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2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 Cabriolet drives a second wind

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2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

When the days were really short last winter, and the pre-vaccine despair had set in, I got some welcome relief in the form of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 Cabriolet. Call it naturopathy, but in the dark days before Pfizer and Moderna became vernacular, the Cabriolet came to play here in the Gulf of Mexico’s backyard, just in time for the lyrical 70-degree days that flagrantly defy winter.

The Cabriolet came just in time to give me a social-distancing second wind, and a second shot at the aborted summer of 2020. Here’s where it cured my seasonal blues—and where needed its own remedies.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: Mild-hybrid, served up purely smooth. 

A 362-hp mild-hybrid 3.0-liter turbo-6 and effortless 9-speed automatic powered this all-wheel-drive Cabriolet. I wasn’t convinced that the changeover in powertrains would do much for the E-Class, but the new inline engine family spreads torque as smoothly as speculoos, and its mild-hybrid system gives it effortless low-end power and excellent gas mileage for its size.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Miss: Back seat space is slim. 

We’d spend days in the Cabrio’s multi-adjustable cooled front seats; they’re fabulous. The back seat, not so much. Two adults slipped into the back seat of the Cabriolet, but neither wanted a repeat performance. Medium-size passengers will do fine for short sunset runs down the shore road, but for the three-hour round-trip to Costco, you’ll want to borrow a friend’s SUV.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: The look.

The mid-size Mercedes convertible and coupe have polished their shapes to near-perfection. (We’ve driven the Benz E450 Coupe up north; it looks good even in salt spray.) The E450 Cab fits in at the BBQ stand and the show-off spot in front of the club. Where it fits in best is the empty gulf-front drive where the only things keeping pace are rare birds and a gentle breeze. With a diamond-flecked grille, sharp LED eyebrows, and stylish AMG Line wheels, the E450 Cabriolet profiles in the only good and acceptable way.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

Miss: Touchpads on steering wheel and screens on the dash.

Haters live among us and they say the E450’s touchscreens and steering-wheel touchpads are misses. They either too small or too inexpensive-looking or too sensitive or something else we heard but didn’t absorb. Sure, they may be flawed—but flaws aren’t always fatal. In my Cabriolet tester’s case, the Insignia-esque look of the displays was offset with open-pore wood and red-and-black leather.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet (E450 4Matic)

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet (E450 4Matic)

Hit: “Hey, Mercedes.”

 The E450 doesn’t mind being a hollaback girl. Say “Hey, Mercedes” and it responds to a wealth of natural language commands that can change audio functions, find your favorite podcast, choose a new route around paralytic hurricane-induced traffic, and find a coffee spot with patio seating.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: Top-down details.

The power-folding roof can go away in under 20 seconds and at speeds of up to 30 mph, but the E450 Cabriolet also has sun-reflecting leather, the Airscarf neck-warming vents, and a wind deflector, all standard.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: In touch with safety.

The E450 Cabrio gets standard automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, a surround-view camera system, and automatic parking assistance. This one came also with a Driver Assistance Package with adaptive cruise control that reduces the speed for curves, traffic sign recognition that adjusts cruise control speed, active lane control, and automatic lane changes at the tap of the turn-signal stalk. The Benz systems have been some of the best since their introduction and their fluid and precise supplemental behavior lets drivers take a second away from the controls.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: It’s well stocked.

The E450 comes standard with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, heated front seats, spectacular Burmester sound, and 18-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires. Spend up to the AMG Line trim if you want, but don’t miss out on the cooled multi-contour front seats or the high-wattage low-gloss wood trim. 

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2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic Cabriolet

Base price: $75,500, including destination

Price as tested: $86,320 including an AMG Line styling package, advanced safety gear, a head-up display, and cooled multi-contour front seats

Drivetrain: 362-hp mild-hybrid 3.0-liter turbo-6, 9-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 25 combined

The hits: Exceptional front-seat comfort, powertrain smoothness, top-down driving, sterling audio and voice recognition

The misses: Slim back-seat leg room, steering-wheel touchpad sensitivity

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Autos

Harley-Davidson to make LiveWire a standalone brand

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Harley-Davidson LiveWire charging at Electrify America charging station

The Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle will spawn a standalone all-electric brand, the company announced Monday in a press release. The first LiveWire-branded motorcycle will be unveiled July 8, ahead of the International Motorcycle Show, the company said.

That marks a departure from the initial Harley-Davidson LiveWire, which was launched in 2019 as a single model within the Harley brand. It’s similar to the progression of Hyundai’s Genesis and Ioniq nameplates, which started out as individual models within the Hyundai brand, before expanding to standalone brands.

