James jumps behind the wheel of the stunning 2017 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet, a movie star for the road.
When you search for music using the voice-activated menu navigation in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz S500 Cabriolet, and can’t quite decide on a track, the car recommends Sailing, by Rod Stewart... or Elton John’s entire back catalogue.
Obviously, in the richly interesting world of S-Cab buyer demographics, a playlist populated by the best of Sharon and Phyllis is almost expected.
Not too hard, not too soft, both classic and modern, yet undeniably timeless.
Much like the car itself.
The A217 S-Class Cabriolet marks the first time in almost half a century you can drop the top on a flagship luxury Mercedes. The three-model range starts with our $357,215 (before options and on-road costs) S500.
That makes the iconic Mercedes-Benz SL500 roadster, powered by the same engine, some $78,000 cheaper. So yes, it is expensive, but look at it this way: in terms of four-seat luxury drop-tops, the S-Class Cabriolet is almost exactly half the price of the Rolls Royce Dawn. A relative bargain!
Plus it has the added benefit, especially in our car's Cavansite Blue paint (one of 14 options), of being a truly stunning car.
The long body lines, elegant proportions and luxurious stance make this a movie star for the road. It looks low and wide, the LED tail lamps and multi-beam projector headlights giving the S-Cab the right amount of modern, where the large (20-inch) spoked wheels, chrome high lights and scalloped bodywork give a distinct nod to the past.
Even the lack of any badging beyond the three-pointed star worked in the Mercedes' favour. Everyone knows it is a 'Benz, any further details seem superfluous.
It is an imposing and impressive car. We turned heads wherever we went, had a line of people asking questions when parked, and generally made people feel better about their day by just driving past.
You see, you are judged when driving the S-Cab, but not for the car. For your haircut, your sunglasses, your choice of music…
People seem to want you to be the best you can be, so that you match the car. Better break out that copy of Yellow Brick Road then.
The S-Class cabriolet is an all-weather drop top. From the five-layered fabric roof, which looks great in blue on our test car (one of four choices), to the clever Aircap vortex reduction system, and neck warming Airscarf for those cold days, the S is prepared for even the most ‘Melbourne’ of days.
It even pulls off the rare convertible achievement of looking great with top up or down. The roof can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 50km/h within a stately and relaxed 20 seconds.
When up, the inner lining, a soft suede-like material, feels exceptionally luxurious and seals the cabin from the majority of wind and noise outside. It is marginally louder than the coupe, but I honestly didn’t have the top up long enough to worry that much about it.
The only real gripe with the top and its movement, is the location of the lever mechanism under the clever, double-hinged centre armrest. This makes it awkward to get to, especially if you have a passenger resting their elbow, particularly given the large size of the console lid.
The lever, too, initially feels counter intuitive. Lift to put the roof down and push down to put the roof up, but think of it as moving the way the roof does, and it quickly becomes second nature.
Also hidden here are the all-four windows down and Aircap activation buttons. I’ll note too, that unlike the E-Class cabriolet, the Aircap in the S-Class operates the front windscreen ‘spoiler’ and rear wind deflector as one, and not separately like in the A207 ‘E. Given these functions tend to be needed on the move can make them a little awkward to access, perhaps considered a small price to pay for year-round topless enjoyment.
The rest of the interior is the same stylish and luxurious layout, coloured mood-lighting included, as found in the S-Class coupe. The black leather on our test car is not the best colour to show off the stylish appointments, but it is comfortable and opulent all the same. A lighter shade, and perhaps some more wood, would really boost the look of the cabin, giving the MV S500 a more nautical theme.
You can adjust the front seats to a comfortable driving position, and they are (naturally) power assisted in every way, including headrest placement.
Even rear passenger space is adequate for adults on shorter hops (or shorter adults on longer lopes). As for the little people in our lives, Miss Seven was very happy back there.
A pair of 12.3 inch LCD displays handle the instruments, navigation and infotainment. The implementation is lovely, but not quite as advanced as in the new E-Class. Screen clarity is sharp and the personalisation and configuration options ensure you can see all the information you need. I particularly like that the fuel gauge is in per cent, rather than a more rudimentary needle or line.
The optional ($9900) Burmester High-End sound system offers 1520 watts and 23 speakers, but even our standard 13-speaker setup is sharp and clear. Acoustics obviously work best with the top up, so think of open-air driving as an out door concert.
During our few days with the S-Cab, almost everything worked as intended, including phone pairing, iPod connectivity and the TV on a morning commute to the office. Yes, the COMAND controller is ergonomically the wrong way for a right-drive car, but we’re almost getting used to that now.
