by Roger Biermann
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is synonymous with style, grace, and excess, but it's also the proving ground through which Mercedes introduces its most advanced technologies - technologies that subsequently trickle down through the rest of the range until you can buy them in a common A-Class. There's no derivative that symbolizes the S-Class's status as a halo of the Mercedes brand like the convertible, though. If you want the sheer luxury to rival a Bentley Continental GT Convertible but without the price premium, the S-Class Cabriolet is your go-to choice; and while newer rivals like the BMW 8 Series Convertible have come along to challenge the S, they simply don't hold the same cachet as the esteemed S-Class badge. If you yearn for the sound of a 463-horsepower V8 in your ears and the wind in your hair, there are few finer ways to achieve that than from behind the wheel of the S560 Cabriolet.
When you already give your buyers the best you have to offer, there's no need to make monumental changes year on year. To that end, the S-Class Cabriolet only received last year's Premium Package as now standard fare, giving you Active Multicontour front seats with massage functionality, a surround-view camera, and enhanced functionality for the heated front seats.
4.0-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
Nothing quite accentuates the length of the S-Class Cabriolet like lopping off the roof, giving the luxury grand tourer an almost yacht-like presence on the road. All-LED lighting is standard, while the rear light clusters utilize OLED technology and the headlights can be optioned with genuine Swarovski crystal accents. 19-inch multispoke wheels are standard, with the option to upgrade to a set of 20s, while at no cost, you can choose from one of four colors for the soft-top roof.
It seems almost crazy that you only need a regular driver's license to drive an S-Class Cabrio when, on size alone, it should require a supertanker license instead. From front to rear it measures a titanic 198.1 inches in length, the svelte body residing on a 115.9-inch wheelbase. At 55.8 inches tall, it's two-tenths of an inch taller than the coupe, but at 83 inches, the two are evenly matched in width. Surprisingly, the loss of the roof and the addition of extra structural reinforcements only add a small amount to the curb weight - at 4,784 lbs, the Cabrio is a mere 44 lbs heavier than its coupe counterpart.
Despite not wearing an AMG badge, the S560 Cabriolet still shares some basic ideas with the S63 (reviewed separately), the biggest similarity being the fitment of a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 under the hood. In S560 guise it forgoes the one-man, one-engine philosophy, but also only outputs 463 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. It's sent exclusively to the rear wheels by means of a nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic gearbox. Despite its sheer size, it takes only 4.5 seconds to run from 0-60 mph thanks to a huge helping of twin-turbo torque. That torque makes the engine; it's there whenever you need it with almost no lag to speak of, and whether it's on take-off from a traffic light or overtaking on the freeway, there's a perennial wave of force that you can ride all the way to your house in the Hamptons.
As the pinnacle of Mercedes' technological exploits, the S-Class is a testbed for the best of the best when it comes to tech. That means the air suspension on the S560 Cabrio is geared towards being ahead of its time, featuring four-wheel automatic leveling to help balance things out and lower and raise the ride height to compensate for various speeds and conditions. Combined with standard adaptive damping, the S560 feels like it's floating on a cloud, but there's no wallowing or sense of vagueness, as it feels well planted and composed at all times. It simply irons out the kinks and makes any bumpy road mirror-smooth, even on standard 19-inch wheels. It handles adeptly, too, or as adeptly as a 4,784-lb convertible could, displaying minimal body roll, keen turn-in, and great composure through turns. Don't expect a sports car - there's the SL and AMG GT for that - but as a comfortable, competent cruiser, the S-Class is sublime.
Pure luxury and a twin-turbo V8 don't go hand-in-hand with Greta Thunberg-approved gas mileage estimates, but EPA estimates of 17/26/20 mpg city/highway/combined are admittedly not very hard to stomach. A V8-powered BMW M850i Convertible shares similar figures, but loses out by a single digit on the highway metric. With the S560's 21.1-gallon gas tank requiring a strict adhesion to premium gasoline, it's an expensive habit stopping in at a gas station, but with careful driving, you should be able to achieve 422 miles between stops.
Although technically a four-seater, the rear pair of seats is best reserved for children and disliked relatives. Headroom isn't an issue - at least not with the soft-top open - but the compromise made for needing somewhere to store that soft-top is in reduced rear legroom. Front occupants, however, are lavishly accommodated in 12-way power front seats with memory function, heating, ventilation, and massage functionality, with Airscarf neck-level heating wafting warm air over your neck when the roof is down on cool evenings. Ingress and egress are made tricky in tight spaces by the large doors, but anywhere else, the soft-close functionality lends an air of grace to the act of climbing in or getting out.
The S-Class Coupe is hardly the last word in practicality, but when you need somewhere to store the roof and there's a physical barrier making sure you don't occupy the trunk with anything that might go crunch, any semblance of practicality you had goes out the window. To that end, just 6.9 cubic feet are available when the roof is open, and the position of the divider means only a single carry-on suitcase will fit in the left-over space. The BMW 8 Series simply decimates this with 12.4 cubic feet - regardless of the roof's state of aperture. Internal storage hardly does any better in the Merc, with a decently-sized center console boasting a pair of cupholders, two cupholders in the rear, and somewhat impractical door pockets. There's always the rear seats for additional storage...
