by Gabe Beita Kiser
From presidents to CEOs, from dictators to the Mafia, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has always been the car that shuttles important people around from where they are to where they need to go. And while Mercedes’ grand touring coupes used to wear the CL moniker, the company took another direction in 2014 when it bestowed its two-door range-topping coupe and cabriolet with the S-Class name, mainly to make the point that it had the Bentley Continental GT and Aston Martin DB11 in its sights. Like its competitors, the S-Class Cabriolet’s hallmark features are a big imposing body with attractive styling, a gorgeous interior with top-quality materials and premium craftsmanship, and a soft, plush ride that insulates its occupants from the inconvenience of feeling road imperfections.
After a mild refresh updated the 2018 model's style and added valuable driver assistance systems, like lane-keep assist, a heads-up display, forward collision warning, and more as standard, the S-Class Cabriolet remains relatively unchanged as it heads into the 2019 model year. Mercedes-Benz has, however, seen fit to introduce an Exclusive Edition variant for the Coupe and Convertible body styles with a range of model-specific trimmings and design elements.
With a design rooting back to 2014, the S-Class Cabriolet retains modern design elements paired with classic proportions. A long hood extends forward, characterized by two embossed stripes running its length, while full LED headlights are standard up front along with OLED taillights. Available as an option, but included in the Exclusive Edition, are headlights that can be upgraded to LED units with real Swarovski crystals. Other design highlights include a mechanically folding soft-top roof and standard 19-inch alloy wheels that can be optioned up to 20-inches. Alternatively, an AMG-line package equips the car with more aggressive bodywork.
Sharing the bulk of its dimensions with the S-Class Coupe upon which it’s based, the S Cabriolet rides on a 115.9-inch wheelbase and measures 198.1 inches in length overall. At 83 inches wide, it’s nearly a full inch narrower than the S-Class Sedan, while at 55.8 inches in height, it’s a full three inches shorter than the Sedan, and 0.2 inches taller than the Coupe. Based on the large S-Class platform, and with the added body strengthening required in convertible guise, the S-Class Cabriolet is a true heavyweight with a curb weight of 4,802 lbs.
For 2019, the S-Class Cabriolet boasts a color palette of 11 hues, compared to last year’s 14 - two of the exclusive designo colors being cut from the offering. The standard palette comprises nine offerings, including Obsidian Black Metallic, Emerald Green Metallic, and Lunar Blue Metallic, and all are free to choose from at no additional cost. Two designo colors remain; designo Diamond White Metallic for an additional $795 and designo Cashmere White Magno for a whopping $3,950. Four soft-top colors are available at no cost, with the colors on offer being black, dark blue, beige, and dark red.
Just one engine/drivetrain combination is on offer for the S-Class Cabriolet, making the most potent non-AMG performer the S 560 Cabriolet. With 463 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque gleaned from its bi-turbo 4.0-liter V8 engine, mated to a nine-speed automatic gearbox and rear-wheel drive, 0-60 mph comes up in 4.6 seconds on the way to an electronically governed top speed of 155 mph. While the S-Class retains the historically relevant rear-wheel drivetrain along with some of its rivals, newer competition like the forthcoming BMW M850i Convertible, have made the switch to all-wheel drive, something not available on the S-Class Cabriolet.
With just one trim available, the only engine on offer in the S-Class Cabriolet is a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 badged as the S 560. It develops 463 hp and 516 lb-ft, pairing that with a 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic gearbox with steering-mounted paddle shifters. A smaller engined S-Class is only available in sedan guise.
Buttery smooth doesn’t even begin to describe the relationship between the engine and transmission. Whether cruising around town or driving up a steep winding road, the 9-speed automatic always seems to be in the right gear. If it isn’t the transmission will shift find the best ratio so smoothly that only those straining to feel the gear change will detect it. The fact the twin-turbo V8 makes torque across a broad range of revs means the transmission can behave strangely, pulling off fuel-saving stunts like starting from a red light in 2nd gear or upshifting when accelerating up a hill. But when the computer isn’t vying for more fuel economy, it can turn the S 560 Cabriolet into quite the performer. Driving up steep and curvy mountain roads is best done in Sport mode (or in Individual mode with the drivetrain set to sport if a softer ride setting is preferred) to keep the S-Class in low gears. Whether on a hill or a flat surface, mashing the throttle will uncover a fleeting hint of turbo lag before a mad dash to the horizon commences. The engine will emit a deep, rich, and slightly muted rumble as it pops off each gear. Throughout the process, feel vibrations are never felt from the engine bay, just notice the tachometer flipping back and forth as momentum builds.
