The rain comes almost as soon as I set off. First in large, coin-sized droplets that thud against the canvas top, and then in a steadier, more even flow, with rivulets running down the side of the car. I twirl the slick steering, point the nose of the Merc down the side road and ease forward. There’s a vineyard up ahead and the winding road looks quite inviting. A mere pat on the accelerator gets the C cabriolet moving smartly, and the purr from under the bonnet and the creamy throttle response are so sophisticated, the car really feels relaxed and easy to drive.
In fact, its whole demeanour is laid-back and fuss free. And sitting in the driver’s seat feels more like sitting in your favourite armchair, with you cocooned in your own bubble of refinement and calm. These thick pile leather chairs aren’t the regular seats off the C-class for sure: they feel so sumptuous and comfortable. And with the driving mode set to Comfort, the C-class cabriolet just seems to glide over any and all of the rough patches; of which, there are quite a few on these side roads. What also gets my attention as we carry on up the road is that the suspension works silently, and there’s almost no up and down movement from these air springs. And it seems to just float over some of the rougher bits like it’s a mini S-class when I up the pace a bit. Magic.
Then, just as it seems like the rain just won’t let up, we see a patch of blue in the distance and the rain slows to a soft drizzle. Time to jump out, find a suitable backdrop and take some pictures. And doesn’t Merc’s new drop-top look just stunning; especially with the hood down. There’s a nice wedge-like taper to the rear, the sharp lines stand out on this ‘Polar White’ car and there seems to be plenty of character from just about any angle.
Mercedes says the all-new C-class convertible, its first ever, visually exhibits an independence of character with plenty of sporty appeal, and truth be told, that’s just about right. This car, apart from the nose, looks almost nothing like the C-class sedan. Even the dimensions are different. While the length and wheelbase are the same, the roofline is much lower and the size of the boot, at 285 litres and 360 litres, hood open and closed, is substantially reduced as well.
Finally, the sun peeps out and though the sky is filled with a mass of black clouds, there’s no rain. And this means I can flip the S-class-sourced hood open via the button near the elbow box; the well-orchestrated ballet of the canvas top, supports and pistons providing quite a visual treat. And what a joy it is to drive this refined, comfortable car with the top down, the moist, cool air wafting in.
What I also discover later, as I put my foot down and use more of the power on hand is that there’s an attractive elasticity to the manner in which the engine and the nine-speed gearbox function together. It does, after all, have a useful 245hp under the hood, and with a claimed 0-100kph time of 6.4 seconds, it’s pretty quick too, enough to keep me grinning when I put my foot down. There’s no sudden surge of acceleration when I put my foot ◊ ∆ down and there’s no real kick in the back either, but what I do get is a linear and sustained push all the way from low engine speeds. And the motor has a nice snarl towards the top-end too.
What’s also quite enjoyable is the handling. The C-class convertible has a bit of a dull steering, but the body control is fairly good and as long as you are patient and wait for the car to settle down in corners, it’s pretty handy when I up the pace as well. And this allows me to use the fluid steering to guide the car from apex to apex without too much fuss or bother. What’s also nice is that you can lean on brakes hard when you need to scrub off speed quite easily. Yes, there’s a bit of scuttle shake when you ride over some really bad roads and there’s a hint of flex too as you go hard from lock to lock, but apart from that, this new-generation cabriolet feels as stiff as a sedan for the most part.
What’s not too promising, however, is rear seat comfort. Yes, access to the rear is decent and if you have a cooperative co-passenger up front, legroom is manageable too, but the near vertical backrest makes you sit ramrod straight, and that’s far from ideal for long drives. What’s impressive is that the insulation of the triple-layer hood is so good, you can carry on a conversation without any typical hood flapping or excessive wind noise. And while Merc’s signature, tough-as-a-tank build may now be gone, probably forever, the insanely high levels of fit, finish and quality still remain. This is still a cabin you want to endlessly touch and feel and the small pools of light give it an even nicer ambience.
Drop-tops have never been really popular in India. Yes, the right car in the right place at the right time can be sheer magic, but finding the right conditions in which to drive with the hood open can be quite a challenge. And then there’s the fact that these cars aren’t very practical either. The C 300, for example, has just two doors, the rear seats aren’t very comfortable and with the convertible top folding into the boot, luggage space is substantially reduced too. But this isn’t a Merc you buy with your head, and looked at in this manner, the C 300 truly excels. Of course, it will be a bit expensive when Merc begins to import it sometime towards the end of the year with its Rs 65 lakh expected price tag, and the jump from a regular C-class is pretty substantial too. But look at this as a barely scaled-down S-class cabriolet at approximately half the price and with roughly 70 percent of its ability intact and you’ll begin to appreciate the true uniqueness of this car. Rs 65 lakh bargain; yeah, this probably is it.