There’s nothing quite like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Engine: 5.5L twin-turbo V8
Power: 577 hp, 664 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
0-60 mph: 3.8 seconds
0-100 km/h: 3.9 seconds
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 14 city, 22 hwy
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 16.8 city, 10.7 hwy
US Price: Starts at $176,400
CAN Price: Starts at $193,600
It’s big and brooding, like a large luxury car should be, yet brings with it a level of sophistication and refinement that’s hard to match — and indeed, the Sonderklasse (which roughly translates to ‘special class’) has gone largely unmatched over the course of its half-century run at the top of the premium car pack.
Not content to dominate just the full-size luxury coupe and sedan spaces, Mercedes has returned for the first time in more than 40 years to building a full-scale four-seat convertible for the financially endowed. And it doesn’t end there either, with a host of S-Class convertible models ranging from the “ordinary” S550 to the extraordinary — and recently announced — Mercedes-Maybach S650. Yes, there’s something for everyone with pockets deep enough to dabble in six-figure drop-tops.
But it’s somewhere in between where we find the sweet spot, with a pair of AMG-tuned versions of the S-Class cabrio that offer a safe haven for speed junkies who like to get their thrills as poshly as possible.
The Lesser of Two Evils
Because we’re reasonable here at AutoGuide.com, we’ve opted to skip the V12-powered S65 in favor of the Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet and the twin-turbocharged V8 that’s nestled under its swimming pool-sized hood. Sure, it makes do with four less cylinders — not to mention less brashness — than the S65’s engine, but output is almost as impressive.
Good for an asphalt-churning 577 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque, the 5.5-liter sends power to Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system through a slightly antiquated seven-speed automatic transmission. Not quite as refined as the nine-speed auto ‘box in the S550, the seven-speed can produce the occasional jarring shift under heavy throttle input. But roll on the skinny pedal, and the S63 responds with an AMG tour de force.
It accelerates, as one friend put it, like a passenger jet takes off on a runway, lurching forward as thrust builds before launching to 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds (0 to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds). For those keeping score at home, that’s faster than the rear-wheel drive-only S65 can muster, completing the same sprint in four seconds (0 to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds).
Whether blasting into the stratosphere or roaming the roads at a reasonable pace, the S63’s exhaust, finished with a quartet of squared-off chrome tips, provides an audible reminder of the greatness that is a hand-built AMG engine.
Cabin du Jour
Even at speeds approaching triple digits, the S63’s interior is a tranquil spot tailored equally to quiescence as it is cruising. It’s also thoroughly modern Mercedes, and features twin 12.3-inch screens on the dash — one of which acts as the gauge cluster — and the choice of 13- or 24-speaker Burmester surround-sound stereo systems.
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While some wondered aloud about the off-white interior’s ability to stand the test of time, no one dared question its beauty. Swathed in more leather than a biker convention, you’ll find nary a hard touch point outside of the buttons and wood trim, with everything from the dash to the door panels covered in supple cowhide. The seats themselves feature air-actuated bolsters up front that hug tight under lateral g forces to keep driver and passenger firmly planted, as well as multi-function massage, heating and ventilation. The lucky pair sitting up front also benefit from the added luxury of warm air being blown down their backs courtesy of Mercedes’ neck-level heating system.
A Four-Season Convertible
With the top down, wind is kept at bay thanks to a nifty speed-sensitive airfoil in the header and an automatic mesh screen behind the rear seats. The S63 Cabrio is also perfectly capable of hosting a conversation at highway speeds, and is impressively silent and serene when the needle rises.
Putting the tri-layered top up, which takes about 20 seconds and can be executed at speeds as fast as 31 mph (50 km/h), the quietness of the cabin encroaches on coupe levels, and is a comfortable place to reside — even when the mercury dipped to an unseasonably low 37°F (3°C) during our week with the S63. However, it was when the top was up that some rattling in the door panels was noticeable, an almost unforgivable issue given the car’s hefty price tag.
Grand Tour Connoisseur
Whether the top is stowed or raised, the S63 convertible’s architecture benefits from structural enhancements that keep it from flexing under stress. Virtually the entire underbody has been overhauled to include plenty of aluminum reinforcements. Thankfully, the added rigidity, not to mention the top mechanism, doesn’t bring much in the way of extra weight, with the S63 Cabrio tipping the scales at 4,817 lb (2,185 kg) — only slightly more than the equivalent coupe’s 4,678 lb (2,122 kg).
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That hefty curb weight makes the S63 a bit of a one-trick pony despite the AMG team’s tinkering, though it’s quite capable of that trick. Straight-line speed comes early and often, the car pulling with confidence.
The transmission, which has a selector that can be set to Normal, Sport or Manual, can climb through all seven gears quickly on the way towards triple-digit speeds, while the brakes — 15.4-inch discs up front with six-piston calipers, and 14.2-inch discs in the back with single-piston floating calipers — can slow the massive Mercedes just as fast, feeling firm underfoot with little fade.
The standard air suspension has been optimized by AMG, and features electronically controlled dampers. Even in Comfort mode, it’s stiffer than the S550’s air suspension setup but isn’t overly harsh, with the optional 20-inch alloy wheels communicating more road imperfections than the suspension. Steering response is impressive despite the car’s size — it stretches 198.6 inches (5,044 millimeters) from bow to stern — but is pretty neutral in feel, which can be attributed to its heft. The weight of the car definitely wants to pull it outside through corners when pushed, but the S63 gobbles up sweeping turns with an impressive level of poise.
The Verdict: 2017 Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet
The S-Class has long been the standard by which all other luxury cars are measured, a tradition that continues with this new S63 Cabrio. It’s hard to believe a car in this price range could be considered a bargain, but the Mercedes-AMG S63 convertible is just that, combining performance prowess with opulence in a package that’s hard to beat. Starting at $176,400 ($193,600 in Canada), it commands a steep premium over the S550 but looks like a downright bargain compared to the competition from Bentley and Rolls-Royce — not to mention the V12-powered S65 — proving once again that there’s something special about the S-Class that’s hard to match.