What is it?
The Mercedes S 500 Cabriolet is truly a rarefied piece of automotive real estate. Everything about it, from the jewelled detailing of the headlights, smooth leather, exacting interior build quality and the muted but menacing V8 exhaust note, speaks of money. Lots of money.
Which is what you’ll need if you want one, given the £110,000 price tag. Although the fact that the Merc costs some £44,000 less than its nemesis, the Bentley Continental GTC V8, actually makes it look like good value.
For that, you get the 449bhp 4.7-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine, two-phase adaptive air suspension, a nine-speed automatic gearbox and what is said to be the largest folding fabric roof on the market; necessary to cover a cabin that will genuinely seat four adults in comfort.
What's it like?
There’s a reason that cars like this are often subjected to boat comparisons; the odd ‘land yacht’ classification. Cliché as it is, there really is a calming, almost meditative relaxation to the way a big, heavy convertible slicks down the road. It's exactly the same sort of all-consuming easiness that also characterises really posh boats.
That means you don’t really want to go quickly. The S 500 feels best in Comfort mode, driven smoothly and without fluster, with the roof down and the smug factor turned right up.
Ride comfort – even on the optional 20in alloys fitted to our car, and on UK roads – is very impressive. The vast majority of the time it cushions you from the road’s scarring, while big bumps and undulations are soaked up with soothing long-wave suppleness, and not too much dip and dive from the body. Only occasionally, and normally with cornering forces thrown in, do you get a big enough disturbance to unsettle the big Merc. This is also when you’ll notice a slight shake and shudder through the body, a tell-tale, albeit barely noticeable, hint that losing the roof has taken its toll.
Still, there is a strapping V8 and some world-class chassis tech at play, here, so it’s no surprise that the Merc can be hustled with remarkable finesse for a 2.1-tonne car. In Sport mode the steering is a bit heavy and loses some of the organic-feeling progression that you enjoy in Comfort, but the extra bite does give welcome added reassurance as you point the S-Class’ nose through surprisingly pointed direction changes.
Overall, it has a satisfying willingness to respond directly and with precision if the mood takes you. Even the body roll and pitch is well-controlled for such a huge car, so it’s actually the fairly slow steering and soft pedal responses - designed to aid smooth rather than fast driving – that keep you conscious of the bulk you're wielding around.
That V8 is a delight, with a power delivery that builds progressively but with real zealousness, making it easy to hit just the right blend of rapid but un-taxed progress that really suits the car. Sometimes the gearbox delivers a little more shunt on kickdown than you want in such a soothing car, but it’s a small criticism for the nine-speed auto, which otherwise blurs shifts very well.
Inside it’s as indulgent as you’d expect of something that has the option of Swarovski crystal embellishments in the LED headlights. If you could fit a chandelier in there, it wouldn’t look out of place.
The seats are substantial and supportive, electrically adjustable in every direction you could want, heated and cooled, and with a memory function all as standard. We might want them to drop a touch lower, but otherwise the driving position is faultless and allows you to survey the dash in all its glory. This is the tweed of interior car design; totally defined by heritage, yet somehow also at the peak of minimal designer trendiness.
Certainly, you’re not short of modern convenience. The 12.3in screen and nav system, complete with digital dials, online functionality, live traffic updates, voice control, hard drive, automatic emergency call system, DAB, and all the connectivity you could want is hard to fault for sheer capability. It is frustratingly difficult to action some simple commands, and the touchpad is mostly redundant to the more intuitive rotary controller, but it’s an easy system to enjoy once you’ve got to grips with it.
In the back, there’s room to seat two adults comfortably, with particularly impressive head room. You can even get a fair amount of luggage in the boot, but only if you’re willing to sacrifice the hood-down ability. Just two cabin bags use up most of the available space with the roof folded (which takes around 20sec and can be done at up to 30mph).
A standard electrically-controlled wind deflector can be raised even with four people in the car, at which point buffeting in the front is minimal. Those in the back will still find it uncomfortably blustery at higher speeds, though, despite the wind deflector that raises above the windscreen to try and further protect rear passengers.
Roof up, this is as quiet a cabriolet as we’ve experienced. There’s a distant rush of wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds, but otherwise you can have a whispered conversation with your passenger no problem.
Should I buy one?
Absolutely. It’s not perfect, and the Bentley’s four-wheel drive and even loftier image undoubtedly give it an edge in some ways. Even so, as lavish, four-seat convertibles go, the Mercedes S 500 is about as good as it gets.
While we’d have to wait until we've driven the other S-Class Cab models in the UK before making a final verdict, the S 500 seems all the car that you could want of this regal-feeling convertible. Certainly, the AMG versions are going to offer more aggressive performance and sharper handling, but they’re also a lot more expensive and firmer riding. That sounds an unnecessary jump in price and ability to us, given how indulgently well-sorted this model is, so if the big, open-air S-Class appeals to you, try the 500 before you make any decisions.
Mercedes S 500 Cabriolet
Location: Surrey; On sale: Now; Price £110,120; Engine V8, 4663cc, twin-turbo, petrol; Power 449bhp at 5250-5500rpm; Torque 516lb ft at 1800-3500rpm; Gearbox 9-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2115kg; Top speed 155mph; 0 62mph 4.6sec; Economy 32.5mpg; CO2 rating & BIK tax band 204g/km / 37%