I’m not big on the headlights of this new Mercedes-AMG S 63 Cabriolet swept so far back, practically on the side of the vehicle. Predators focus their vision dead ahead. This car has the expression of a distraught herbivore.
The spacious cabin and long-wheelbase take up all the room in between the axles. There isn’t much left to go around, so the crucial axle-to-dash ratio is a bit off. Now, I’m not saying it looks front-wheel drive with a stumpy bonnet... But it looks front-wheel drive… I keep seeing visions of a Toyota Solara. Someone please exorcise me.
Why does the S-Class Coupé look way, way better? It’s the Cab’s soft-top, which follows a completely different contour line so it’s much more of an afterthought-looking thing than the sinuous Coupé. The A-pillar should’ve started sprouting at least an inch further back, and the doors situated more closely dead-centre of the wheelbase. I know design is subjective, so I’m being subjective.
That’s out of the way, then: I’m not convinced the new Mercedes-AMG S 63 Cabriolet looks a million-dirhams. It doesn’t cost far off a million dirhams… And it might be a darn bargain. Let me explain.
The sixth and final model in Stuttgart’s latest-generation W222 S-Class line-up occupies a realm of one percenters that shop for cars like the rest of us shop for shoes. Prospective owners typically already have seven or eight cars, but in France where I’m driving the new drop-top car, head of S-Class development Uwe Hornig has a point: “So what? They can buy another one…”
Indeed, from Dh779,000, so what… Throw some options its way and seven figures seem mighty close. It costs almost exactly the same as a Maybach S 600. (Twelve-cylinder S 65 Cabriolet? A million is just getting started.)
That kind of money gets you an awful lot of car. In fact, it’s likely the first convertible (Germans insist on ‘cabriolet’) I’ve ever driven that is actually all the car you need. If you didn’t already have the other eight. An ultra-luxury utility convertible — ULUC anyone?
In this stratosphere, however, people tend to want their money to do all the, you know, doing. But there’s a lot to do in this car. It takes 10 minutes to get going — how much is all that time costing me? It’s like a spaceship in there, and there’s no take off until the massaging seats get going, the internet radio choices made, the navigation set, the head-up just so, the bum-cooling blasting, the side-bolster contouring, and then, of course, you have to select one of myriad driving combinations between the comfort and sporty options. And you still didn’t think of what scent the climate control system should mist the cabin with — the good news is they all smell like money.
And now we’re ready to go, in the first open-top ultra-luxury four-seater from Mercedes since the 1917 W111 S-Class generation. The S 63 Cab is part of Stuttgart’s drop-top ‘dream car’ line-up and the manufacturer loves boasting that it’s got the youngest such line-up on the market. Only the E-Class Cab needs succeeding next year. The new C-Class Cabriolet just joined, as did the SLC (updated SLK — check out a forthcoming issue of wheels) and facelifted SL roadsters. To stretch the line-up to six offerings Mercedes even groups the Smart Fortwo Cabrio together with these dream cars. Yes, I can clearly remember the last time I dreamt of a Fortwo, when I woke up screaming in shivers.
Anyway, Mercedes also says this is the world’s most comfortable and quietest convertible, and never mind you or me, it’s Bentley and Rolls-Royce that will take issues with such flagrant statements. I know Mercedes swears the S-Class Coupé has the quietest cabin of any series production car. I didn’t test that claim during my experience with it in the UAE, but seeing as this is a coupé with a soft-top, now, the company makes the same claim for this new car. And this claim I did test, not with a decibel meter but with my right foot. At, let’s say, brisk speeds, with the roof down it is eerily calm in there.
It’s really quite amazing — I couldn’t physically lift my arm above the windscreen at that speed and keep it there, it would get violently blown back. Yet beneath this rushing mayhem is universal calm, and you just sit there massaged (maybe it’s a Chinese hot stone principle kind of day…) on giant, white perforated marshmallows, in this tranquil eye of the storm.
