THAT MERCEDES-BENZ has built a cabriolet version of its S-Class Coupe should come as no big surprise, but why it has taken the company so long to do so just might. The last time you could buy a piece of such opulence from Mercedes was back in 1971, and in the interim the market for luxury drop-tops has grown from a small niche into a core sector.

Aston Martin (DB9), Bentley (Continental GT), Ferrari (California T) and Rolls-Royce (Dawn) all offer two-door, four-seat, six-figure boulevard cruisers, and all have enjoyed sales success and found loyal customers who are prepared to sacrifice some dynamic integrity for a suntan. So Mercedes’ reason to return to the game is a no-brainer, and it gives those who would dismiss the SL (still being built, and ‘‘always will be’’) for its lack of rear seats another option.

Three models and two drivetrains are offered with the new S-Class Cabriolet: there are rear-driven S500, S63 and S65 variants and an all-wheel-drive S63 4Matic. Frustratingly, the S63 4Matic isn’t coming to Australia or other right-hand-drive markets because the front driveshafts get in the way of the steering column. However, it’s the only model available on this launch.

Powered by the same 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 found in the S63 Coupe, the 4Matic Cabriolet produces an identical 430kW and 900Nm and uses the same AMG seven-speed MCT auto gearbox (the S500 has the nine-speed 9G-tronic auto). Despite a 115kg weight penalty over the 4Matic Coupe (again, not offered in Australia), it records an identical 0-100km/h time of 3.9sec, which is three-tenths quicker than the rear-drive S63s.

As well as sharing powertrains, the S63 4Matic Cab also features the Coupe’s air suspension with Mercedes’ ADS Plus adaptive damping, which has been retuned to handle the increased kerb weight and shift in centre of gravity. Composite brake discs are standard, but carbon-ceramic discs are optional and reduce unsprung mass by 20 per cent.

In designing the S-Class Cabriolet, Mercedes has created the world’s largest opening fabric roof, and some may argue that with the roof closed it’s a better looking car than the Coupe on which it’s based. Roof down, it’s not as ill-portioned as you might imagine, the biggest of all the Benzes looking almost elegant, with the less fussy S500 seeming more upmarket than the AMG models with their chrome and chintz.

As with every offering in this corner of the market, the S63 Cab is a fine place to be. It’s smooth, refined and has an elegance you only find in cars that sit at the top of a brand’s model line. With the roof closed, the S63 is effectively as quiet as its coupe equivalent; the absence of wind noise is remarkable and you’d require a sensitive decibel meter to be able to detect the difference between the Cab and Coupe’s interior noise.

Slide1

Just as the Cab is as refined as the Coupe to be in, it is its equal when it comes to driving, too. That twin-turbo V8 shrugs off the weight penalty like a West Indian batsman dismisses an English bowler in the last over of a World Cup final. Indeed, the mid-range throttle response still shocks and the top end has enough fizz to warrant chasing the redline.

There’s not a great deal of feel to work with through the steering, but it’s accurate when you need it to be and you can get the chassis turned in and hooked up in a manner unexpected of a car of this bulk. Get the 19-inch front Michelins where you want them and the chassis loads up on its air springs in such a way that you can catapult yourself out of a corner with real ferocity.

In a market where driver thrills take a back seat, the S63 4Matic Cabriolet at least makes a decent attempt at involving the driver. It feels more direct than a Conti GT and or Ferrari California T, but it still doesn’t excite. Then again, few do in this category.