Convertible season is finally here. Here are two German cabriolets going head-to-head: the BMW 440i xDrive versus the Mercedes-Benz E400 4MATIC. Both are two-door, four-seat luxury cabriolets with all-wheel-drive systems for year-round driveability.
MERCEDES: Completely redesigned, it is larger than before yet retains elegant, refined and classic lines along its body. It looks stellar, top up or down.
BMW: On the outside, the refreshed 440i is bold, athletic and muscular in appearance. And the paint colour – a cool shade called Avus Blue Metallic – comes courtesy of the BMW Individual portfolio, which lets you special-order paint ($3,940), upholstery and stitching. In contrast to the Benz’s soft-top roof, which saves weight, the hard-top roof on the Bimmer makes for a slightly quieter ride in the cabin.
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MERCEDES: The cabin is high-end, high-quality and high-tech; it oozes class, style and sophistication. Graphics on my tester’s dual 12.3-inch high-resolution display screens are crisp, clear and easy to read, even under the sun’s bright rays. The touchpad on the centre console controls most functions including the navigation and entertainment systems and with a little time and practice, it becomes easier to use. Accent lighting, available in 64 shades of the rainbow, runs across the door panels, dash and centre control, creating an upscale atmosphere in the cabin at night.
BMW: Conventional buttons, knobs and dials are a welcomed, refreshing change from the competition. Functions are more intuitive. The main centre screen has six tiles for shortcuts, taking you quickly, for example, to the navigation, communication and media/radio systems. The iDrive controller on the centre console lets you easily move from tile to tile. Ergonomically, it’s well-placed and easy to navigate through the tiles without taking your eyes off the road for long periods of time. The white leather upholstery in the cabin looks clean. It gets dirty fast, though wheel stains from my suitcase, which couldn’t fit into the trunk with the top down, wipe off easily with water and a bit of elbow grease.
Dropping the top on both cars is easy – one button on the centre console raises or lowers the roof, which you can do while driving at slow speeds. Both vehicles have neck-level heating in the back of the front seats, which keeps you cozy and warm on a cool summer night. The Mercedes has a wind blocker that pops up behind the rear seats with the touch of a button; the BMW, on the other hand, has a removable wind blocker, stored behind the rear seats, which requires manual installation. Both work well at keeping the wind at bay, but Mercedes is easier to use in a pinch.
MERCEDES: Smooth, powerful and confident ride in the E400 thanks to the 329-horsepower 3.0-litre twin-turbo V-6 mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Its road manners are well composed; it soaks up potholes and other degradations in the road with ease and comfort. Great braking power and passing power. It’ll hit 0-100 km/h in 5.5 seconds.
BMW: Sportier driving dynamics with a low centre of gravity, tighter steering and stiffer suspension. Power comes from a 320-horsepower turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic. Acceleration is instant and effortless, shaving a second off the E400 cab, hitting 0-100 in 5.4 seconds. It’s exhilarating to drive, especially on twisty, winding roads where it hugs the pavement perfectly.
MERCEDES AND BMW: Cargo space isn’t a strong selling point for most two-door four-seater convertibles. The E400 has 385 litres of trunk space with the roof closed, 295 litres with the roof folded down – not bad for a convertible. The 440i has 370 litres with the roof closed, but that dwindles to only 220 litres of cargo space when the roof is folded down. The BMW has a neat contraption that lifts the trunk higher so you can fit more goodies in it when the top is down. Both vehicles have long doors and a wide opening, making it somewhat easier to enter and exit the rear seats. Like most cabriolets in this class, you need to be a contortionist to get into the two rear seats, especially when the roof is closed. Once in the back, it’s a bit more comfortable. The Mercedes has slightly more legroom than the BMW, but the BMW has extra headroom when the roof is closed. And it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic riding in the back seats of the Bimmer because of the larger rear windows and a higher roofline.
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This cabriolet edges ahead because of its advanced technology including its mind-blowing semi-autonomous driving capabilities. Starting price is $80,300; as tested, it is $93,100.
The ride and handling of the BMW 440i xDrive cabriolet excels – it’s sportier and more dynamic than the Benz. A hard-top roof and xDrive all-wheel drive make it an attractive option for year-round driving. Base price starts at $72,700; as tested, it’s $87,680.