Part of what magnifies this sensation, is the S 63 Cabriolet’s take on the theory of special relativity, or at least the part on perceived speed, which I think I understand. You see, the car doesn’t quite view it the same as everyone else. Zero to 100kph in the S 63 takes less than four seconds. But then it’s almost immediately that 200kph just, happens. It’s just suddenly there and you never saw it coming. The S 63 almost belittles speed, it demeans its allure, and just piles it on like it is merely mashed potato in a buffet line. Forget about your licence.
That’s the trick this car nails. With a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 developing 900Nm of torque from 2,250rpm, it makes it look easy. You can pick from three transmission modes, including Sport, but the seven-speed shifts undetectably regardless. Mercedes’ 4Matic system distributes two-thirds of the power to the back and all-corner traction has the big 20in Pilot Sport Michelins under the thumb, without a squeak or squeal of complaint. It’s at first a little bit perplexing, then hilarious, just how augustly this thing carves corners. And I mean proper corners, the next one appearing before this one’s done, Maritime Alps corners. AMG’s carbon-ceramic brakes, optional and fitted on this car, hold the 2.2-tonne S 63 Cabriolet back with a reassuring resistance even down roads that just drop straight into the Mediterranean Sea. It shouldn’t be, and the car keeps mocking your presumptions. “Pah, and you thought I couldn’t dive into that hairpin at 120. Dumb human…”
This car’s development is charted in the cold flow of digital data, an echelon of ones and zeroes marching to their unquestionable orders. It is ruthlessly good. What’s missing is some imperfection, a touch of humanity. Instead it’ll drive itself in traffic, and steer autonomously at highway speeds. It’s pure relaxation spending five or six hours motoring around in this thing, and if that is its project target, then there is no car out there that can do the same job as well. But it’s not quite an occasion, like say, a Dawn, or an Aston or something with character.
Part of what makes sitting in the S 63 Cabriolet so restful is Mercedes’ obsession with aerodynamics (the car has a Cd value of 0.29, which is equal to an SL with its roof-up, which lowers drag) and consequently the lack of turbulence in the cabin, as well as the car’s fantastic climate control system. A wind net at the rear and a deflector that automatically rises out of the windscreen frame keep the draught away, and whether the roof was up or down, I didn’t need to adjust the air conditioning in something around 30-degrees. It was also quiet and didn’t seem to be straining. Everything is automatic, and the 18-motor system networks with the car via 12 sensors to constantly monitor interior temperature. I actually believe it would be possible to drive around in the Middle East with the top down in summer. We might have to test that — the car’s arriving to our region next month.
The S 63 Cabriolet’s nonchalance in the corners also comes down to the good torsional stiffness, which has been maintained by AMG compared to the Coupé, thanks to a rear aluminium and magnesium bulkhead, and a new rear floor section also made of aluminium to help keep the weight down to non-commercial-vehicle levels. The body shell weighs no more than the Coupé’s.
Attention to detail all over is so high, it made the car’s only technical flop that much more puzzling. The roof is very slow — it takes 20 seconds to complete its operation and only at speeds of up to 50kph, which used to be the industry norm. But Porsche’s tops drop in 10 seconds these days and do it at highway speeds, confirmed, at over 70kph. Testing a convertible over a day, that doesn’t make a difference — the Riviera weather is wonderful so it goes down and stays down. But living with a convertible, and road tripping one, you’ll be winding that thing up and down all the time and that’s when a few seconds make a vital ownership difference. The nice part is that with the car’s electronic key you can control the S 63 Cabriolet’s roof from outside the vehicle. And when it is down, there’s a gorgeous, industrially matte chrome finished steel bezel running around the car, and another huge, thick swathe of it framing the windshield. Scuttle shake? Vot is dis you speak ov?
This solidity translates from the faultlessly tuned electric steering, too, needing little effort from the driver. If you can just muster up a twitch in your little pinky, gravity almost does the job for you. It’s light, and direct at the same time, how a luxury car should be. There’s no unnecessary adaptive weighting added at speed, which can be so annoying in other million-dirham cars that miss the point completely.
Maybe the S 63 Cabriolet is just meant to be this perfect, this impersonal. Maybe I’m missing the point, too.