The word “aspirational” came to mind while driving the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S560 Cabriolet. With a base price of approximately $140,000, it’s a car many of us may not be able to own right now, but it’s worth dreaming about.
The cabriolet (a fancy car vocabulary word for “convertible”) is one of three models in the S-Class group, with the equally impressive sedan and coupe sharing the same styling, interior trim, drive trains and suspension.
The cabriolet and coupe are new to the Mercedes lineup, and the cabriolet is the first folding-top version of the S-Class in three decades. Nevertheless, these new two-door models incorporate the same impressive attributes introduced on the recently updated S-Class sedans if you’re thinking of buying (or more likely leasing) a more practical luxury four-door automobile.
If you’re familiar with the S-Class sedan, when you encounter the cabriolet or coupe, you might be a little taken aback. Sure, the feature lines on the side are the same, with Mercedes-Benz going a different, less fussy styling route than the competing Audis and BMWs. However, the front and back of the two-door models are distinctly sportier, sharing much more in common with the AMG GT sports cars than with the sedans.
The configuration of the taillights is a new feature that catches the eye during a walk-around. Under the Plexiglas surface, the lighting is produced by nearly 100 separate LED wafers, looking like the scales of a fish as they reflect sunlight, but each capable of projecting white, yellow or red light in patterns that provide information to drivers behind you on the direction of the turn and the pressure of the brakes.
Interior treatments, on the other hand, are similar on the two-door and four-door models. Most impressive as you slide behind the steering wheel, the pleasing but almost baroque curves of the dashboard and door panels are counterpointed by an all-business single rectangular sheet of glass under the dash top covering two 12-inch display screens that extend from the passenger’s glove box all the way across to the outside edge of the steering wheel. The right screen provides information on convenience systems, entertainment, navigation and communication; the left screen in front of the driver can be configured to various combinations of speedometer and other driving information.
The interface with the control systems is all new as well, adapting features that have been tested on the E-Class with some new ideas. Gone is the dominant rotating center cursor knob, replaced by a comfortable touch pad in the center of the console that behaves exactly like the pad on your laptop, and is supplemented by tiny touch pads on the steering wheel spokes, one controlling the vehicle convenience systems and the other controlling the driver information. Even then, the company recommends that you use the voice recognition system for most in-motion adjustment of systems.
The interior itself is an exquisite combination of comfort and opulence, using leather and grained wood to please the senses while the ergonomics, audio, ambient lighting, massage systems in each seat and even choice of air scent cosset the body.
This is one automobile that can actually turn a long-distance commute to Sacramento or a transit from the Bay Area to the mountains into a pleasure.
Safety systems and options are also the same on all three body styles, with a list that would take up the complete space of this review all by itself. Essentially, the car is designed to make it nearly impossible to collide with people, cars or objects in the front or the back when vehicle speed is under 40 mph. It first warns of potential problems and then, if necessary, applies the brakes to bring the car to a complete stop faster than the average driver could possibly react.
In addition, the new S-Class is equipped for “level two” autonomous driving, which means it can take care of all the typical decisions in commute traffic or long-distance cruising as long as the driver’s hands are on the steering wheel. It can steer itself within the lane lines, maintain a safe distance from the car ahead while staying as close to the speed limit as possible, make lane changes when requested to get ahead of a slow car in front and even assist the driver in taking evasive action by quickly and automatically changing lanes into an open adjoining lane to avoid a front-end collision.
Under the skin of all three models, consumers can choose among three levels of power and suspension in the two-door models. The 463 horsepower/516 pound-feet of torque from the 4-liter V-8 engine in the S560 that we drove for a week is just fine, perfectly suitable for daily use. For a little more fun, the excellent hand-built 4-liter V-8 and enhanced performance suspension in the S63 AMG pushes you over the magic 600-horsepower number with 664 pound-feet of torque, numbers that until recently would only be found in supercars. And if you want the ultimate in performance statements, Mercedes-AMG still offers a 6-liter V-12 engine with 621 horsepower and a ground-shaking 738 pound-feet of torque. A less-powerful and more fuel-efficient V-6 engine is available on the sedans.
A disclaimer here that should be required by law: The driving capabilities in either of the AMG models should only be exercised by someone who has taken one or two days of the basic AMG Driving Academy course. Not only will you refine your car-handling skills, but the program allows you to wax eloquent in any setting about the unmatched performance of these incredible cars.
Of course this level of comfort, convenience, luxury and – yes – prestige, comes at a cost. The review S560 Cabriolet we drove, with premium and sport packages, had a suggested retail price of $155,095. A sedan with similar equipment would be less costly, of course, but the company notes that any of the three S-Class models can be tailored in virtually any manner that a prospective owner might wish, with prices of ultra-luxury packages on long-wheelbase sedans reaching as high as $300,000. But that’s certainly something to aspire to.
Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson co-own Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits car club magazines and contributes articles to automotive magazines and online services.