When Mercedes first designed the S-Class Cabriolet and its coupe cousin, it had one problem to contend with: the fact the sedan on which both cars are based is far more focused on offering rear-seat passengers the most comfortable ride possible than it is on giving the driver a sense of satisfaction. The S-Class Cabriolet had to preserve that comfort-first ethos while simultaneously delivering a drive engaging enough to earn it the title of a grand tourer. The result of Mercedes’ work is nothing short of amazing, because the S 560 Cabriolet not only strikes a balance between comfortable and engaging, it merges the two attributes in ways that seem impossible to rational minds. It doesn’t matter what road it's on, the S-Class will digest it using its pliable suspension and rock-solid chassis in such a way that it feels like the car gliding on a thin sheet of air rather than rolling on rubber. In the city, the steering is feather-light but also direct, with a perfectly balanced on-center range neither making the Cabriolet dart too much nor feel too loose. When the road gets narrow and twisty, switching into Sport mode helps by stiffening up the steering. And while digging the Mercedes’ set of Pirellis into a corner reveals almost 5,000 pounds worth of body roll, the suspension and steering mask the discomfort and help the heavy convertible soak up lateral Gs so that occupants hardly feel jostled.
With a V8 under the hood, exceptional gas mileage is hardly something an S-Class Cabriolet driver might care for, but still, Mercedes delivers decent fuel economy through cylinder deactivation on one bank of cylinders, enabling EPA-rated estimates of 17/26/20 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles respectively. With a 21.1-gallon fuel tank requiring premium unleaded gasoline, drivers can expect a range of around 422-miles in mixed driving conditions, according to manufacturer claims.
We spent our week with the S-Class Cabriolet driving almost 200 miles in the city, on the highway, and up and down a local mountain road. Despite spending only 3 miles in Eco mode and over 60 in Sport mode, the end of the week-long drive left the mileage indicator reading an average of 19.7 mpg.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has come to be known for its opulent interiors that can be compared with Rolls Royce and Bentley more than those of Audi and BMW. The Cabriolet continues the legacy with one of the plushest, most upmarket cabins from Mercedes to date, with plush quilted leather seats, massage functions, heating, ventilation, and an array of electronic adjustment all available, along with Mercedes AirScarf technology to ensure even cold winter mornings can’t keep the soft-top closed. Interior fit and finish is world class, and the dual-display infotainment-come-driver display system still looks as good as it did when it first debuted. Practical rear seat space might be compromised in Cabriolet guise, but in a pinch, at least there’s still seating for four.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the S-Class Cabriolet is that its interior feels just as spacious as the S-Class Coupe's when the top is up. Headroom at the front and rear is forgiving, with 37.7 inches of leeway ensuring occupants aren’t pushed down into the plush and technology-packed seats. Legroom in the back seats is the limiting factor keeping the S-Class Cabriolet from being a family car (aside from the obvious lack of rear doors), but dimensions up front are far more permitting. Like most grand tourers, the S-Class Cabriolet’s rear seats ensure that four occupants can ride in style, but the car is best experienced with a single passenger accompanying the driver.
Our tester’s interior color scheme consisted of designo Porcelain and Deep Sea Blue Nappa-colored leather seats, dash, and trim while black poplar wood and metal accents helped add visual contrast to keep the interior looking beautiful. And it doesn’t just look the part, the S-Class also lives up to its name by delivering on its name, with each and every piece feeling stout and expensive - even the buttons click as if they have a certain depth to them. The icing on the cake is a set of thickly padded floor mats, which were thankfully given a dark color to avoid muddy shoes getting them as dirty as the white interior got.
The S-Class Coupe hardly boasts an impressive amount of cargo volume, but with the addition of a folding soft-top and the mechanism required to operate it, the small trunk becomes diminutive in the Cabriolet, down to just 8.8 cubic feet with the top down, or just more than half what the S-Class sedan offers. That volume does increase with the top up, but can't be expanded upon since the rear seats are fixed and can’t be folded for additional practicality.
