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First Drive

Review: the new Mercedes-Benz S500 Cabriolet

Published: 13 Apr 2016

That's a lot of car.

Magnificent, isn’t it? The all-new Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet is obviously just a soft-top, two-door S-Class, but it looks so much grander than the already fabulous hard-top; a proper land-yacht. The first drop-top S-Class since 1971, no less.

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Thing is, unlike most other Mercedes, this isn’t a Benz that competes directly with Audis and BMWs. This is a rival for Bentley, for Aston Martin, and Ferrari. Bizarre as it may seem, in that rarefied, exotic-badged, artisan company, this Benz is the least impressive badge. It’s the mainstream one.

Still, as mainstream cars go...

Where to start? Perhaps with that wraparound chrome beltline slither that’s visible roof up or roof down. Or the triple-layer soft-top with its beautifully wrought Alcantara ceiling to match the suede A-pillars, so with the roof in place there’s no ugly join – or sense you’re driving a soft-top, in fact. It’s a fabulously imposing yet utterly elegant object.

And what about inside?

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As per the S-Class Coupe, which means it’s a wonderful mix of classical, opulent, almost art-deco with bleeding-edge tech, finished with first-rate materials and attention to detail. Doesn’t feel mainstream in here, that’s for sure. Not unless your daily transport is Air Force One.

Isn’t perfect, mind: the steering wheel still chops off the top half of the virtual instruments and the duplicated swipe/scroll 'Comand' controls are weird. Roof-operation buttons are neatly hidden under the console armrest. Could be a pain if your passenger falls asleep leaning on the lid before a hailstorm.

The rear seats are usable, but only for children or short adults. This isn’t a problem. Before it signed off the S-Class Coupe, Mercedes canvassed owners of the old CL and the current S-Class, and asked them how often, should they not be chauffeured, the back seats were used. ‘We just sling our luggage back there’, came the overwhelming reply.

I’ll sit up front then, thanks. Roof up or roof down?

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Roof up, it’s about as hushed as convertibles come. It has got double-glazing after all. And you’ll stay temperate because the ‘Climatronic’ heating system developed for this car uses a fleet of sensors to adapt the temperature inside the cabin, regardless of what you do with the roof and the ambient climate.

Anyway, let’s pop the top in the boot (a 20 second performance doable at up to 37mph) and see what roofless S-Class motoring is like. Quiet, is the first impression. The Aircap gadget, which deploys a thin spoiler on the windscreen header rail to flick airflow over the cabin, looks a bit untidy when you’re viewing from the kerbside but it makes a noticeable difference to the already minimal buffeting inside the car. You could drop the side glass, deploy the Aircap, and happily do A-road speeds without turbulence drumming your ears into popping.

You’re sat relatively high for what looks like a low, sleek machine, but it’s a handy trait, making the car’s dimensions easier to place and gently hinting you’re not supposed to be sat with your backside on the floor chucking the thing around. This is where the S63 AMG version falls down a bit. The Cabrio is a car with a willfully relaxed gait, and it wants to lope along, untroubled and unruffled. The £110,120 (before options, you understand) S500 is the version to have. By miles.


Easily. You just don’t need more than 449bhp, and with such potency available as it is the S500 will still hit 62mph in 4.6 seconds and would crack on towards 186mph if you decoded the limiter. This is a fast car, all day long. But crucially, the speed acquired is in sync with the car’s ride, handling and brakes. It all melds together beautifully, unlike the bludgeoning, slightly out-of-sorts AMG version.

Oh, and it sounds gorgeous. Truly characterful, this 4.7-litre V8. It’s less worried by the burden of producing YouTube commenter impressing figures and goes about its business in an idyllically smooth and burbling fashion. It’s frankly quite old school, and given this car is sort of what you’d hope the Rat Pack or Audrey Hepburn might drive if it’d been around half a century ago, that’s spot on.

Same goes for the nine-speed gearbox. Cleverer than the seven-speeder in the S63. Like a good waiter, the highest compliment you can pay is that you simply don’t notice the transmission going about its business. It doesn’t interrupt or nag. Bliss.

And it’s comfortable too?

Yes, which is ironic given Mercedes quietly admits the Cabriolet has more primitive suspension than that offered in S-Class Coupe-kind. Magic Ride Control, which scans the road ahead for bumps and reacts before you hit them, and the Coupe’s tilting system that’ll lean into corners to eliminate body roll, are both absent.

Why? Making space to hide the roof under the bodywork, then fitting strengthening structures to the part-steel, part aluminum metalwork means there simply isn’t room to fit the cleverer suspension. So, it’s more workaday adaptive air shocks as standard here, but there’s so much composure (not to mean a wheelbase you could hide a football pitch under) it’s no worse off.

Sounds like quite a glorious thing, all in all.

It really is, and not for a second does the car suffer for not having a more opulent badge on the grille. Yes, this is a very German form of luxury – tech-encrusted and laden with driver aids and entertainment trinkets – but the fundamentals are supreme: this is a fabulously relaxed, serene cruiser, and an exorbitant soft-top.

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