Lifting the lid on a car that starts at £110,000
So, firstly you build the S-Class luxury limousine. Then you follow it up with a two-door coupé. Then you take the roof off that and you have this, the S-Class Cabriolet.
There are three engines in the range, starting with a 1.5-litre diesel. Oh, hang on, that doesn’t seem right. No, the entry-level engine, you know, the one poor people go for, is a 4.7-litre turbocharged V8 (that’s in the S500). Naturally you wouldn’t be seen dead in such a bargain basement model, so your interest might be piqued by the S 63 AMG since that can offer a bi-turbo 5.5-litre V8. But when too much is just enough you need the S 65 AMG since it has a 6.0-litre turbocharged V12.
However, bear with us since, laughably, we’ve had to drive the economy version, the S500. We didn’t drive it anywhere anyone would know us. That’s a real risk with the roof down, and with the standard Airscarf in place you can’t even hide behind tousled locks since the cabin in the front remains stately calm.
With the roof up – and sunglasses and large hats on just in case anyone we knew had left Esher – this is an astonishingly quiet soft-top. At motorway speeds you wouldn’t know you didn’t have a metal roof over your head, it’s that good.
This millpond smooth existence is helped by the delightfully quiet silky and refined V8 murmuring away at the front. It reminds me of that Roxy Music line: “Through silken waters my gondola glides.” But stab your right foot down and that gondola sprouts a massive outboard and is off with amazing alacrity.
The nine-speed auto box keeps up with the everything without getting in the slightest bit ruffled, and where possible it ensures you stay surfing that vast wave of torque rather than trying to ride the peaks of the horsepower.
Switch from Comfort to Sport and it all tightens up and even the exhaust allows itself to get all growly and sweaty. There’s a fair bit of weight, if the car doesn’t mind us saying so, but it’s cleverly disguised most of the time. Even so, for the best S500 experience we’d leave it in Comfort and do some fairly high-speed wafting.
The cabin actively encourages such an approach, with its plethora of comfort-inducing appliances. You sit surrounded by luxurious leather and some very high-quality shiny bits of metal, while the 12.3-inch colour screen is mighty impressive, if not quite as slick to use as BMW’s iDrive.
This really is a car for a couple, or a wealthy Billy-no-mates. The rear passengers will get blown around with the top down, and they just don’t have the room to stretch their legs. Also, their luggage won’t fit in the boot if the top is down and the front pair have even one decent sized bag apiece in the boot.
But perhaps the thinking is that someone who’s so mean as to only buy the entry version won’t have any friends anyway. With a price range starting at £110,000, frankly if you can’t afford even that why don’t you just go really down market and buy a cheaper Maserati GranCabrio?
The top S 65 model costs another £80k on top of the S500 price, which is fairly brisk to be honest. However, the S500 looks a bit of a bargain next to the Bentley GTC, which costs another £44,000 more than the S500. But we’re quibbling obviously.
Actually, given the choice, we’d choose the S500 over a cheaper BMW 650i or the cheaper Maserati, or over the more expensive Bentley. It’s not just about money, after all.