Wednesday, July 20, 2011 0 comments
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Exclusivity. It's a fabulous thing, really. A certain something, often built of superior craftsmanship, sometimes of smoke and mirrors, that makes your product special, enables you to sell it for a premium and ensures that your customers won't feel like one of the herd.
For a long, long time, Mercedes-Benz had that in spades. And it was built of superior craftsmanship. Those of us of a certain age can remember when Mercedes-Benzes weren't especially pretty (the stunning 300SL Gullwing a notable exception), and weren't especially fast (again excepting the 300SL), but sold to discriminating buyers for about two and a half times the sticker price of a domestic sedan or convertible in its size class because they weren't simply engineered, they were over-engineered. This was a thing of value, likely to last far more than two and a half times longer than the domestic.
And as they became prettier and faster, and more expensive, a generation of car buyers became like little kids with their noses pressed against the showroom window pane...."someday...someday..."
And that's when the MBA's (or Germany's equivalent) spoke up. "Imagine if we could sell all those people the car of their dreams. We'd have to move into size and price classes we don't currently compete in, but we could do that by cutting out some of the unnecessary engineering. The materials don't have to be that good...they just have to be good enough. The price tags will be lower for some cars, but think of what we'll make in volume."
And thus began, in the mid to late 90s, Mercedes-Benz's pursuit of market share. They went from building the best car possible to building as many cars as possible. Loyal buyers noticed and began shopping elsewhere. New buyers, confronted with lesser and cheaper while looking down the hood at the three-pointed star began to wonder what all the shouting was about.
Well, lately, Mercedes has begun to show signs of finding the way back...building cars that look and feel like something special...and the E350 Cabriolet is one of those. Larger and more useful than the SLK roadster and significantly less expensive than the two-seat SL, the E350 is user-friendly and imparts a sense of premium goods from the moment you slide behind the wheel.
Pictures don't do the interior justice. And the no-cost option of burl walnut wood trim goes a long way to adding warmth. But every surface, every control, has a premium feel.
Starting at $56,850, the E350 Cabriolet commes with a 3.5 liter, 24-valve aluminum V8 that makes 268 horsepower. Not a shocking amount, but it's good enough for 0-60 in 6.4 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 130. The power is routed through a 7-speed driver-adaptive automatic transmission with sport and economy shift modes. As with most new cars, the extra gears pay off in fuel economy, with the EPA estimating 17 city and 25 highway miles per gallon.
The list of standard equipment is so long, we're simply going to link to Mercedes' website to fill in the details. Suffice it to say that the MBUSA press fleet folks believed only two options were needed on the test car...Diamond White paint for $1,515 (it is gorgeous) and a Premium Package (40GB hard drive GPS navigation, real-time traffic data, voice control, a 6GB Music Register, the Harmon/Kardon LOGIC7 Surround Sound System with Dolby Digital 5.1, HD Radio and SiriusXM satellite radio, iPod/mp3 interfaces and cables, heated front seats, AIRSCARF...a heater built into the headrest for your neck...and a rear-view camera) for $4,000.
All this for $63,240 with destination and delivery charges. Having driven a lot of 30 and 40-something thousand dollar cars, I have to say the E350 Cabriolet is worth its price sticker if those others are worth theirs. It's a special car. And it's nice to know Mercedes-Benz is back in the business of building those.