The weather outside can be frightful between the months of November and April at our Michigan headquarters, but at Car and Driver, testing cars is a year-round job. That means we sometimes end up in the incongruous position of reviewing cars like the 2017 Mercedes-AMG S63 cabriolet when the thermometer drops below freezing. Yet the middle sibling in Mercedes’ S-class cabriolet lineup is more capable of offering year-round enjoyment to those in wintry climes than you might expect.
In addition to the eye-opening acceleration numbers provided by this Benz’s 577-hp twin-turbo V-8—which we’ll discuss in a second—the big convertible has another impressive feat we can plot against time: the roof’s action. It takes less than 20 seconds for the large, fully lined top to collapse into a nacelle behind the rear seats; it takes the same amount of time to rise back into place. More critically, the top can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 31 mph—one needn’t pull over should a rain cloud decide to open up or the sun make a surprise appearance. This ability is shared with the S550 and the 12-cylinder S65 cabriolets, but it wasn’t nearly as important (or appreciated) during those sunny, warm-weather reviews.Whatever the ambient temperature, the S63 comes equipped with gadgets to warm or cool its occupants when the roof is lowered. For example, Mercedes-Benz’s Air Scarf system is standard; it blows hot air onto the front passengers’ necks via seatback vents, and—when combined with the $1990 heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, and heated door and center-console armrests—is effective at making top-down journeys possible in frigid conditions for front-seat passengers. These occupants also enjoy a nearly draft-free cocoon at speed, in large part due to the windshield that extends nearly to the front headrests. Rear-seat passengers have decent legroom—the S63 cabriolet, after all, is almost 200 inches long—but they get only seat heaters and two HVAC vents to ward off any chills.
It is doubtful that anyone is buying the $178,325 S63 cabrio as their sole vehicle or as one for ferrying around themselves and three of their favorite people no matter the season. Sure, the standard all-wheel drive, dubbed 4MATIC, is another feature that enhances capability in icky weather—provided, of course, that the 20-inch summer tires are swapped for more appropriate rubber—but it’s mostly on hand to aid in dispatching the twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8’s 664 lb-ft of torque when accelerating from a stop.
All-wheel drive provides the nearly 5000-pound S63 with enough traction to translate the engine’s might into an incredible 3.7-second zero-to-60-mph time. Like every other AMG product, the S63’s exhaust noise at full whack sounds like millions of individual gasoline molecules exploding.Less successful is the seven-speed automatic transmission, which uses a wet, multiplate clutch coupling device in place of a torque converter. The clutch pack engages imprecisely when accelerating gently from a stop, sometimes grabbing quickly with a lurch and other times allowing the engine to rev as though the clutch is slipping before finally engaging, again with a lurch. The issue fades the harder you mash the gas pedal, but this is an open-and-shut case of misplaced priorities: Most drivers will spend far more time cruising at the sort of pace where the finicky transmission rears its ugly side than they will exploiting every last one of the S63’s 577 ponies.
Our S63 came riding on optional $1700 20-inch AMG wheels, which introduced an edge to the ride quality on initial impacts with bumps and road cracks, although on the whole the ride quality is quite comfortable. We also detected some chassis flex, not unexpected in something this large that also lacks a fixed roof. Those are the extent of our complaints.
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