Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz S550 Cabriolet

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In 2016, after a nearly 50-year hiatus, Mercedes-Benz saw the light and decided to go to the one area where they don’t have a drop-top: luxury four-seaters. Granted that’s quite a small niche, but when you’ve got a cab in pretty much every other segment that has convertibles, you can see why Mercedes saw fit to conquer that final frontier.

Slight turbo lag, then a blast of growling turbocharged torque and horsepower as you charge down the road to frantic oblivion. They make more powerful versions than this? Really?

To do that, they turned to one of the most famous nameplates in luxury motoring: S-Class. For decades, the S-Class has been the sled for all manner of dignitaries, movie stars, and rock stars alike. They’re glamorous, incredibly well-equipped, opulent, tech-laden and perhaps most important of all: they’re powerful. Heck, with 449 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, our S550 was hardly a shrinking violet in the power department (it beats the BMW 650i xDrive cab by 4 hp and 36 lb-ft), but it’s the least powerful of the three S-Class cabriolet models Mercedes offers. The top-spec S65 AMG version? 621 hp and 737 lb-ft of torque.

At any rate, because our car is a cabriolet it came with rear-wheel drive, which is the only way you can spec the cabrio, while both the sedan and coupe models get 4Matic AWD. Chances are that most people buying the S-Class cab are sun-dwellers, and who needs AWD in those climes? Especially in a car that already weighs over 2,000 kilos; it’s nice to save weight whenever and wherever you can.

Oh, but the origin of all that girth is so, so worth it. Sumptuous leather graces so much of the cabin that it’s almost as if Mercedes literally dropped one big sheet of leather over the interior, and poked holes wherever they needed to fit an HVAC vent or cupholder. On the surface, it’s tight as a drum and bolstered by the fact that the seats get Mercedes’ Designo treatment (part of the $6,500 Exclusive Package). The saddle brown/white finish looks as scrumptious as a gingerbread house, while the diamond print that criss-crosses the seatbacks and cushions is perfectly fit for an uber-luxo cruiser like this. The back seats aren’t hugely roomy, but there’s more here than you’ll find in most convertibles in this day and age.

Surfaces that aren’t finished in that great leather are finished in either anthracite poplar wood trim or brushed aluminum. The Burmester speakers Mercedes employs look great in all sorts of their products, but they’re especially opulent-looking here. I’m especially a fan of the tweeters that sit on either side of the car just behind the front-seat headrests, as well as the twin items that make their home just ahead of the roof’s tonneau cover. I don’t know about you, but I feel there are few items more indicative of a car’s luxury levels than a classically styled speaker set.

Less of an indicator, but noteworthy here nevertheless, is how various pertinent info is displayed to the occupants. In the S550, it’s displayed across two massive TFT display screens that span two-thirds of the dash. The screen directly behind the wheel, of course, is where you’ll find your gauge cluster, trip computer and for-luxury-cars-only night-vision display. It’s called “Night View Assist” over at Mercedes and it’s a $2,900 option, but when you’re riding this high, why not, right?

Screen number two is where you’ll find all your infotainment, navigation, and various climate control needs, though there’s a set of redundant buttons lined up just below of said screen for climate controls, too.

Of course, this being a top-flight luxury convertible, “climate control” means a different thing than usual. Sure, you’ve got all your ambient temperature settings and so forth, but it goes further than that. For example, instead of just having the A/C blasted directly at you, you can choose to have it distributed more evenly throughout the cabin with the “diffuse” setting. So, when you first get into your Benz cab – perhaps in a parking lot alongside Huntington Beach in 35-degree temps – you can have the cool air blown directly at you for maximum, immediate cooling. Then, when you tire of all that air drying your eyeballs and buffeting your knees, switch to the ambient setting for more comfortable progress. Or, if you’d rather adjust things manually, you can increase or decrease airflow through any one specific vent with a twist of each vent’s classy, retracting control knobs.

