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Convertible glory: The taming of the wind

In Canada, owning a convertible makes as much sense as owning a swimming pool. You spend two months of the year considering it a brilliant decision, two months pretending that it was, and eight months waiting for one of those other four months to come around.

  • Scenic cityscape of downtown Toronto Ontario Canada during a sunny day

MALLORCA, Spain – In Canada, owning a convertible makes as much sense as owning a swimming pool. You spend two months of the year considering it a brilliant decision, two months pretending that it was, and eight months waiting for one of those other four months to come around.

People who buy convertibles are much like those who buy motorcycles. Whenever I see a motorcyclist kitted out in thousands of dollars worth of high-tech clothing, boots that buckle and clip almost all the way to the gauntlet gloves, and a Bluetooth microphone protruding from a helmet that cost thousands to protect the brain that was stupid enough to buy a bike in the first place, I only wonder one thing: why didn't you just spend the money on a car?


I know convertibles have come long hard miles from the canvas sieves that shuttered the cars of my youth. I remember the rain leaking onto my lap from the cracked seams of a 1964 Plymouth Valiant. I remember the fractured plastic window on an old MG, torn so wide I could insert my arm through it to wave at my friends who were walking home in the rain, and getting no wetter than I was.


I remember the huge roof of that Valiant staggering under its own weight, erecting itself like a giant sail as we prayed it would reach the apex and meet our grasping hands to do up the buckles. I remember mostly doing this in a driving rain by the side of the highway because, of course, the storm clouds were just passing by.


Like many things in life, it's the idea of a convertible that is so appealing. Convertibles in movies lie – they're filmed in sunny places apparently devoid of delinquents who will slit your soft top and steal your B-52s and Blondie cassettes while you're in the theatre watching another Rocky movie even though you wanted to see Kramer vs. Kramer.


Maybe if it was still early in the relationship, he would have let you pick the movie, and you would have gotten out in time to see the little felons who had good taste in music but questionable social skills.


Convertibles can actually extend relationships, however. You can't possibly have a conversation in one, which delays the inevitable question of whether or not you were flirting when you shouldn't have been. You can barely hear Blondie, let alone recriminations.


Owning a convertible will guarantee you better than average dating targets in the two glorious months of a Canadian summer. But the winter will see you lonely if you don't have a beater, and a beater was never much of a date-magnet in the first place. Convertible glory: The taming of the wind


Convertibles mirror romance in many ways. In the early goings, there is no reason to put the top up. Every trip is a chance to explore new territory, to be seen as someone footloose enough to own a convertible.


But as the sun fades on a lengthening day, much as it does on a lengthening romance, the top will come up quicker each night, if it ever comes down at all.


At the risk of sounding longer in the tooth than I actually am, I will agree that convertibles have come a long, long way from the bare metal framed leaking pup tents of my youth.


Convertibles ride waves of popularity as manufacturers try to predict where consumers' whims will take them. At this stage of my life, I am fairly whimless. I can't imagine a scenario that would have me entertaining a convertible.


Wait. What's that? The new Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet? An invitation to drive it on the Spanish island of Mallorca as spring blooms in the Mediterranean? I think I just imagined a scenario.


The introduction of the 2011 Cabriolet from Mercedes-Benz completes the four-member E-Class line – a Mercedes for every lifestyle. And the Cabriolet is built on the concept of a convertible for four seasons and four people.


They knew it would have to offer up the inherent thrill of a convertible, the styling and safety Mercedes is noted for while addressing why people like me hesitate over buying one: hair in a blender, bugs in your teeth and a back seat about as inviting as bringing your mother on a date.


The answer? Mercedes Aircap to reduce wind turbulence throughout the car, and Airscarf, a heating system located in the head-restraints.


Mercedes doesn't just want you to love your convertible; they want you to love it all year round.


Aircap is a system that proposes to aerodynamically shift the flow of air over the windshield, and instead of having it curl back into the cabin, deflecting it up and over the car. Above the windshield, a spoiler is activated with the push of a button. It's streamlined and subtle enough to detract nothing from the styling of the car, and as I drove with it off, then on, I used a scientific method to determine its effectiveness: how much was my hair flying around?


At first I detected a difference. My co-driver was uncertain. He was also bald. The biggest consideration to wind in a convertible? Wind deflectors such as Aircap are part of the equation, but windows are a bigger one, and a lid on the thing is the biggest of all. You're going to get blown around in a convertible.


It's an improvement, though I'd still tie up long hair. A further breakthrough purports to make sure the rear passengers aren't subjected to the same wind turbulence. Whenever a rear seatbelt is buckled, a small windscreen automatically scrolls up between the two rear head-restraints. The wind deflected from the front cap is further lifted up and out of the cabin.


While my hair swirled, I realized that conversations with those in the front were still comfortably audible. This was a first. I could also hear our navigation-system lady imploring us to make a legal U-turn. Maybe my hair was still airborne, but our words were staying put.


Airscarf is hands-down my favourite feature on these cars. With the push of a button, the head-restraints can be lowered or raised to any height, and Airscarf directs a steady stream of warm air to the back of your neck. It effectively dismisses the nostalgia of roasting feet from a heater running full blast while your arms get sunburned and you're freezing to death. With the wind turbulence reduced, the cabin temperature is far easier to maintain.


As the sun went down and the temperature dropped, a quick adjustment with heated seats and the Airscarf meant we could leave the top down long after you would normally be pulling over to close up. Would I drive this car around in the heart of winter with the top down? Well, maybe if Santa was riding in it. But it is definitely a season-extender, and it's also a convertible that looks lovely with the top up as well, no small feat considering how many manufacturers make convertibles that just look like mistakes when their tops aren't dropped.


We'd been told it was safe to operate the automatic top at up to 40 km/h. At precisely this speed, we plunged the button. In under 20 seconds, the top was up and fastened. If you've ever driven into a sudden rain, you'll sigh at that sentence.


Aircap is standard on all models in Canada (E350 Cabriolet, and E550 Cabriolet).


Airscarf is optional on both vehicles; it is included in the Premium Package for both the E350 Cabriolet and E550 Cabriolet.


While prices haven't been released, look for the E-Class Cabriolet to be sharing review space with the BMW 3-series ($56,800 to $68,400), and Audi's A5 ($56,300 to $58,300) and S5 ($68,300 to $72,000) Cabrios.


If costs are similar, I'd want BMW to step up with the wind-cutting features and auxiliary neck heating that both Mercedes and Audi feature. While Audi does have a windblocker, it's installed manually and stored in the trunk. Look for the Mercedes to start in the $67,000 range.


Extraordinary comfort with the top down, still a stylish beauty with the top up. Mercedes may have solved the ultimate dilemma for Canadian convertible lovers.


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