Only the cream of the crop makes it onto the features list of the S-Class Convertible, with 12-way power seats offering memory, heating, ventilation, massage functions, and neck-level heating, the doors offering soft-close functionality, and the interior climate-controlled in two zones with LEDs bathing the cabin in any one of 64 hues. There's keyless entry, push-button start, and of course, a power-operated acoustic soft-top roof, while - if you love your kids enough - you can have the rear seats heated as well. A surround-view camera and adaptive LED headlights are standard, as are a slew of assistance features like blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic assist, park assist, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keep assist, while on the options list you'll find semi-autonomous functionality for the adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, and night-vision available.
Mercedes' dual 12.3-inch displays dominate the dash in a panoramic tech-fest for the ages. The one ahead of the driver is a fully customizable instrumentation display, but the central screen plays host to the latest COMAND infotainment system, with functionality in Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, AM/FM/Bluetooth inputs, and standard navigation. The standard Burmester surround-sound system is made up of 13 speakers and 590 watts of punch, but if you need more, the optional Burmester 3D surround sound system packs a 1,190-watt setup with no fewer than 24 speakers. Route-based speed adaptation is also available, as is TuneIn Radio and in-car Wi-Fi.
Despite five recalls tarnishing the record for 2019, 2020 is clear of recalls at the time of writing. Mercedes-Benz offers a standard four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty in the event of problems, but this can be increased with extended plans catering to up to 100,000 miles of coverage.
Neither the NHTSA and IIHS have tested the S-Class Cabriolet - or the sedan and coupe for that matter - but don't let this convince you an S560 Cabrio isn't safe. No fewer than ten airbags are present, including dual front knee bags and side-impact airbags for the rear passengers, while rollover bars protect your head if your S-Class flips. Standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are bolstered by automatic emergency braking, while if you delve into the options list, adaptive cruise control with semi-autonomous functionality and night-vision assists are available.
Is the S-Class Convertible an expensive alternative to the new BMW 8 Series Convertible, or is it something more… something else? Truth be told, it's special enough in appearance, luxurious enough in its ride and demeanor, and elite enough in status that the S-Class doesn't really need to rival the 8 Series. The reality of it is that the S-Class Cabriolet is more like a cut-price rival to the Bentley Continental GT Convertible or Aston Martin DB11 Volante - it's got the luxury, it's got the comfort, it's got the engine, and it sure as hell has the heritage behind the brand. But that doesn't mean it's perfect. The COMAND infotainment system isn't the best Mercedes has to offer - even if it looks amazing - and the rear seats and trunk space are laughable at best. But if you've got a $138,600 hole burning in your pocket, you could do far worse than the S-Class Convertible. Or, you simply can't do any better.
The S560 Cabriolet is a one-man-band when it comes to non-AMG branded S-Class Convertibles, with a base MSRP of $138,600 excluding a $995 destination charge. However, while already well-specced, adding options can quickly send the price skyward, driving the final asking price upwards of $160,000.
It's not a case of which to buy, but rather how you should spec your S560 Cabriolet. So we've done the hard work for you and have the ideal specification. Save face and avoid the garish AMG options, but do opt for the 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. Choose the no-cost Lunar Blue Metallic paint and the beige soft-top roof to round off the exterior. Inside, you should splash out on the $3,250 designo combination of Porcelain and Deep Sea Blue Nappa leather with Burl Walnut wood inserts and add the heated wood/leather steering wheel for $250. Equip the head-up display ($1,100) and the thumping Burmester 24-speaker 3D sound system for $6,400, along with the $2,250 Driver Assistance Package, which adds all conceivable driver aids except night vision. All in, it's $151,850, but it's a small price to pay for the best S-Class Cabrio money can buy.
The S-Class Convertible is, in all honesty, so good that you needn't even consider the AMG-bred S63 Cabrio instead. It's a bold statement to make, but the mad scientists in Affalterbach actually ruin the essence of the S-Class Cabrio. By reworking the 4.0-liter V8, they get an extra 140 hp and 158 lb-ft of twist, and with the addition of all-wheel-drive, the 0-60 mph time drops to 3.4 seconds. Impressive, right? But the suspension is overly firm, the wheels too large, and the true sense of luxury lost when you relinquish the S560's magic carpet ride in favor of noise and speed. Considering the S63 is $45,000 more expensive than the S 560, a second off the 0-60 mph time and bragging rights are all you get - but you're not getting the best S-Class for your money. This is one of the few times when less really is more.
BMW has finally revived the 8 Series nameplate, and with it, it's birthed the convertible that the original was always meant to entail. But while it technically rivals the S-Class Cabrio, the BMW starts at $97,400, 30% cheaper than the asking price of the S560. Sure, that gets you the 840i, with a twin-turbo six-cylinder that's vastly underpowered, but even the V8-power M850i xDrive is substantially cheaper. It's nowhere near as luxurious either, and it lacks the floating-on-air ride quality of the S-Class. But it is more buttoned-down - in tune with the driver and the road and keener to be strung through a twisting mountain pass. It's also vastly more practical, with semi-usable rear seats and a trunk that's 50% bigger than the S-Class Cabrio's. It's the driver's GT car, but it lacks the opulence and sense of occasion found in the S-Class. Simply put, it seems more a rival to the E-Class Convertible, because the S560 simply outclasses it when it comes to luxury, and at the end of the day, this class was founded with luxury as its cornerstone.