The added depth of the climate control affects the seat heating/cooling controls as well; for starters you’ve got Mercedes’ patented Airscarf tech – warm or cool air can blow from vents at the base of each headrest – but in addition to that, you adjust which seat cushions are heated. Or, if you’d rather be completely sheltered from the elements, go ahead and pop the top – takes about 20 seconds, at speeds up to 35 km/h – and enjoy the suede-lined headliner. A suede roofliner…in a soft-top. Alrighty then.

It’s almost too perfect, and there are a few issues. First of all, if you keep the top and all the windows down, the seatbelt gets buffeted to the point that it was slapping my collarbone. Also, as discussed before, the S550 is a heavy car, and there is some cowl shake. Normally, that’s expected of soft-top convertibles, but at this price level, it tends to stand out a little more. I mean, you’ve got all that opulence around you – all that leather, that wood, and those bright screens – and you get a creak over a railroad crossing?

I guess my other complaint with the S550 Cabriolet on the surface level is how the exterior – especially on our Diamond White Metallic tester – can’t quite match the interior for flair. It’s got presence, to be sure – especially when you add our car’s optional Swarovski LED headlights (The price? Well, if you have to ask…) – but I would like to have seen some slightly more adventurous wheel choices. There are only two – both measuring 20 inches in size – and the multi-spoke items that our car didn’t have would be the ones I’d pick. You kind of get the sense that Merc didn’t want the S550 stealing the AMG models’ thunder when it comes to exterior styling, but even a switch to Emerald Green or Cavansite Blue metallic paint would make a world of difference. Me? I’ll take Ruby Black metallic, thanks.

Then again, the slug of torque you get from 1,800–3,500 rpm will have you forgetting all that. Indeed, I forgot my face for a moment, such is the wave of twin-turbocharged V8 power you ride on in the S550. Every time you flick the right paddle to select the next cog – there are nine in total, so this happens quite often; AMG models get a beefier seven-speed – it happens all over again: slight turbo lag, then a blast of growling turbocharged torque and horsepower as you charge down the road to frantic oblivion. They make more powerful versions than this? Really? It’s to the point that with the top up, it’s honestly quite hard to determine just how fast you’re going as you’re just so insulated from what’s going on around you. Luckily, a head-up display is standard and it can be configured to display your speed, in big bold numbers, right in your line of sight.

It truly is a car that will inhale the kilometres and spit them out through its twin oval tailpipes, the S550. Get all the climate control settings just right, set the standard air suspension to “Comfort” mode and you’ll emerge from most any long-distance highway drive feeling properly relaxed, too.

Things get a little trickier as the road gets a little more twisty, however. Once again: the S550 cab is a heavy car, and it led to some slightly hair-raising moments as you enter a turn a little faster than expected, because you’re so insulated from the proceedings and because the thing piles on speed at such a breathtaking rate. Even wide three- or four-lane highways can get a little narrow when you’ve got that much weight blasting that much car down the road. Best be careful with your throttle inputs.

How often owners are going to really worry too much about cutting a perfect line on a backroad when it comes to the S550 cab, however, is an entirely different story. Actually, it’s a story that isn’t really a story because I’m fairly certain that most every S-Class Cabriolet buyer is going to take a look at that gorgeous interior, the multitude of tech, and that terrific three-pointed-star logo on the 3D grille up front – not to mention the fact it’s a convertible – and be quite taken with it. It is the perfect sunny boulevard cruiser, and no tracking of 0–60 times is going to change that.

Engine Displacement 4.6L
Engine Cylinders V8
Peak Horsepower 449 hp
Peak Torque 516 lb-ft
Fuel Economy 13.9/9.3/11.8 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 250 L/ 350 L roof up
Model Tested 2017 Mercedes-Benz S550 Cabriolet
Base Price $164,300
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee
Price as Tested $178,690
Optional Equipment
$14,290 – Exclusive Package (Designo exclusive Nappa Leather, suede roof Dinamica suede roof liner, Designo floor mats) $6,500; Designo Diamond White Metallic paint $890; Night View Assist $2,900; Swarovski crystal LED headlamps $4,000