It’s a wonderful word, “cabriolet”, just roll it around in your mouth. It sounds like it could be many fine things; a brand of Swiss chocolates, an expensive watch, a ski chalet, a French a wine region.
But it is, of course, better than all of the aforementioned. You might well be aware of the stylish and sporty elegance represented by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class cabriolet and E-Class cabriolet, but where does the word “cabriolet” come from?
What is a cabriolet?
The term was originally coined to describe a light, horse-drawn vehicle developed in France in the 18th century. Cabriolet also birthed the terms “cab” and “taxi-cab”, which have become mainstays of the English language.
Consisting of two wheels and drawn by a single horse, the cabriolet also had a folding hood, similar to the Mercedes-Benz cabriolets of today.
Cabriolet vs convertible: what’s the difference?
In basic terms, “cabriolet” and “convertible” mean the same thing: an automobile with a removable or retractable roof that allows the driver to feel the wind in their hair and experience the elements while driving.
So, if you’re wondering if there’s a Mercedes-Benz convertible available, the answer is yes: the C-Class and E-Class Cabriolets are the vehicles you’re looking for.
Mercedes-Benz uses “cabriolet” to describe its vehicles with retractable roofs because it is a more commonly used term in Europe where the brand originates. The descriptor “convertible” is more widely used in the United States.
While “cabriolet” has described a horse-drawn vehicle in the past, “convertible” - which quite simply means “to convert” - has only ever been used to describe automobiles.
Further adding to confusion, there are a variety of other terms that are used in place of cabriolet or convertible: cabrio, drop top, drophead coupé, open two-seater, open top, rag top and soft top are all common variants.
Another type of vehicle with a retractable roof is a roadster, which is also known as a “spider” or “spyder”. Much like the Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster, these are often two-seater vehicles (as opposed to the Mercedes-Benz cabriolets, which are available with four seats) and place more emphasis on performance driving.
The science of retractable roofs
Most cabriolet / convertible roofs are made from cloth or fabric (hence “soft top” or “rag top”), and feature a folding construction framework.
“Hard top” convertible roofs are made from metal or plastic and can either be retractable or detachable, that is, manually removed and often stored in the trunk of the vehicle.
As you can imagine, retractable roof innovation has come along in leaps and bounds over the years, with the Mercedes-Benz range of cabriolets featuring only the latest and greatest in design and technology.
The roofs of the C-Class and E-Class feature an acoustic fleece material that is designed to minimise external and background noise in the interior, which is not something you’d find in a cabriolet of the horse-drawn variety.
Built for speed, the Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster puts the emphasis on fast folding when it comes to the roof – it can be opened and closed in 11 seconds while driving at up to 50 km/h. A draught stop between the roll bars also provides effective protection from breezes around the neck and back of the head.
Still, feeling the wind on your face is all part of the thrill, and one that you’ll happily get to indulge in whether behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz cabriolet or the Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster.
By Stephen Corby