Small item storage in the interior is limited as well with the cabin substantially more cramped than the sedan. A center console armrest opens up to avail a decently large storage cubby, and the cupholders are decently sized, but the glove box is small, and door pockets provide limited practicality. At the expense of rear passengers, the rear seats can be used for additional storage if needed.
An S-Class is never short on features, regardless of the body style, so it should come as no surprise the S-Class Cabriolet can be equipped to insane levels. However, it also boasts a wonderful array of standard equipment, including the 16-way power adjustable front seats with memory, Mercedes’ Airscarf neckwarmers, 64-color ambient LED lighting, heated and ventilated front seats, keyless entry, push-button start, soft-close doors, a power trunk lid, dual-zone climate control, wireless device charging, and a reverse camera. Optional equipment is equally as incredible, with available massaging seats, a heated steering wheel, heated armrests, a head-up display, surround-view monitor, and night-vision all among the long list of available features to add.
Thank the 12.3-inch infotainment screen and the multiple ways to interact with it for making the S-Class’ infotainment system one of our favorites. The large screen is easy to read, even with polarized glasses on and the sun shining from behind during top-down driving, but better still is Mercedes’ COMMAND knob and touchpad that makes selecting options and adjusting settings possible without taking one’s eyes off the road. Because the S-Class prioritizes comfort, and because reaching to the center console could be considered "too much effort,” Mercedes included a pair of small touchpads on the steering wheel. The one on the right sits next to the steering wheel-mounted volume adjuster, which controls the powerful Burmester sound system, and allows a driver to control infotainment functions without the need for one-handed driving. Mercedes’ COMMAND software is as good as it gets for such a feature-heavy vehicle, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration was still a welcome addition in our test car. Forgetting a phone cable means having to resort to using Bluetooth, satellite radio, and the S-Class’ navigation system. Thankfully, all of them are quick to use once you’ve learned your way around the menus.
While there haven’t been many problems reported with the S-Class Cabriolet, resulting in an exceptionally high overall reliability rating from J.D. Power of 92 out of 100, there have been two recalls concerning the model. In one case, the seatbelt warning may falsely detect that the occupants aren’t secured, while in the other, the Active Driving System may fail to detect when a driver’s hands have been taken off the wheel.
Mercedes-Benz covers the S-Class Cabriolet under its extensive warranty plan, including a standard four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty with extended options up to 100,000 miles.
Low volume sellers aren’t always crash tested, as is the case with the S-Class Cabriolet, which has not been evaluated by either the NHTSA or the IIHS.
Despite the lack of safety ratings for the S-Class Cabriolet, it plays host to a plethora of standard and optional advanced safety systems. While standard safety comprises attention assist, adaptive high beam assist, crosswind assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist, and ten airbags including knee airbags for both front occupants, pelvic/thorax airbags, and side curtain airbags, optional items include evasive steering assist, lane change assist, a night view system, and an automatic overtaking function for the cruise control.
Like many cars in its class, the S-Class Cabriolet exists in a realm of automobile most people don't even know exists. More than a car, it's a piece of art that showcases what a century-plus of engineering experience can do. As it does with all S-Classes, Mercedes takes the process of building an automobile and brings it to a higher level, offering such an incredible level of refinement in every category that it makes it hard to drive lesser vehicles after it. Mercedes goes as far as to make the latest automotive technology, like the infotainment system and driver aids, feel as thoroughly fleshed-out and easy to use as the basics, like the engine and transmission. While the S-Class doesn’t offer such extreme attention to detail as Bentley does with the Continental GT, it’s the perfect car for anyone who doesn’t care about book matched wood trim or who just wants one of the best driving experiences the auto industry can offer without a badge as exotic as an Aston Martin’s. It falls just shy of the must-buy category and ranks as a "great buy” due to the price of some of its options and high expected maintenance costs.
With just one trim in the non-AMG S-Class Cabriolet line-up, there’s just one base figure you need to be aware of, the S 560 Cabriolet's incredible base MSRP of $134,300. This is before the numerous available options, tax, registration, licensing, and a destination charge. After adding a couple of options, the price can quite comfortably soar to more than $160,000 if you’re not careful.
The S-Class Cabriolet range is composed of a single model, the S 560 Cabriolet.
