- What’s Best: Unrivaled tech and luxury come together in one of the most exclusive and refined open-top experiences in the world.
- What’s Worst: Sky-high price puts it out of reach for most.
- What’s Interesting: The Cabriolet weighs the same as the S-Class Coupe, on which it’s based, and is surprisingly just as rigid.
“Land Yacht” was not the most flattering term for an automobile, bringing to mind the giant barges that clumsily roamed the streets of North America during the 60s and 70s. Those large, gas-guzzling cars didn’t last long after the fuel crisis, being scrapped for smaller more fuel-efficient models that also afforded the benefit of being much better to drive.
But that term seems to be a very good descriptor when summing up the experience of spending time with the 2018 Mercedes S 560 Cabriolet, the flagship convertible in their model line up. By no means does this imply that the driving dynamics are anything like those cars of yore, quite the opposite in fact.
Cruising top down in the S-Class Cabriolet evokes the feel of a luxury boat ride; think something personal and beautiful like the stunning Riva Aquarama, except with less wood and a space shuttle’s worth of tech. The wind in your hair, the smells of the surroundings, the burble of the engine, all of that is present; and while a luxury marine runabout and a convertible S-Class don’t have too much in common, both are objects of desire and usually owned by a very exclusive clientele.
When the as-tested price nears $200K, there aren’t many of us able to swing that kind of cash, unless it’s for something that we can live in. But it’s not hard to see where the money goes when sitting in the sumptuously appointed cabin. No matter where you decide to rest your hands there is leather, wood, or metal; you’ll have to look hard to find any plastic bits in here. Everything is screwed, stitched and sewn together with precision and an attention to detail that has become synonymous with six-figure luxury German saloons.
The familiar S-Class family dashboard with its large 12.3″ twin monitors and baseball-sized circular vents is here but with an even more curvaceous shape lifted directly from the S-Class Coupe.
Just one row of knurled switch-like buttons for operating the climate control is present on the dash. A rotary controller or touchpad on the centre-console operates almost everything else. The steering wheel also has a micro touchpad to control the Command system and although it can take a few swipes to register a command, it does work rather well and helps you stay more focused on driving.
The Command system itself is easy enough to operate but entering addresses on the navigation system can be time-consuming and voice commands don’t always get it right. There are faster and more user-friendly systems out there, but the graphics and visual transitions are top-notch.
The sheer amount of customization available, from the 64-colour ambient lighting system and audio localization, to footwell temperature and massage settings allows you to tailor the car to your exact desires. I loved being able to operate the passenger seat with the touch of a button, as an S-Class Cabriolet owner shouldn’t have to be bothered to reach over or, worse, get out of the car.
Mercedes’ semi-autonomous driving controls will drive the car with minimal input from the driver, in dense traffic or on an open road—steering, braking, accelerating and even changing lanes for you. It’s even capable of reading posted speed limits and road curvature through the GPS and adjusting speed accordingly, although self-driving features in a car like this seem counter to its purpose.
Dropping the top by lifting a switch hidden away in the center-console storage area reveals a thick polished metal strip that runs the around the cabin further evoking that nautical theme. Burmester speaker grilles sitting atop twin mini-pontoons on the tonneau cover are beautifully designed and visible for all to see. The sleek lines hide how long this car really is. Get up close and its size can seem a bit imposing, but the elegant shape and flowing lines make for a very pretty car.
The 4-litre bi-turbo V8 found in the S 560 sedan and coupe is on duty here, producing the same 463 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque that comes online at 2000 rpm. Even though this ragtop weighs in at a hefty 2175 kg, a run to 100 km/h takes a scant 4.5 seconds. Doing this topless (not that kind of topless—tsk, tsk) makes it feel even faster and much more exciting.
As quick as the S 560 is, two even more powerful versions—the S63 4MATIC and V12 powered S65—are available, both offering over 600 hp, and capable of gluing your spleen to the back of the seat. Other than for bragging rights the S 560 offers more than enough oomph for any driving needs.
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Another benefit of losing the roof is being able to really listen to a good exhaust note, something Mercedes knows a thing or two about. Stab the gas and a wonderful V8 roar fills your ears with a rich baritone soundtrack that only 8 cylinders seem to be able to produce. It’s not as loud as an AMG E 63 but still every bit as thrilling, just in an understated way.
Cycling through the different driving modes—Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport plus, and individual— brings subtle changes to the transmission mapping, shift points, engine responsiveness and ride stiffness. Being a part of the S-Class family, even Sport plus offers a ride that remains perfectly civilized, never getting too harsh, even on the most uneven surfaces. Thank the standard air ride that uses GPS data to determine what’s up ahead and continuously adjusts itself to suit the conditions.
Steering effort remains light through all modes but offers a good amount of feedback and is wonderfully accurate. Perfectly matched to the suspension this big Benz is great fun on a curvy back road and seems to shrink the faster you go.
A remarkably stiff body structure has been reinforced with an infusion of aluminum and magnesium in the construction to keep the weight gain to a minimum. In fact this convertible maintains the same torsional rigidity as its closed coupe sibling. This is engineering bordering on witchcraft and explains why it feels so buttoned down when being hustled.
Freeway driving has always posed challenges for convertibles, but Mercedes equips the S 560 with a system they call AIRCAP. Pushing a button deploys a windshield mounted wind deflector and a draft stop behind the rear seats that effectively reduces wind noise and buffeting within the cabin.
Keeping a conversation going or listening to the Burmester Sound system is easy at speeds of 120 km/h and more, not that I went there
On cooler days, possibly even well into the fall, top-down driving would be totally possible thanks to the AIRSCARF system. The front seat headrests contain a rather large dual fan assembly that blows warm air around your neck in varying degrees of intensity and feels like a warm hug embracing you from behind. Heated armrests and steering wheel, and an intelligent climate control system create a microclimate keeping you coddled and snug in the “all-day comfortable” driver and passenger thrones.
With the three-layer acoustic soft top and double glazed windows up, one could be fooled into thinking that you were driving the hard top coupe, or any other S-Class for that matter.
But unless it’s raining or snowing it should be forbidden to drive this car with the top up. The pleasure that can be derived from even just a short drive in the S 560 Cabriolet makes it feel like it’s worth every penny of that price tag.
For a long time if you wanted a big Mercedes convertible your only choices were the E-Class Cab and the SL, but the latter was a sporty two-seat roadster and not a luxurious flagship. Mercedes had always offered the S-Class in an open version, ending the run with the striking 280 SE in 1971. Even then it was considered to be the epitome of luxurious open-air motoring owned only by the extremely well-heeled and produced in fairly limited numbers.
This new S-Class Cabriolet has managed to recapture a bit of that elegance from 40 years ago and is a perfect example of a “no compromise” pleasure craft for the land that manages to tick just about every single box on the wish list, provided you don’t have to ask how much it costs.
Photos © Kunal D’souza
2018 Mercedes-Benz S 560 Cabriolet
BODY STYLE: 2-door, 2+2 Full-size luxury convertible
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, Rear-Wheel Drive
ENGINE: 4.0 L twin-turbo V8 (Power: 463 hp @ 5250-5500 rpm; Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 2000-4000 rpm)
TRANSMISSION: 9G TRONIC 9-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting
CARGO CAPACITY: 250-300 litres
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium Gasoline ) 13.9 L/100 km city, 9.2 L/100 km highway, 11.8 L/100 km combined
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 13.5 L/100 km
PRICE: $166,600 (base) $173,100 (as tested)
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