Road test: 2016 Mercedes S500 Cabriolet

We take an exclusive first drive in the overdue S-Class cabrio.

The Mercedes S500 Cabriolet, which is powered by a 455hp V8, races from 0 to 100kph in 4.6 seconds. Courtesy Mercedes-Benz
Powered by automated translation

Forty-five years. That’s how long it has been since Mercedes last rolled out a four-seater S-Class Cabriolet. In the interim, the three-pointed star had relegated top-down duties to the evergreen SL, supplemented in the past couple of decades by the SLK and CLK Cabrio (superseded in 2009 by the E-Class ­Cabriolet).

However, none of these filled the void left by the 1971 demise of the last S-Class convertible — a stately, two-door soft-top that offered all the luxury of Mercedes’s flagship saloon, but with the added allure of al fresco cruising capability.

The 1970s oil crisis may have served as the final nail in the coffin for the venerable S-Class Cabrio, but even when oil prices subsequently stabilised, Mercedes didn’t see fit to revisit the theme. Until now.

No doubt eyeing the healthy business the likes of Bentley, Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce et al have been generating with their ultra-premium four-seat rag-tops, Mercedes has had a renewed crack at the genre, using as its starting point the slinky S-Class Coupe that has been around for the past couple of years.

However, creating a convertible out of a coupé isn’t simply a matter of slicing the roof off and saying: “There you go”. For starters, the massive hole left by where the hardtop used to be severely compromises rigidity, unless otherwise compensated for.

The solution for the gargantuan S Cabrio was to fabricate the rear floor from aluminium and apply chassis reinforcements elsewhere, with the result that its torsional stiffness allegedly matches that of its coupé sibling — and that, too, without piling on any extra weight.

Also unique to the Cabrio is a pyrotechnic-activated rollover-­protection system, whereby a pair of rollbars deploy within milliseconds behind the rear head restraints if the car’s raft of electronic sensors detect it’s about to end up shiny-side down.

The S-Class Cabriolet has strong visual links to the coupé it’s derived from, and its multilayer soft-top has been well integrated into the design, which means the car’s rakish profile remains untarnished even with the roof raised. You can lower the top at speeds of up to 50kph via a switch on the centre console, with the whole operation taking less than 20 seconds.

In case you’re wondering, the soft top doesn’t only come in ­basic black — you can also order it in dark blue, beige and dark red. There are myriad other trim and colour options elsewhere in the car, too, so there’s ample scope for personalisation.

To minimise buffeting with the roof down, there’s an ­Aircap device that deflects air over the cabin, and other features to keep you toasty warm (obviously not so much an issue in our ­region) include Airscarf neck-level heating, along with heated seats and armrests.

Depending on the thickness of your wallet and the severity of your need for speed, you can choose from the “entry-level” S500 Cabriolet (Dh615,000), or splash out more extravagantly on the S63 AMG (Dh781,000) or V12-powered S65 AMG (Dh1 million).

I sample the first two of these at the international launch in Nice, and my impression is that the base-model S500 offers more than enough grunt and panache to satisfy most would-be buyers. Its twin-turbo 4.7L V8 punches out 455hp and a towering 700Nm of torque from just 1,800rpm, which means effortless urge is never more than an ankle twitch away.

If you like stats, then you’ll be positively swayed by a 0-to-100kph sprint of 4.6 seconds and a top whack of 250kph that’s achievable with ridiculous ease. The melodious, silky-smooth V8 is hooked up to an equally seamless nine-speed automatic, so the overall impression is of being propelled down the road at express pace in your favourite leather sofa.

Standard kit includes Airmatic adaptive air suspension, which offers a comfort setting for when you’re in the mood for cruising, as well as a sports mode when a tantalising twisty road beckons. There are plenty of the latter once I’m clear of the urban environs of Nice, and it’s immediately apparent that this is one of those vehicles that has a knack of shrinking around you.

Given that the S500 ­Cabriolet tips the scale at about two tonnes and stretches more than five metres from bumper to bumper, I was expecting relatively flaccid dynamics and leisurely responses. The reality is otherwise. The S500 Cabriolet proves nimble, tactile and alarmingly rapid across challenging mountain roads, which explains the foolish grin that I can’t wipe off my face at our lunch stop.

The afternoon halt only serves to boost the feel-good factor, because the ruby-black S500 parked near our outdoor table looks so darn good. The proportions are perfect. And so, too, is the rest of the car — it cossets and titillates in equal measure.

It was worth the 45-year wait for this. Mercedes has absolutely nailed it.