The S 560 is powered by a bi-turbo 4.0-liter V8 developing 463 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, driving the rear wheels through a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
The S 560 is well equipped as standard, including adaptive air suspension, a power soft top, full LED headlights, OLED taillights, and 19-inch alloy wheels as exterior highlights, while the interior boasts 16-way power adjustable seats upholstered in Nappa leather with standard heating and ventilation, Mercedes’ Airscarf neck warmer, soft-close doors, and dual-zone climate control. A dual 12.3-inch panoramic display on the dash serves the dual purpose of instrumentation and infotainment, with the infotainment boasting navigation, AM/FM/SiriusXM/HD radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality, wireless charging, and a standard 13-speaker Burmeister surround-sound system.
The Mercedes-Benz configurator isn’t short on the available options and packages that can be equipped to the S-Class Cabriolet, catering to aesthetic improvement, safety, and convenience.
From a visual point of view, the $5,900 AMG Line exterior package equips AMG body styling and AMG twin five-spoke alloy wheels in a 19-inch diameter, while for $1,750, the LED headlights can be upgraded to feature genuine Swarovski crystals.
An available Premium package adds massaging seats, quick-heating functionality, and a surround view camera system for $3,500, while a Warmth & Comfort package equips the rear seats with heating, along with a heated steering wheel and heated front armrests. The sound system can be upgraded to a 24-speaker, 1,190-watt Burmeister system for $6,400.
A couple of worthwhile safety packages exist, the $2,250 Drive Assistance package, which adds active distance control, steering assist, evasive steering assist, speed limit assist, lane keep assist, blind spot assist, lane change assist, and automatic speed takeover, while for $2,260 the S-Class Cabriolet is fitted with a thermal imaging-based Night View Assist Plus system.
While our fully-loaded tester came out to $162,545, our ideal S 560 Cabriolet would be cheaper due to the exclusion of some packages. All that’s needed to coax a dreamlike state out of an S-Class drive is the Premium package, which adds the massaging front seats and surround-view camera, the Driver Assistance package to take advantage of the S-Class’s world-class technology, the Warmth And Comfort package, a designo leather interior, and unfortunately, the expensive Burmester sound system because it really does sound that great. That brings our ideal S-Class Cabriolet to $151,885 including destination, pricey on its own but a bargain when ranked against its competitors.
While the S-Class Cabriolet stood in isolation amongst its peers for a long time, BMW has now joined the fray with the new 8 Series Convertible, a big GT cruiser all of its own. The similarities are striking, both cost north of $120,000, though the BMW’s base price is some $8,000 cheaper than the S 560 - if that matters when you’re paying six figures for a car - and both are powered by big V8’s with more than 450 horsepower, though the 523 hp of the BMW somewhat dwarfs the 463 hp of the S-Class. Both feature power operable soft top roofs, both have four seats, and in both, the rear seats are almost unusable. But the BMW has all-wheel drive as standard whereas the Mercedes is rear-wheel drive only, and yet the M850i is still some 200 lbs lighter than the S 560. The power and weight advantage give the BMW better performance, and it rides somewhat firmer as well, making it a performance GT compared to the S 560’s luxurious demeanor. Both have quality interiors, but the S-Class is more luxurious while the BMW feels more functional. Though they occupy the same segment, they cater to different buyers - the BMW to an audience who prefer performance, and the S-Class to those who prefer outright comfort and luxury. Both are exceptional.
Like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet, the Bentley Continental GT Convertible is a big soft-top GT car focusing on luxury, but without compromising performance. However, it’s on the latter front where the Bentley has the outright advantage with both the 542 horsepower 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 and the 626 hp 6.0-liter W12 comprehensively outgunning the S 560’s 463 hp output. The Continental makes do with all-wheel drive while the S-Class is rear-wheel drive only, the latter giving the S-Class a 500 lb weight advantage. Despite this, outright power wins and the Bentley is quicker. Both models feature ultra-luxurious interiors, but the Bentley feels more exclusive and looks like a multi-million dollar yacht. But it’s just as well it should, it costs nearly $100,000 more than the S 560. It rides more plushly too, feels more special, and it turns more heads in the process. Objectively, the Bentley is the better GT car, but at nearly double the price, you shouldn’t really be surprised.