Road Test: Mercedes-Benz E250 Cabrio vs. Audi A5 2.0T Cabrio

Have you noticed how hard it’s getting to find real peace and quite in this world? I’m not just talking about calls, texts, email or twitter notifications on your mobile. I’m talking about the buzz I wake up to if I doze off in front of my television. The drone my fridge makes when its compressor clicks on. You need an MP3 player with noise cancelling headphones just to drown out the world’s white noise these days.

This is where Mercedes-Benz fits into the world. If you’re in the market for a large, executive vehicle, it doesn’t get much better than driving a Mercedes-Benz. Forget sportiness, performance and technology, a Mercedes-Benz is sumptuously comfortable, it’s a space to reflect and consider your thoughts.

Except now where does that leave Mercedes-Benz and its soft-top convertible, the E250 CGI BlueEfficiency? It’s only fair we pit it against another worthy four-seater convertible contender, the brilliant Audi A5 2.0 T FSI Cabriolet with S-Tronic and Quattro, which has just gone through a Nip/Tuck-style upgrade and has been given new front and rear LED light clusters.

Styling is what four-seater convertibles are all about. The long sloping lines, the lone A-pillar poking out towards the sky. They are the easiest and cheapest way to turn heads this side of supercars. The styling is hugely important and you have to say it is quite difficult to get the design wrong on such a car, a bit like taking a bad picture of Jessica Biel. Mercedes-Benz, however, have somehow underperformed. On its own, the Mercedes-Benz isn’t a bad looking convertible at all, but parked near the Audi, there is no denying it can’t compete with Audi’s total package.

One should consider the styling of the cars that underpin each convertible version; the ungainly E-Class Coupe for Mercedes-Benz and the svelte A5 Coupe for Audi, a car Walter de Silva says was his best design work ever. No wonder then that the Audi emerges as the better looking car with its roof shaved off too. The A5 Cabriolet is probably the best looking four-seat convertible on the road today and it looks as such because of its uncompromised elegance. No practical concern has got in the way of it being as good looking as it can be. Hence the choice of a soft top roof that wouldn’t need a tall boot over the rear wheels and the aluminium detailed A-pillar to grab a little extra attention.

We parked both cars, roofs open, directly outside a heaving, after work, sundowners spot in Cape Town and took note of passersby inspecting each car from our spot on the balcony. The result was beyond question; Audi A5 Cabriolet ’10′, Mercedes-Benz E250 ’6′. Half were women for the Audi and all were men for the Mercedes-Benz. Read into that what you will.

A cruiser must look like an ocean liner when its roof is down. The drive comfort must be just the same and the Mercedes-Benz is hands down the more comfortable of the two, no surprises there. Its extra soft leather may be very beige, but the massaging seats put you in mind of sitting on a comfy sofa at home, while the layout of the controls is intuitive, if a little old fashioned. It really is like it’s made for typical Mercedes-Benz buyers who don’t want too much fuss.

Yet, it’s the Audi that is longer and wider visually. It feels like it offers more space inside the car for you and your passengers too. It does feel like a heavy tank though as you ease through traffic and it has a lower nose you can scrape easier on speed bumps. When you take it out of the city, however, onto a less then smooth road,  the supremely stiff ride quality is much less choppy compared to the Mercedes-Benz.

The Audi A5’s wall of buttons on the dash, steering wheel and front fascia is almost unfathomable compared to the simple Mercedes-Benz. The optional adjustable ‘Audi drive Mode Select’ also adds a further level of complication that’s just not necessary on a soft top convertible. Its close between the two, but the Audi A5 is slightly better nailed together and more modern feeling, while the Mercedes-Benz E250 is easier to operate and the more virtuous at comfort cruising.

It is in the area of power and performance where both cars perform in a way that’s not quite what you’d expect from each brand. First of all the Audi with its 2.0T FSI, 155 kW & 350 Nm, has 5 kW more power and 40 Nm more torque than the Mercedes-Benz E250 CGI’s, 1.8-litre turbocharged engine with 150 kW and 310 Nm. The E250 only makes do with an old generation five speed ‘Touchshift’ automatic transmission, so it’s no surprise then that the Audi gets to 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds versus the Mercedes-Benz’s 7.8 seconds. The Audi’s setup is also honed as the sportier of the two, riding harder, flatter and with its Quattro all-wheel-drive. The Audi’s power is sent to all four corners of the car through its 7-speed S-Tronic, dual-clutch transmission, but this also provides some mechanical drag through the heavier drive train.

Despite the Audi beating the Mercedes-Benz in the performance figures and top speed, the Mercedes-Benz is still the better of the two to drive. Its in-line, turbocharged, power delivery is silky smooth, but still responsive. The E250 is also rear-wheel drive of course and that means a good balance when you try to get a lick-on around a twisty road. While the Audi feels almost totally inert with its heavy drive train, hard ride and that’s before you even get fiddling with the changeable driver modes. ‘Dynamic’ is the sufferable setting, while the others of ‘Comfort’, ‘Individual’, ‘Efficiency’ and ‘Auto’ are much of a much-ness and frustrating to cycle through.

The Audi’s steering is vacuous most of the time and when you want to go quickly it just goes rock hard, like all the tyres have lost pressure. The adaptive power steering feels like it’s sometimes caught off guard. Again, it’s too complicated for a car of this sort.

Before we even get to the sordid matter of coin, the styling of the Audi A5 seals the deal. Convertibles are about turning heads and creating envy wherever you go. If you’d wanted performance or more practicality you would’ve bought something else. The Mercedes-Benz E250 is still the better and less complicated car to drive compared to the somewhat joyless Audi A5, but its dynamics are of such little consequence in such a category that we can treat this hollow victory as such. The Audi A5 Cabriolet starts at a base price of R550 500 and you’ll have to go pretty far with the options list to pencil it close to the R703 600 starting price for the Mercedes-Benz E250 Cabriolet. The Audi vanquishes its Mercedes-Benz equivalent by being the cheapest, fastest, most powerful, most economical, more hi-tech and better looking.

Quick Facts
Audi A5 Cabriolet Mercedes E250 Cabriolet
Base Price R550 500 R703 600
Warranty 2-year / Unlimited km 2-year / Unlimited km
Engine Capacity 1 984 cm³ 1 796 cm³
No. Of Cylinders 4-cylinders, In-line 4-cylinders, In-line
Aspiration Turbocharged Turbocharged
Power 155 kW @ 4 300 r/min 150 kW @ 5 500 r/min
Torque 350 Nm @ 1 500 r/min 310 Nm @ 2 000 r/min
Transmission 7-speed Dual-Clutch 5-Speed Automatic
Drive type All-wheel drive Rear-wheel drive
Acceleration 0-100 km/h in 7.3 seconds (claimed) 0-100 km/h in 7.8 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed 238 km/h (claimed) 240 km/h (claimed)
Fuel Consumption 7.2 l/100km (claimed combined) 8.2 l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2 Emissions 164 g/km 190 g/km (est.)

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Ray Leathern

About Ray Leathern

Ray Leathern has been test driving and critiquing cars for over five years now. He won the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists (SAGMJ) 'Highly Recommended for Internet' prize in 2012, is a member of the SAGMJ committee, as well as being a member of SA's 2012 Car of the Year jury. Ray's passion for motoring knows no bounds. What Ray writes, we read and we suggest you do too. Follow Ray on Twitter.

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