Imagine cruising down the French Rivera coastline. The sun kisses your skin and a gentle breeze off the ocean carries with it the scent of sea spray. The temperature around your body is kept at the perfect level while the air suspension does a fine impression of a magic-carpet ride. The aural accompaniment comes not from the audio system but is the V8's melodious burble that effortlessly transports you to your next dream destination. That is the life that the S500 Cabriolet promises... and it delivers in spades.
To find a spiritual predecessor to the S-Class Cabriolet is a 45-year journey back in time to models like the 1961 220 SE. Since then Mercedes-Benz has set the benchmark for a comfortable, four-seater Cabriolet and the latest model continues that lineage, adding to that, the very latest technology. The exemplary ride is taken care of with the standard air spring suspension and smooth propulsion is guaranteed with the flexible V8 mated to the nine-speed, 9G-TRONIC, automatic transmission.
Comfort to the extreme
Occupant comfort is most important in this segment and Mercedes-Benz did not hold back on features. An (optional) AIRCAP system lessens wind buffeting of the occupants by raising a deflector on top of the windscreen, plus there's a windbreaker behind the rear seats. The (optional) AIRSCARF system provides neck-level heating from a vent in the head restraints. More impressive is the THERMOTRONIC system that consists of 12 sensors and 18 actuators throughout the cabin that automatically adjusts the climatic control functions for the perfect interior conditions in all ambient temperatures with the roof up or down.
Is it practical?
The S-Class Cabriolet is not a rational purchase, however. Although the front seats are plush and spacious, the rear’s are cramped for legroom. Luggage space is compromised when the canvas roof is up and even more so when it is stowed. These aspects are surprising considering the car's vast external dimensions that obviously favour form over function (although the drag coefficient is an impressive 0,29). At least the boot divider operates automatically and there is no need for the driver to manually configure the boot layout before operating the roof. It is, however, the evocative design that will convince prospective owners to put ink to paper whereafter they can start their own journey of indulgence.
Mercedes-Benz was adamant it wanted to keep the essence of the S-Class present in the Cabriolet and that includes the luxurious interior, all the safety systems, plus an added roll-over protection, class-leading ride quality, and superior noise insulation. This meant that any old canvas roof would not suffice and a lot of development time went into creating a multi-layer roof with special sealing technology to the double-glazed windows. With the roof in place, the result is NVH characteristics comparable to those in the S-Class Coupe. The roof can fold away in 20 seconds at speed of up to 60 km/h... useful when cruising in traffic.
The S500 boasts a 4,7-litre turbopetrol found in the rest of the S-Class range that delivers 335 kW and 700 N.m. It is smooth yet powerful and suits the character of the car to the tee. Performance potential is impressive with 0-100 km/h dispatched in just 4,6 seconds, though rather than this foolishness, in this vehicle one should rather relax and listen to the beautiful baritone V8 burble under constant throttle application.
Handling and ride?
As mentioned before, the S-Class is known for its excellent ride quality and the S500 literally glides over any road imperfections. In the name of ultimate comfort, one can forgive the occasional gentle wallow when traversing a speed bump. Sport mode stiffens the suspension slightly and we put the handling prowess to the test on a twisty piece of mountain road. The chassis and four wide Pirelli tyres offered impressive grip for a vehicle of this ilk, although the body control is, of course, not quite that of a sportscar. Still, it excelled and I even felt a little guilty treating the S500 in this way and soon reverted to default comfort, cruising mode…
Should you wait for the AMG?
On this trip I also had the chance to drive the Mercedes-AMG Cabriolet S 63 4Matic (the all-wheel drive version is not destined for our shores) and as impressive as the extra power is, the S500 felt more in tune with the character of the vehicle with its softer suspension and creamier power delivery.
This latest addition to the S-Class family is a masterpiece of automotive technology and emotional appeal. Even though it has some practical shortcomings, the few that can afford this luxury will feel completely spoilt as they cruise to their next boutique hotel or French chateau…