2016 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet Review: S500 and AMG S63

Mercedes-Benz has added a new variant to the exclusive S-Class range, the cabriolet. At launch in Europe, we test the S500 and S63 AMG variants.
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The savagery of the exhaust note as it thunders violently off the mountain walls is very much at odds with the gentile confines of the 2016 S63 AMG Cabriolet cabin, but such is the contradiction of Mercedes-Benz’ newest take on the S-Class platform. Such is the contradiction that only the geniuses at AMG execute so well for that matter. The S-Class Cabriolet is very much a Jekyll and Hyde proposition, especially when there is an AMG badge affixed to the sheetmetal.

With the Cote d’Azur as a backdrop and the princely surrounds of Nice, Cannes and Monaco adding some sparkle to our drive programme, there’s few better places to test the mettle of what will be a very exclusive cabriolet when it lands in Australia in September. Even Mercedes-Benz S500 Cabriolet ownership doesn’t come cheap, let alone S63 AMG or S65 AMG versions - the latter set to become the most expensive Mercedes-Benz available in Australia.

Those three models cover the options that will be available in Australia, with the S65 AMG being order only. Despite that, there are six orders already placed for the S63, with four already in the bank for the S65 - it seems there’s no shortage of enthusiasm for expensive Mercedes-Benz metal down under then.

Read our Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe review.

Read our speculative S-Class Cabriolet pricing and specification story.

Back to the intoxicating soundtrack that continues to entertain as we thunder through the mountains north of Nice. The twin turbocharged V8 engine makes such a ridiculously glorious noise, you can’t imagine many instances where you would rather opt for Comfort mode. No, its Sport+ all the way. So much so, I double back at the top of a mountain pass, just so I can trundle to the bottom and do it all over again.

The stupidity of the engine’s soundtrack is glorious, and it’s something you’ll never get sick of. Although the idea of a vehicle as refined as an S-Class savagely downshifting through each gear change on deceleration (seven speeds for the AMG models) is probably a little confronting for the average buyer. Sir will have an AMG S-Class simply because he can afford one thank you very much. At this end of the spectrum, performance might be more important in theory than practice.

Regardless, our drive loops in both S500 and S63 AMG are set to test the dynamic ability of both, notably the braking ability on downhill runs. The speed with which you can build ridiculous velocity means the brakes will be worked, and worked hard. So too the steering, not to mention the suspension underneath a vehicle that is in reality most likely to serve time as a high street cruiser. You can’t blame us for testing its chops though can you? Where the AMG variants opt for seven-speed gearboxes, the S500 gets a nine-speed automatic.

There’s no perceptible flex in the chassis with the top down either, a malaise afflicting many a convertible from the old days. The S Cabriolet’s chassis is rigid, which assists the outright handling but it traverses poor surfaces beautifully too. In fact, the S63 AMG is the best-riding AMG vehicle I’ve ever driven in any segment. The adaptive suspension irons out any road surface in very impressive fashion.

A quick freeway blast in both vehicles illustrates their relentless ability to pile on speed in a straight line too, especially the AMG-tuned masterpiece. Even the S500 will roar up to 200km/h rapidly. The cacophony of sound from the AMG-tuned motor - even with the roof up - distracts you momentarily from how quickly you’ve buried yourself deep into three-figure territory. Drive your S-Class Cabriolet like this in Australia and our draconian laws will see you catching public transport in very short order.

The exterior style of the new S Cabriolet is classy without being diminutive. The LED lighting package assists here, but so does the gentle sculpting of the thick sides, not to mention the roof profile, which is near perfect when fixed in the closed position. The Coupe is beautiful, but the lines of the Cabriolet might be even more desirable. Drop the top, and the S Cabriolet’s profile is even more appealing, low-slung and beautiful. The roof itself is a work of art, as you’d expect for the price I guess, and can be raised and lowered at speeds up to 60km/h.

The folding soft-top comprises five layers, and is as close to a hard-top when closed as any material roof I’ve ever experienced. Even at freeway speeds, it is incredibly quiet inside the cabin, and with the cabin ambience being vital to the S Cabriolet’s overall experience, this factor is non-negotiable. Impressively rear three-quarter visibility isn’t compromised when the roof is up either, a factor that is often an issue with drop-tops.

We’re gobsmacked by how rapidly you can hustle such a large vehicle through twisty roads. There’s a direct action to the throttle and the steering not to mention a precision on turn-in, that allows you to access every bit of performance potential. Despite the noise, it’s not a nasty piece of work either. The S Cabriolet has the character to be docile, but reacts beautifully when you grab it by the scruff of the neck and work it hard.

The cabin, as befitting of an S-Class of any kind, features every luxury appointment and ounce of design nous that Mercedes-Benz can muster. The credo that S-Class must always represent the current example of the best that Mercedes-Benz can do rings true here. Removing two doors, messing with the fixed hardtop and adding some sporting ability to the equation has done nothing to dilute the rather complex beauty of the S-Class cabin.

The control screens are clear, easy-to-use and positioned perfectly, while the functions you access to use the infotainment system are likewise all in exactly the right position. The satellite navigation system is a highlight, as well as the excellent Burmester audio system.

The seats are comfortable, luxuriously trimmed, heated and ventilated and work through a wide range of smooth electric adjustment. The four-seat layout with a large console running through the middle of the car is a little compromised. You won’t want long-limbed adults shoehorned into the second row for longer drives. Entering and exiting the second row is easy though, thanks to the way the from two buckets swing out of the way when they fold forward.

The clever air scarf system works beautifully in cold weather, in addition to the heated seats. Likewise the rear wind curtain, that doesn’t look great in the upright position but does almost completely remove buffeting even at freeway speeds. You wouldn’t think that warm air around your neck would make such a difference but it works and works well. In Australia certainly where we don’t get too much seriously cold weather, the S Cabriolet makes a case for year round topless driving.

We tested the S63 AMG in AWD guise at launch and the platform is so competent, we’re left a little let down by the fact that the issue with the positioning of the RHD steering rack precludes us from having an S-Class in AWD. It’s not about whether potential buyers will ever push the S Cabriolet hard enough to need AWD. It’s simply the case that the system is so assured and unobtrusive, that it makes an exceptional platform even better. That shouldn’t be an issue for the next generation though, according to the whispers we’ve heard out of AMG headquarters.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the S500, of that you can be sure. You can also be sure though, that if money was no object, you’d opt for an AMG variant - the S63 if you have a penchant for V8s, the S65 if four extra cylinders is more your thing. The price for both is stratospheric sure, but I can’t think of a more luxurious way to go topless. The new S-Class Cabriolet is a tour-de-force of top-down motoring.