69 split, but while this initial taste is promising, itís not as playful or as engaging as the C63.

The most enjoyable drive of the day, though, is delivered by the C300. Our test car has optional air suspension and on smooth Italian roads and 19-inch wheels, the ride is plush.

The 2.0-litre four matches the Cabrioletís character, with a muscular mid-range, a rorty note and gutsy performance.

Then thereís the open-air refinement. Drop the roof in any variant and thereís very little wind noise, even at 140km/h.

The cabin mirrors the rest of the C-Class range for design, quality and standard safety equipment. The only real gripes are the inevitable loss of luggage space, which drops to 360L with the roof up or 285L with it down, and rear seat space. The seats are comfy and thereís plenty of toe-room, but tall passengers will brush their heads on the roof.

Even so, the Cabriolet mounts a convincing case. The body structure is strong, the styling attractive and no variant feels like an overly compromised or spoiled version of the Coupe. And thatís high praise for a ragtop.

PLUS & MINUS

Extra weight dulls handling; price premium over coupe; boot space Styling; performance and sound of twin-turbo V8; body strength

TUBBY 01

Cabrioís extra heft is found in the roof mechanism, which weighs about 50kg, and the 70-odd kilos worth of extra structural bracing.

SPECCY 02

Cloth roof uses technology found in the flagship S-Class Cabriolet and is in a choice of four colours: brown, blue, black or red.

TECHY 03

Special high-tech, heat-reflecting leather is available that keeps the seats cooler when exposed to direct sunlight. Handy in hot climates like ours.

All-paw attack

The entire C43 family (sedan, wagon, coupe and cabriolet) arrives here in November.

All are powered by a 270kW/520Nm twinturbo V6 and cop AMG calibrations for the suspension, steering and nine-speed auto, plus all-wheel drive. A sports exhaust is also available that delivers a bump in volume, though it sounds artificial. Prices for the C43 sedan should start around $100K, while the cab will be the most expensive at $120K.

OR TRY THESE...

BMW M4 Competition Convertible $165,900

New competition pack adds more grunt, tweaked suspension and a beefier sports exhaust that improves the M4ís flat note. Still canít match C63 for aural fireworks, though.

Audi RS5 Cabriolet $177,510

Audiís ageing RS5 Cabriolet is outpaced in this company. Aspirated V8 sounds fantastic, but RS5 lacks the firepower and rigidity of M4 and C63. Next-gen RS5 is tipped to arrive in 2017 and could ditch eight cylinders for a twin-turbo V6.