Test Drive: 2011 Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet

There are precious few automakers who can put together a luxury car like Mercedes-Benz, and the E-class represents the mid-size luxury line for Mercedes in America.? And among the E-class offerings, there?s nothing as luxurious as an E550 Cabriolet. For pure power and enjoyment, this is your car.

Starting at $64,800, the E550 Cabriolet gives you a refined luxury 4-seat convertible, with fully automatic top operation and every modern convenience you could want.

The 5.5-liter direct-injected V8 engine produces 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque ? all neatly available to use with a close-ratio 7-speed automatic transmission with steering-mounted paddle shifters.? Yet even with its breathtaking acceleration and speed, the Benz gives you a respectable 15/22 MPG.

Driving the E550 just begs for an open road. Really, what you want is the autobahn where you can let this car get up on its hind legs and run at something north of 100 MPH. But you might have to make do with the rural interstate or some winding mountain road ? the E550 is going to eat up the asphalt in any configuration you can find. The handling is firm, sure, and flat, and the engine and transmission work together to give you the most advantageous gearing for the moment. Shifting is so silky-smooth that you might think you?ve got a continuously variable box, but the performance of real gears is undeniable.

Inside, of course you?ve got the full Mercedes experience. Just a few years ago, the E-class had a few unfortunate areas where the automaker forgot the demanding nature of its customer base ? but that?s all ancient history now, and this year?s E-class proves that Mercedes has been sweating the details. Touch surfaces, controls, and even the line-up of seams in the leather have all been improved. All luxury cars offer a control center these days, and the Mercedes Benz Cockpit Management and Data (COMAND) system allows you to control the audio, video, hands-free calling and (optional) GPS navigation functions — all of which can be accessed either through the integrated steering-wheel controls or with the COMAND central controller. To tell the truth, COMAND could be easier to learn, but if you own the car, you?re going to get used to it quickly.

Finally, the Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet is perfectly comfortable. The seats are well made and adjustable 14 ways. Three of those ways are just for the lumbar support, but you also get heated and cooled seating surfaces in the front seats and three memory settings to get things set up perfectly.

The bottom line on the Mercedes-Benz E550 is simple ? if you can afford the price tag, this is the luxury cabriolet to have.

More from Our Auto Expert