ABIGAIL, the first British storm to be given a name by the Met Office, hit our shores last November. It was still only March when her 10th stormy sibling, Katie, blustered in. But despite Abigail, Katie and the rest, it seems we can’t wait to fling off the lids of our cars.
As Giles Smith remarked in his recent review of the new Mini convertible, “Britain has a soft spot for the soft-top.” Between them, Germany and Britain account for three-quarters of the European market for convertibles, with Germany just ahead — just like in the race for the sun loungers.
In Britain it’s premium soft-tops that float our boat, so it’s no wonder Range Rover has introduced a topless Evoque and Mercedes-Benz has rolled out a new open S-class. It is billed as a luxury cabriolet that can withstand the very worst of the British weather — provided you keep the roof up.
The triple-layered hood fits so flush that if it weren’t for the matt fabric and deeper rear quarter-panel, the cabriolet could easily be mistaken for its coupé sibling. It’s one of the best-looking cabrios on the market, and with even the cheapest version, the S 500 AMG Line, priced at £110,120, so it should be. The top takes about 20 seconds to open or close itself and works at road speeds of up to 37mph.
The S-class cabriolet is 220mm shorter than the saloon between the front and rear wheels, so you can banish thoughts of a cavernous cabin. That said, there’s ample space for an average-sized adult passenger sitting behind an average-sized driver.
The top-of-the-range V12 S 65 takes a smidgen longer than the four-wheel-drive V8 S 63 in the 0-62mph sprint, but peerless refinement and bragging rights are sufficient compensation
It’s low and sporty-looking, designed to trade blows with the Maserati GranCabrio, the Porsche 911 cabriolet and particularly the Bentley Continental GT V8 convertible.
There are three main versions of the S-class cabriolet. The S 500 AMG Line has a 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine driving the rear wheels through a nine-speed automatic gearbox. It produces 449bhp and can crack 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds.
It’s followed by a brace of sportier versions engineered by Mercedes-AMG. The less powerful of the two, the AMG S 63 4Matic, has a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 producing 577bhp. Partly because of the engine’s extra oomph but mainly because of its four-wheel-drive system, the S 63 reaches 62mph from standstill in 3.9 seconds. It costs £135,675.
The AMG S 65, at £192,805 the top-of-the-range S-class cabriolet, has a 621bhp V12. As with the S 500, the rear wheels only are driven, so it takes a smidgen longer than the S 63 in the 0-62mph sprint: 4.1 seconds. Peerless refinement and the bragging rights associated with a V12 are sufficient compensation.
In all three versions standard equipment is, as you would hope at these prices, generous. Highlights include air suspension, sporty AMG body styling, leather trim, powered seats with memory and ambient lighting. The climate-control system cleverly regulates the cabin temperature according to whether the top is up or down.
The S 63 adds a sport exhaust system, Mercedes’ Magic Body Control system, which reads the road surface and adjusts the suspension to suit, and sport seats. The top-dog S 65 lays it on thick with 20in alloys, surround sound and “intelligent” LED headlights blinged up with no fewer than 47 Swarovski crystals.
Options worth having include a Warmth Comfort package that heats the centre console, armrests and steering wheel, Airscarf, which mollycoddles occupants’ necks, and the Aircap system, which reduces cabin turbulence.
You sit low down in the richly trimmed and beautifully built cabin, on plush leather seats and mostly clear of the wind blast. The fascia is stylish and uncluttered, though the stubby gear selector lacks the theatre of, say, Jaguar’s self-rising transmission control. Steering-wheel paddles provide split-second gearchanges, but leaving the car in automatic is more effective.
It’s hard to think why you’d want the AMG S 63 over the S 500. Yes, it’s faster, but the S 500 satisfies the S-class brief better by looking and feeling classier
In Comfort mode, the S 500 feels as though it’s riding on a carpet of air — which, in a way, it is. It floats over all but the worst road-surface imperfections, insulating its passengers from bumps and ripples and feeling every inch the luxury cabriolet it aspires to be.
The steering could give more feedback but is nicely weighted and precise. Slickly managed by the quick-change gearbox, the 4.7-litre V8 engine provides dollops of thrust on demand.
Unfortunately, in Sport mode the body trembles and shudders over bumps. The car is so responsive in Comfort, it seems best to avoid Sport.
Similarly, it’s hard to think why you’d want the AMG S 63 4Matic over the S 500. Yes, it’s faster and, thanks to re-engineered suspension, it rides better in Sport mode. It also feels more nimble than the S 500, which on twisty roads has a hint of a barge about it. But the S 500 fulfils the S-class brief better by looking and feeling classier. And it’s £25,000 cheaper.
We didn’t drive the S 65, but the S 500’s V8 is so smooth and powerful, not to mention so much more economical, that again it’s hard to imagine that the extra £80,000 would be money well spent.
Stick with the S 500 and, regardless of whether Tony, Wendy or Zoe is heading our way, you’ll always be in the eye of the storm — with not a hair out of place.