By: Dave Abrahams
Cape Town - The S-Class Cabriolet, launched in South Africa this week after several delays, is the first convertible luxury four-seater from Mercedes-Benz since 1971.
And luxury is the word, for the sixth and final variation on the current S-Class theme, with Aircap automatic wind protection, Airscarf neck-level heating, heated armrests, heated seats front and rear, and intelligent climate control that automatically adjusts itself to compensate when the roof is opened or closed.
The multilayer fabric roof - available in black, dark blue, beige and dark red - can be opened ort closed in about 20 seconds, at the press of a switch in the centre console at up 60 km/h - or remotely, using the car's electronic key fob.
When it's open, the folded top drops into a section of the boot, behind an electrically operated partition; when the top is up, the partition can be moved out of the way, so you can use the boot's full capacity.
Cut the top off any car and it'll inevitably suffer from body flex; convertibles need extra stiffening under the floor to compensate, which is why a car with a lightweight fabric roof is usually heavier than the corresponding tintop model.
Usually; in this case the rear floor panel is aluminium and the bulkhead between the rear seat and the boot is fabricated from aluminium and even lighter magnesium, so the body shell is the same weight as that of the S-Class coupé, with which it shares about 60 percent of its components.
Real metal and and wood trim like a yacht
Classic car buffs refer to an open-top roadster as a barchetta, the Italian word for a speedboat; in this tradition the S-Class cabriolet interior is finished with real metal and wood trim, like a yacht, and upholstered in your choice of leather or two grades of nappa (a very soft leather made by a special tanning process) in six different colour combinations, including a maritime-inspired deep blue and white.
Semi-active Airmatic suspension with infinitely variable damping control and selectable driving modes is a given, as is a full suite of driver aids, including Pre-Safe braking with pedestrian detection, Distronic Plus with steering assist and Stop&Go pilot, active lane keeping, auto high beams and night view assist.
The collision prevention system will apply the brakes if you ignore its warnings, even at speeds of more than 1000km/h and is theoretically capable of preventing rear-enders altogether from up to about 40km/h.
Three-model line up
The standard S-Class Cabriolet (if there is such a thing at this level of exclusivity) is the S500, with a 4663cc V8 rated at 335kW and 700Nm, the latter on tap from 1800rpm, driving the rear wheels via a nine-speed paddle shift transmission.
Next up is the S63 AMG Cabriolet, its 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 dishing out 439kW and 900Nm, via a Speedshift MCT seven-speed paddle shift transmission, taking it from 0-100 in 4.2 seconds and on to and electronically limited 250km/h.
The flagship S-Class land yacht, however, is the S65 AMG, its six-litre twin turbo V12 delivering an effortless 463kW and 1000Nm through a Speedshift Plus 7G-tronic automatic transmission, for a 0-100km launch in just 4.1 seconds. Top speed is limited to 250km/h - or 300km/h if you opt for the extra-cost AMG Driver's Package.
S500 Cabriolet - R2 299 900
S63 AMG Cabriolet - R2 899 900
S65 AMG Cabriolet - R3 499 900
These include a six-year or 100 000km maintenance plan.