If the point of a convertible is to enjoy the view and indulge the senses, why let a task like driving interfere?
That’s why Mercedes-Benz is bringing the latest technology from its redesigned S-Class flagship sedan to the nameplate's two-door derivatives: the S-Class Coupe and S-Class Cabriolet. Mercedes’ Intelligent Drive system, which uses cameras, sensors, and mapping to steer without help from the driver, and the S-Class' signature Energizing Comfort spa-like feature will be available in the car's sportier body styles once the luxury four-seaters hit the market next year. Scheduled to go on sale by summer, the cabrio will become the most advanced semi-autonomous convertible on the market.
“The S-Class convertible is in a class of its own in the area of semi-autonomous technology,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds. “It doesn't have many competitors but they mostly focus on driving dynamics and horsepower, offering little in the way of autonomous features despite their high price tags.”
Using the Intelligent Drive system, both the coupe and cabrio can read the road and slow the car accordingly in a traffic jam, at a toll booth, or before a curve in the road. The car can also change lanes on its own, reading traffic signs to stay within the legal speed limit. (As distracting at the view may be, it should be noted that the driver must pay attention to the road at all times).
The 2018 model year updates for the coupe and cabrio, which follow the debut of the recently remodeled flagship sedan, feature new engines and enhanced performance figures. The S560 trim comes with a 463-horsepower, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. The AMG S63 gets a 603-horsepower, 4.0-liter V8 biturbo, while the top-of-the-line AMG S65 is powered by a 6.0-liter V12 biturbo that makes 621 horsepower.
At the heart of the S-Class franchise is the brand’s “wellness” technology, called Energizing Comfort, which links various sensory systems to promote one of five feelings: freshness, warmth, vitality, joy, or comfort. A sixth program purports to enhance muscle relaxation, muscle activation and balance through a series of seated exercises. The 10-minute programs incorporate music, lighting, and massage functions to set the mood, broadcasting from a pair of 12.3-inch high-resolution display screens united under a single pane of glass to create a “widescreen cockpit.”
These two S-Class derivatives provide a halo for the smaller coupes and convertibles in the Mercedes-Benz line up, according to Caldwell. “These vehicles enable Mercedes to compete with exotic brands like Bentley for consumers who are looking for a large grand touring luxury vehicle,” she said. “These are likely to be a second, third or fourth car in a garage and although work fine as daily drivers are probably reserved for leisure driving.”
With its top down, the cabrio cut a dashing figure against the ocean backdrop as we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. The 2018 body styles get a sportier design, with new taillamps, a chrome-plated front splitter, and larger air inlets. The AMG versions get the new Panamericana radiator grille, an aggressive touch for a car that aspires to assimilate into the scenery, but subtlety isn’t the goal here.
“Your car says something about you when you pull up and you get out of it,” said Paul Snyder, the chair of transportation design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. “It's your avatar, it's your fashion statement, it's your present to yourself. All that, plus the longer and wider a car is, the more opportunity designers have to make it appear low-slung and sexy.”
(Disclosure: Mercedes-Benz paid for my travel expenses to participate in this test drive.)