What wasn’t perfect, though, was the air conditioning. Quite simply, it wasn't cold enough.
Even on the coldest setting, you could feel chilled air coming from the vents, but as far as having the ability to keep the cabin comfortable, even when used in concert with the ventilated seats, on a mid-30 degree day, the big Benz fell short. It's a pity you can't use the Airscarf to pump cold air around your neck, the majority of climate comfort systems seeming aimed at cooler latitudes than ours, where keeping passengers warm is of a higher priority.
For the price of ten Mazda MX-5s, I'd expect my toes to suffer frostbite even while driving on a 40-degree scorcher.
Under the sweeping bonnet lies the 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 we know from the S500 coupe and sedan. The 90-degree angle lump churns out 335kW and 700Nm of torque through to the rear wheels via a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission.
Push the ignition button to fire the big V8, and the S500 lets you know, with the 'whump' of a distant explosion, that there's power available should you need it.
Mercedes states this will move all two-tonnes of the S500 Cab from standstill to 100km/h in under five seconds, and this is the ‘economy’ model in the range.
Even at idle, there is an omnipresent whistle from the myriad moving parts and constant conversion of air and fuel into lazy, multiple kilowatts. It's the sound of effortless potential. The car simply exudes power.
Normally, when writing about spending your money on a car, I would always recommend spending that little bit more and, in this case, jumping from the S500 to the mid-range AMG S63.
As Trent discovered on the international launch drive, the mighty AMG delivers all the Hollywood leading-actor looks, but with the added drama of a full live orchestra soundtrack.
And even without this, it makes sense on paper too.
For a modest 24 per cent increase in price (an additional $87,500 to $444,715), you score 28 per cent more power (335kW to 430kW) and 29 per cent more torque (700Nm to 900Nm). That’s good maths, but it isn’t the right thing to do.
For what the S-Class Cabriolet is as a car, the ‘500 is near perfect. Sure, if you can pony up the $521,715 for the 463kW, 1000Nm, twin-turbo V12, S65 Cabrio, then quite frankly, for the sake of the rest of us, you should.
But you don’t have to.
In many ways, the raucous behaviour of the six-three goes against the relaxed, cruising nature of the S-Class convertible. With the ‘500, you feel as though you can drive anywhere, with just the feather-light touch of a finger to guide you.
In fact, you don’t even want to press the sport button, as it too seems to distract from the core sensitivities of the car.
With it activated, the shifts are a bit faster, throttle response a shade sharper, and the air suspension just that little bit firmer. It’s not bad, but it takes away the hugely appealing, cloud-like nature of the 'comfort' S. An old-school cruiser, laced with more computer power than the Space Shuttle.
The ride is still comfortable, but imperfections through a bend will put even the most rigid of chassis to the test, and the best engineering can't stop a heavy convertible with a 3.0-metre wheelbase (2945mm) from a few rattles and shakes.
You feel that you need to really 'drive' the car like this, two hands on the wheel and unconditional concentration, and while speed builds monumentally quickly, when you tip the big S into a tightening bend it feels like it's pushing the boundary of a comfort zone. Not so much dynamically, but spiritually.
Yes, it wallows and floats a little on the air suspension, and you can feel the mass of the car almost reluctant to come for the ride. Pushing the S500 like this, though is not a criticism of the car's ability, it’s a criticism of your driving. The Mercedes is telling you to slow down, and enjoy the cruise.
Dial it back, rest an arm up on the sill, find some Bowie on the play list and sail off into the sunset. The power and potential of the S500's V8 is a little bit of life insurance, it's there to have but not need. This isn't a car to judge on dynamic prowess, but to savour for its exquisite touring skills.
Sure, you'll see real-world fuel consumption just under the 20L/100km mark (Mercedes-Benz claim 9.2L/100km for a combined cycle), but that soft squeeze of the throttle and the yawning response of increased velocity is a worthy trade off.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz S500 Cabriolet is every part the classic A-list movie star it should be. Universally appealing, effortless and comfortable, while being fundamentally powerful and capable underneath. The stratospheric price will likely keep it out of the hands of us mere mortals, but it is nice to have something to strive for.
Like the music likely to pump through its multitude of speakers, the S-Cab is best enjoyed in a relaxed and casual environment, and can be even better at night. My only suggestion would be to ditch Reginald and Roderick and move to more modern times, so perhaps Radiohead and Powderfinger will make the list of suggested artists for future generations.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.