LiveWire will be “headquartered virtually,” with staff located in Silicon Valley and Milwaukee, according to Harley. The new brand will get its own engineering team dedicated to electric powertrains, but will also lean on Harley’s existing resources for engineering and manufacturing (the current Harley-Davidson LiveWire is built at the same York, Pennsylvania, factory as other bikes).

Harley-Davidson LiveWire charging at Electrify America charging station

Harley is also planning dedicated LiveWire showrooms, starting in California. However, the company also said LiveWire “will work with participating dealers from the Harley-Davidson network as an independent brand” and will “blend digital and physical retail formats,” indicating online sales may be a possibility.

Unveiled at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, the initial Harley-Davidson LiveWire sports a 110-mile range and 0-60 mph acceleration of 3.5 seconds. It hit the market in late 2019 with a $29,799 base price (before destination), which typically buys a higher-tier gasoline bike.

Several dedicated companies have launched electric motorcycles, but Harley is the only legacy manufacturer to wade in so far in the U.S. Polaris bought electric-motorcycle firm Brammo in 2015, and has a partnership with Zero Motorcycles, but so far it’s only discussed electric ATVs. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha are working to develop a standardized swappable battery system for the Japanese market.

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Porsche Sonderwunsch program to rival Ferrari Special Projects

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Porsche Sonderwunsch program

Ferrari for years has been offering its most loyal—and deep pocketed—customers the opportunity to dream up their ultimate car and have it built on the chassis of a contemporary model.

It’s a program called Ferrari Special Projects, and over the years it’s resulted in some real stunners, as well as some real head scratchers.

Porsche had a similar program back in the 1970s called Sonderwunsch, German for “special request,” though it was much more exclusive than Ferrari Special Projects. One of the cars developed via the original program is the 993-generation 911 speedster, of which just two were built. One of those was built for Jerry Seinfeld.

Now Porsche wants to invite more customers to its Sonderwunsch program. Like Ferrari’s program, Sonderwunsch will enable a customer to work closely with Porsche’s designers to dream up a car that can be built as a true one-off or as a limited series.

Porsche Sonderwunsch program

For the less brave, Sonderwunsch will also enable a customer to customize colors and materials—on both existing cars as well as new cars yet to be built. This will be particularly useful for owners of classic Porsches that may want to update some elements to modern standards.

Examples of some of the options that will be available include custom wraps, custom paint finishes, racing numbers, prints on the floor mats, puddle lamps, accessories, and even performance parts.

Porsche said some of the options available will start showing up on its online configurator.

“It is our goal to provide customers around the globe with even more accurately tailored and demand-based products within the context of classic, existing and new cars,” Alexander Fabig, head of the individualization and classic departments at Porsche. “Starting with new possibilities for individualization and personalization of individual components, through the additional range of performance parts, up to the realization of uniquely individualized sports cars, we have the right option for every customer.”

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Stellantis pledges 10-year investment for each of its brands

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Carlos Tavares

With the merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France’s PSA Group to form Stellantis completed in January, everyone remains eager to see what CEO Carlos Tavares has planned for the new automaker’s 13 brands.

Fortunately Tavares isn’t interested in retiring any of the brands just yet, including the likes of Alfa Romeo, Chrysler and Lancia which each have lineups consisting of three models or less.

Autocar reported on Wednesday that Tavares said Stellantis is committed to a 10-year investment for each of its brands during a speech he made at this week’s Future of the Car Summit hosted by the Financial Times.

“My clear management stance is that we give a chance to each of our brands, under the leadership of a strong CEO, to define their vision, build a roadmap and make sure they use the valuable assets of Stellantis to make their business case fly,” he said. “We’re giving each a chance, giving each a time window of 10 years and giving funding for 10 years to do a core model strategy.”

Carlos Tavares

In addition to the three brands mentioned above, Stellantis also controls Citroen, Dodge, DS, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, Opel/Vauxhall, Peugeot and Ram.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be any major cuts. For instance, Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato in April said Alfa Romeo’s still-new Giorgio rear-wheel-drive platform will be phased out in favor of group-wide modular platforms. This will be key as Stellantis makes moves to electrify all of its brands.

We could also see some brands changed, such as Chrysler which might be transformed into a mobility company. Tavares has previously described Chrysler as having the tradition of being the expression of “automotive American technology,” and has said there may be an opportunity to connect Chrysler with new areas such as “autonomous vehicles, zero-emission vehicles, highly connected vehicles.” This ties in with comments made in 2018 by former FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne that Chrysler could become the “mobility solution” in the U.S.

Stay tuned.

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