THERE'S nothing quite like going topless on a late summer's afternoon.

THERE'S nothing quite like going topless on a late summer's afternoon.

In fact, many moons ago I used to have a girlfriend who loved going topless at every opportunity. Even when the weather was cold enough to make an Eskimo feel at home she used to ask me: "Can't we go topless today?"

Normally I would agree to it, but it used to be about as much fun as being a BBC journalist at a Juju press conference.

And by dropping her top I'm referring, of course, to her convertible 68 Beetle, that had a canvas roof!

Which is why she would have loved the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class convertible - 350 and 500 - which were launched last week in the picturesque, but chilly, Western Cape.

You see, owing to a number of features on this upmarket vehicle you can, even when the weather turns cold, drive "topless" and remain as snug as a bug in a rug.

Heated seats, Aircap and Airscarf combine to provide what Mercedes describe as "a sea of warm air."

Here's how it works. The heated seats are self explanatory. The Aircap, though, adjusts the airstream over the front windscreen and basically deflects the wind. This can be activated at the push of a button on the centre console.

The Airscarf consists of a number of adjustable nozzles at about neck level, which blows hot air to ensure you stay nice and warm.

And, yes, there is more to this car than just its roof.

A Benz would not be a Benz without a wide range of safety features and these beauties come stacked.

Roll-over protection and head bags are notable as is "pre-safe braking".

This is a three-stage warning and braking system for when the car senses a collision is about to happen.

First it sounds a warning, then automatically applies 40percent brake power.

A second warning is then given and 70percent brake pressure is applied until eventually it triggers full brake application.

So how does it drive? Well, being greedy, I spent a whole day behind the wheel of the big daddy of the E-range - the E500.

With a 5,5-litre V8 engine capable of 0-100 kmh in just more than five seconds and a governed top speed of 250kmh, it's definitely white-knuckle stuff.

Gripping the steering wheel like a frenzied kamikaze pilot, we wound our way through the mountain passes, the machine-gun-like sound from the twin exhausts ricochetting off the cliffs like a squash ball.

The 7-speed automatic gearbox is the tried and tested - and oh-so-good - steptronic version, which in motoring terms takes some beating.

For a convertible the rear legroom is surprisingly good and the car will comfortably seat four adults, though with the roof down, boot space is seriously compromised.

Oh, I forgot, it takes less than 20seconds to remove the canvas top at the push of a button and have it neatly stored in the boot. Which, if memory serves me, is about three seconds faster than it used to take my girlfriend to remove hers!