Rarified Air: Breathing up in this stratosphere feels oh so special
It’s hard to imagine having a bank account fat enough to afford a $177,325 USD Mercedes-AMG S63 4Matic Cabriolet. It’s even harder trying to wrap your brain around the idea while cruising through Nice, France, and Monaco, where the sun tans beautiful jet-setters year round and where multimillion-dollar yachts and homes dot the coastline like salt on tortilla chips. (Yes, they’re everywhere.) But that’s exactly the scenario Mercedes-Benz presented media during the launch of the all-new $132,325 USD S550 Cabriolet (we drove S500 Cabs, though they’ll be badged S550 in the U.S.) and the aforementioned S63 Cab. And far be it for me to not give it the ol’ all-American try.
My day started out in the plebian 449-hp S550 Cab, whose Mercedes-estimated 0-60 time is 4.5 seconds. From outside, with the electric soft top positioned up or down, the lines and profile on the nearly 200-inch-long convertible are nearly as elegant as those on its stunning, roughly 100-pound-lighter (45 kg) coupe counterpart. This is a handsome drop top, no matter how you look at it. Such details as 19-inch alloys with staggered tires (245/45 front, 275/40 rear) and an available LED Intelligent Light System with Swarovski crystals for turn indicators (seriously) add equal parts sport and style.
From behind the wheel, the ambiance remains ber premium. My pearlescent white land yacht featured a “maritime-inspired” interior of “deep-sea blue and porcelain,” a fitting combination for the venue and one that felt as sumptuous as it looked, with extensive application of Nappa leather on the seats, doors, and dash. That said, my co-driver noted that the stitching and fit finish seemed almost too perfect, lacking the handmade touch of some British marques’ offerings. Oh, the problems the rich and famous face. The weather was cool and a bit overcast, so the standard heated seats and available heated armrests and steering wheel came in handy, as did the standard Airscarf, the lovely, warm-air blowers at the base of the headrests.
The three-layer acoustic soft top lowers or raises in less than 20 seconds, all at the easy pull of a lever in the center console. Better yet, the top can be operated at cruising speeds up to 37 mph (59 km/h)—perfect for showing off to pedestrians, neighbors, and drivers of cars going 36 mph (58 km/h). Next to the lever are two useful buttons—one for lowering/raising all four windows in a single push and the other for engaging Aircap, a two-part system that extends a wind deflector 2.8 inches at the top of windshield and raises a draft-stop behind the back seats, all to help mute wind noise with the top down. The only drawback is that the extended deflector makes the Cab look like it’s wearing a big lip spoiler that flew off the trunk of an M5 and got stuck atop its windshield. If you’re looking for the quietest driving experience, it’s probably wiser and more aesthetically pleasing to leave the canvas up and enjoy the peaceful serenity provided by the acoustic top.
The mouth-watering mountain roads above and beyond Nice are simply too narrow to comfortably accommodate a big convertible that stretches more than 6 feet wide, especially a 577-horsepower one. Yeah, I’m talking about you, S63 Cab. The AMG-ified version is 0.7 inch longer, 0.4 inch wider, and 0.4 inch taller than its S550 sibling, and it rides on larger 20-inch alloys wearing 255/40 front and 285/35 rear rubber. So along with its revised AMG-spec fascias and side sills, its stance is noticeably more aggressive. Also more aggressive: its adjustable sport exhaust that cracks and pops with racetrack-worthy authority.
After driving the effortless and supremely competent S550 Cab, whose 449 horses, nine-speed automatic transmission, and standard Airmatic suspension made short work of wide-open expressways, rough city streets, and curvy mountain roads, I wondered: Why would you ever spend an extra $45,000 on the S63? The S550 is so capable and smooth that anything more seems, well, silly. But after hitting the S63’s Sport button and relishing the exhaust note that sounds as though it were ripped right out of an AMG GT S, I realized that, yes, the S63 is indeed silly, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But is it worth a $45,000 USD premium? I’ll give you 3.8 seconds to think about it.
With standard 4Matic all-wheel drive that is split 33/67 front/rear and AMG’s proven seven-speed automatic, the S63 Cab deftly manages all 577 horses and 664 lb-ft, making not only sub-4.0-second 0-60 blasts seem routinely nonchalant but also Vmax runs to 200 mph (322 km/h) seem wholly realistic. (Alas, AMG limits the top speed to 186.) With the extra power and speed comes bigger front brakes (15.4-inch rotors versus the S550’s 14.6) as well as available carbon-ceramic rotors that are said to be 20 percent lighter.
At the lunch stop, Mercedes displayed a special-edition AMG S63 4Matic Cabriolet “Edition 130.” One of 130 (the number celebrates Mercedes-Benz’s 130th anniversary), the special edition sports an exclusive Alubeam silver paint job, custom red fabric top, a Designo Bengal red/black Nappa leather interior, and snazzy 20-inch forged wheels. Mercedes hasn’t announced pricing yet or how many of the 130 will make it stateside, but it’s safe to assume around $200,000 USD and maybe 50. The only S-Class Cabriolet more exclusive might be the rear-drive AMG S65, whose 621-horsepower, 738-lb-ft, twin-turbo V-12 warrants a sticker of $248,825 USD. If you’re hyperventilating, you can’t afford it. Or even think about affording it. Rarified air, to be sure.