Why on earth would you want to drive a convertible in India? I mean, it's possibly the most inappropriate form of four-wheeled transport for this country, give or take. Just consider the implications of driving around with no roof. In summer, you'll be toasted to a crisp. During the monsoons, a sudden downpour will drown you before you can get the roof back up. In winter, and in places where winter actually exists, such as Delhi, you'll develop a raft of respiratory diseases from letting all the smog into the cabin. In all weather conditions, the threat of someone in a higher vehicle (i.e any vehicle, even a bicycle) spitting directly into the cabin will be immense. In busy areas, it'll be the work of a moment for someone to reach in and make off with anything stored in the back seat, and you won't even notice. The traffic noise in most places will deafen you. You'll have to clean the cabin out almost on a daily basis. Worst of all, people will ask you how much it cost you to 'modify' your (insert brand name) car. Clearly, a convertible in India defies established logic. However, there is a time and place for logical thought, and thankfully there is no place for any such thing in a discussion about the Mercedes-Benz E350 CGI Cabriolet. Allow me to explain why.
I would probably have been going at roughly the same pace in a reasonably powered hatchback, but the combination of 'Sweet Home Alabama' at full volume on the audio system (a bit incongruous considering I was near Jhansi) and the sheer joy of open-top driving made everything feel much faster. At the back of my mind, I was aware that this car had much more going for it in terms of elegance than it did in the sportiness aspect of things; that it felt every one of its near-2,000 kg; that its steering was weighty in the hand but numb on the feedback front; that its ride quality was rather stiff; that the old Palio 1.6 GTX would've felt more alive in corners and that it cost a whopping Rs 27 lakh more than a base E-Class sedan. But I didn't care, since logic had gone out the window (quite literally) as soon as I had dropped its top and invited it to dance.
Even with the roof down, the levels of refinement inside the cabin are top notch, all thanks to a rather nifty feature called AirCap. It comes as standard fitment and consists of a spoiler-like wind deflector on top of the windscreen and a net-based draught-stop between the rear seats. The deflector sends the air flow above the occupants' heads, and the net raises the pressure in the cabin and reduces the backflow; the , er, net result is that cabin air movement is reduced, as is wind buffeting and noise. It works very well, I can report, and you can have a conversation, or listen to music, in perfect comfort. The very retro fabric roof is layered, well-insulated and folds/unfolds in 20 seconds at the press of a button, storing itself neatly under a hard tonneau on top of the boot (and cutting the limited boot space further – my suitcase had to go in the back seat even with the roof up). As far as I could tell, with its roof up, the car was as quiet as an E-Class sedan – it's all really rather well engineered.
What the occupants are likely to complain about is the car's ride quality. On a good road, the ride is smooth, and there's a commendable lack of cowl-shake in most conditions, but in this country, you will inevitably encounter roads that aren't perfect – and that's when you'd better be prepared for some crunching and thudding noises. To be fair, this car isn't built for such conditions, and I in particular drove it through some roads where I saw trucks disappear into craters, but still – it isn't the most comfortable car in which to be negotiating bad roads. The car is inherently stiffer than, say, an E-Class sedan because of the reinforcements that have had to be incorporated to compensate for the roofless design, and it must be said that its structural integrity is faultless.
This, then, is a car that you buy on sheer impulse, or during a mid-life crisis, and certainly not after considered thought. Assuming you have the cash to splash out, it's the sort of car that you might buy just to drive down to Goa (it's a Dil Chahta Ha car – Bijoy), or up to the mountains. Forget its comparative impracticality; let the fact that you're sitting on C-Class underpinnings slide; never mind that you can almost buy an E-Class and a C-Class sedan for the cabriolet's asking price. For your money, what you get is a drop-top grand tourer that is guaranteed to make you smile, a car that will make you want to hit the road as often as you can, top-down, sunglasses on, wind in your hair and flashing thumbs-up signs to all and sundry. Logic will demand that you hold on to your purse strings – but then again, what does logic know?