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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - S-Class - Cabriolet

First drive: Benz S-Class Cabrio combines beauty, beast

Drop-top gorgeous: Mercedes' first S-Class Cabriolet since 1971 lifts the lid on refined fresh-air motoring.

Customers set to slam down up to $522k for Mercedes' topless sports luxury flagship

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Mercedes-Benz logo12 Apr 2016

By RON HAMMERTON in NICE

DESPITE an indicative price north of $520,000, Australian buyers are already forming a queue for the most expensive new car to wear the three-pointed star, the Mercedes-AMG S65 Cabriolet.

At least four current Australian Benz owners have plonked down deposits on the by-order-only bi-turbo V12 version of the four-seat two-door soft-top sports luxury tourer that is expected to go for about $522,000 plus on-road costs – a premium of about $20,000 on the similarly equipped S65 Coupe – when deliveries of the first drop-top S-Class in 45 years start in Australia about September.

As one Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific wit put it, taxes payable on just one S65 Cabrio – including GST, luxury car tax and stamp duty – could pay the $180,000 salary of a federal backbencher for a year.

And that is before cashed-up buyers start ticking boxes for up to nine optional packages and other add-ons that could add thousands of dollars to both the price tag and government coffers.

The S65 will sit atop a three-variant S-Class Cabriolet range – indeed, atop the entire Mercedes car line-up – that also includes a more affordable (relatively speaking) 4.7-litre bi-turbo V8 S500 Cabrio for about $360,000 and the mid-range blown 5.5-litre V8 Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabrio for about $445,000.

While firm prices and arrival dates will be fixed closer to launch, the S500 Cabrio and S63 Cabrio are expected to command a premium of about $30,000 over the Coupe variants that are expected to be priced at $337,500 and $415,000 respectively.

The current priciest car in the Benz range is the Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupe that costs $502,000 plus on-roads.

While the S65 Cabrio is by no means cheap, it falls well short of the million-dollar ask for the Maybach-badged limo launched by Daimler as a foil to Rolls-Royce in 2004.

While that car sported polarising upright styling, the new S-Class Cabrio is trumpeted by Mercedes as “perhaps the most beautiful S-Class of all time”. And from where we sit, that is no idle boast.

It is drop-dead gorgeous from any angle, including from behind the steering wheel, where we happened to be during the international press launch in the south of France over the past few days.

Cruising the waterfront boulevards of the French Riviera and the nearby winding roads of Provence, the Cabrio looked right at home among the most expensive machinery on four wheels which, of course, abounds in that neck of the woods.

Unfortunately, the flagship S65 with its mega 6.0-litre 463kW/1000Nm V12 was unavailable for testing, so we had to make do with the two V8 variants, the 'base' S500 and mid-range AMG-enhanced S63.

Firstly, we have good news and bad news about the right-hand drive Australian versions of the big convertible: they do not get the grippy 4Matic all-wheel-drive system available as standard fare on the left-hand drive type because the steering system gets in the way.

That's the bad news. The good news is that by halving the drivetrain, the rear-wheel drive version is 60kg lighter than the porky 2.2 tonnes of the AWD car in Europe.

And while that still might seem hefty, Benz engineers did a sterling job of keeping the cabrio weight gain over the coupe to just 85kg. This was achieved by sticking with a soft fabric folding top (in black, dark blue, beige or dark red) rather than a metal folding hardtop and building structural strength into the standard S-Class body so that large amounts of bracing did not have to be added after the event.

To be sure, the S-Class Cabrio is as rock solid as any open-top car we have driven. And quiet too – Benz claims that with the five-layer fabric roof up, the cabrio is as chilled as the hard-top coupe on which it is based.

This refined driving experience fits perfectly with the job description of the S-Class Cabrio – a luxury sports tourer. At 5044mm long and 1910mm wide, this big two-door car is not meant to go head to head with hard-nut sportscars such as the Porsche 911 Cabrio.

Mind you, when the hammer goes down, even the least powerful form – the 335kW/700Nm twin-turbo V8 S500 with its nine-speed torque converter automatic transmission – can slam from zero to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds.

The 5.5-litre 430kW/900Nm S63, that, like the S65 comes with a punchy dual-clutch seven-speed auto transmission, does the sprint in 3.9 seconds, with a throaty V8 sound track to boot.

Despite the massive power and torque from its big lump of an engine, the S65 is actually slower to 100km/h than the S63 Cabrio due to the former's 100kg weight handicap. Still, it is no slouch at 4.1 seconds.

Naturally, the S65 is also thirstier, chewing through 12 litres of high-octane petrol per 100km, compared with 8.5L/100km for the S500 and 10.4L/100km for the S63 on the European combined test cycle.

Like the S-Class Coupe, all cabrio variants are equipped with semi-active air dampers that can be adjusted for comfort or sports driving, although they miss out on the S-Class sedan and coupe's curve compensation feature to counter body roll.

Mind you, there is not much of that anyway, especially on the AMG-tuned S63 Cabrio that handles with an aplomb that belies its size.

Steering turn-in is relatively understeer free, while mid-corner grip is confidence inspiring, without being in the AMG GT class. After all, this car is meant for grand touring in the sun and fresh air, and in that role, the S-Class Cabrio nails it.

Behind the rear seats, all the panels are different to those of the coupe, mainly to house the roof folding mechanism. Hidden roll bars wait to spring into action, fired by pyrotechnic charges should the worst happen.

Apart from the folding roof that goes up or down in 20 seconds while driving at up to 50km/h, equipment levels are basically the same as the S-Class Coupe, which is to say high.

The list of standard features for the S500 stretches to more than 80 items that include Nappa leather seats, Burmester 13-speaker sound system with digital radio, so-called Airscarf neck warmer for the driver and front-seat passenger, heated rear seats and walnut high-gloss trim.

If you want to know what class feels like, just poke your finger into that soft leather-clad dash.

When sitting at the wheel, the most noticeable feature is the whopping digital display that stretches from in front of the driver, where it shows a digital representation of traditional round speedo and tacho dials, to the middle of the dash for other functions such as phone connectivity, audio and sat-nav.

If we have one serious problem with the S-Class Cabrio, it is that the height and unrelenting width of that display restricts forward vision.

Oh, and we still don't like that stubby steering column-mounted gear selector that can be accidentally knocked into neutral, potentially with nasty consequences.

On a more positive note, the designers have done well to minimise the number of buttons and knobs to control the myriad functions. For the most part, these are controlled via a centre console knob linked with the big screen in a fairly logical and practical format.

The seats of the S500 are flatter than the high-sided AMG sports buckets of the S63 that we drove, but by Benz standards, they are softish and supportive, just right for a satisfyingly long drive.

To provide access to the two rear seats, the fronts seats slide well forward.

Once ensconced in the back, passengers get passable knee room, although an NBA basketballer might be in trouble. Boot space is less passable, however, with room only for a couple of sports bags due to the encroachment of the folding roof compartment.

All variants get 20-inch alloy wheels, although the AMG versions get fatter, lower-profile tyres to complement their sports suspension. Meatier AMG composite disc brakes and AMG bodykit are also standard on the S63 and S65.

In summary, if you are looking for a beauty crossed with a beast and you have the wherewithal, the S-Class Cabrio beckons.

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