We can really appreciate the pleasure of driving for its own sake when we have the right car in the right place and no particular schedule to meet or destination to reach. We had exactly that situation between Christmas and the new year, when our local press pool assigned us a dark-blue 2017 Mercedes-Benz S550 Cabriolet as our test car for that week.
With time to spare, no rain in sight and the full-size luxury Cabriolet to drive, we spent the week visiting our favorite sites and driving our favorite roads in the Bay Area.
Our conclusion at the end of the week? This gem in the Mercedes-Benz lineup handles like a sports car, rides like a limousine and makes its occupants feel like royalty.
Our first foray was up curving Page Mill Road through the coastal hills to Alice’s Restaurant, that rural hamburger joint on Skyline Drive famous among two-wheel and four-wheel gear heads. (A tip here: Highway 84 will be limited to one lane through late spring due to landslides.) Although the winter temperature was not quite 60 degrees, we were comfortable and cozy after activating the full array of wind cheaters: air cap on the windshield, windscreen at the back of the cabin, windows up, air scarves blowing warm air on the backs of our necks, heated seats, “intelligent climate control” heater on and driving gloves, of course. The aerodynamics of the Cabriolet are such that we could even enjoy the symphonic sound coming through the laser-drilled speakers of the optional $6,250 sound system.
Even better, with 449 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque put to the pavement through the nine-speed transmission (the smallest power train available on the S-Cabrio), the car was responsive to every whim. Through the curves, the redesigned S-Class suspension in sport mode kept the car under control with just enough roll to evoke a feeling of flying. Although the secondary roads were rough, the Airmatic suspension smoothed out any issues that might have disturbed our flight.
A Cabriolet coach fit for royalty
After spending a satisfying time inspecting the interior details, with quilted leather, jewel-like chrome switchgear and thoughtful ergonomics that made the interior feel molded around us, we needed to find an appropriate palace. So our second trip took us to the Palace of the Legion of Honor overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
But even kings and queens need to come home. We remembered from our world history classes that once upon a time, conquering generals would bring home exotic produce from foreign lands, so that trip ended with a visit to De Martini’s, the produce stand in Los Altos.
The only reality check is the price of this chariot: The base version of the S550 Cabriolet is stickered at $133,500. Our test model actually cost an additional $30,000, but we probably could have skipped the $4,500 Swarovski crystal headlamps and maybe done without the quilted leather that added $3,500 to the price.
But then again, for those who want the best open-air motoring that Mercedes-Benz offers, who’s counting?
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.