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Forty-five years is an eternity to wait for a new one to arrive, but that’s how long it has taken for Mercedes-Benz to come up with another range-topping luxury convertible seating four (the A124 that appeared in 1992 doesn’t quite count) – the A217 S-Class Cabriolet takes up where the last examples of the W111 Cabriolet left off in mid-1971.

Formally introduced in Frankfurt last year, the Cabriolet is the soft top version of the C217 S-Class Coupe, and its arrival makes it the sixth member of the current S-Class family – aside from the Coupe, there’s the W222 sedan in both short- and long-wheelbase forms, the X222 Maybach S-Class and that massive thing called the VV222 Maybach Pullman.

Three variant forms of the drop-top are available, a base S 500 model and two AMG-derivatives, the S 63 4Matic and S 65, but we’ll be looking at the first two, the same as seen during the vehicle’s premiere at the IAA. Nowhere better than to sample such opulence than in the Cote d’Azur, a location that also provided the backdrop for the recently-reviewed Mercedes-AMG SLC 43.

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Like the Coupe, this one is gorgeous in the metal – the lines didn’t quite come across well under the glare of intense artificial lighting in Frankfurt, but add sunlight and open skies and there’s plenty of visual pull. Sleek and elegant, especially with the top down and with all the windows tucked away.

Much of the exterior design cues seen on its hard-top sibling are present here, with the most obvious change to the profile coming from the soft-top. The canvas unit, which is available in four colours (black, dark blue, beige and dark red), can be raised or lowered at up to speeds of 60 km/h, the entire process taking just over 20 seconds.

Because the car has to live up to S-Class levels of in-cabin quietness with the top up, quite a bit of attention has been paid in ensuring the roof assembly provides a high degree of sound isolation – this is accomplished with a three-layer composite mix of insulating material

As you’d expect, the entire top and its accompanying folding mechanism adds weight to an already heavy-set vehicle (the S63 Coupe, for example, tips the scales at 2,070 kg), but the penalty is actually less than expected. Hermann-Joseph Storp, the director of development for the car, says that the Cabriolet is around 85 kg heavier than the Coupe, the difference essentially made up by the roof assembly.

To keep its mass down, there are some differences in materials used for the construction of the Cabriolet’s body-shell – its luggage compartment bulkhead is made of aluminium and magnesium, and the rear floor area is constructed with aluminium. As a result, both the Cabriolet and Coupe weigh the same in body-in-white form.

Layout-wise, the car’s interior mirrors that seen in the Coupe. Additions to the soft-top come in the form of Aircap wind protection – consisting of an extending wind louvre in the windscreen surround and an extending draught-stop behind the rear seats – and an Airscarf neck-level heating system, and there’s a new Thermotronic intelligent climate control system to be found too.

Here, the climate controls are fully automated, so the driver doesn’t need to configure temperatures to memory for separate roof up/down operation – a total of 12 sensors and 18 actuators allow the two-zone climate system to autonomously adjust itself to an optimum setting.

Engine-wise, it’s pretty much the same fare as that on the Coupe. The S 500 Cabriolet gets a 4.7 litre V8 engine offering 455 hp at 5,250 to 5,500 rpm and 700 Nm of torque, available from 1,800 to 3,500 rpm. Power is transferred to the rear wheels via a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission, and performance figures include a 0-100 km/h time of 4.6 seconds and an electronically-limited top speed of 250 km/h.

As for the S 63 4Matic, the M157 5.5 litre twin-turbocharged V8 is good for 585 hp at 5,500 rpm and 900 Nm from 2,250 to 3,750 rpm. Mated to a seven-speed AMG Speedshift MCT transmission, an automatic unit with its torque converter replaced with a multi-pack clutch, the car does the century sprint in 3.9 seconds, and like the S 500, has a governed 250 km/h top whack.

mercedes-benz s-class cabrio model specs

Four drive modes – “C” (Controlled Efficiency), “S” (Sport), “S+” (Sport plus) and “M” (Manual) – are available on the S 63, which also gets an exhaust system with automatic, logic-controlled flaps. Incidentally, 4Matic is only available for the variant in a left-hand drive configuration, so right-hand drive S 63s have to make do with rear-wheel drive.

As standard, the S 500 and AMG variant feature an Airmatic air suspension as well as a full pyrotechnically-driven mechanism for its rollover protection system. Also on are the usual raft of safety kit, the list including Pre-Safe Brake, Distronic Plus and Collision Prevention Assist Plus.

A quick mention about a specific limited-edition model and its particular trim seen during the international drive for the car in Nice last week– it’s an S 63 4Matic called the Edition 130, and it’s come about to celebrate the automaker’s 130th anniversary. No prizes for guessing just how many examples will be built.

On this one, the exterior is dressed with a special alubeam silver finish, a Bordeaux red top and 10-spoke 20-inch matte black alloys, while inside, there’s AMG trim in carbon-fibre/black piano lacquer and a choice of bengal red/black or crystal grey/black designo Exclusive nappa leather upholstery to pick from. Edition 130 lettering engraved on the steering wheel’s bezel completes the dedicated bits.

Similarities abound in the Cabriolet’s presentation in relation to the hard-top version – assured and composed, it’s a tourer of grand proportions. The ride on the S 63 is on the firm side, but is still eminently comfortable – as for the S 500, it’s downright buttery, sacrificing incisiveness for plushness.

Strangely enough, the S 63 drop-top had a lighter feel and better vibrancy about it compared to the coupe. Location, the weather as well as the absence of a roof probably had a lot to do with the improved perception. It’s amazing how the right scene can alter so much.

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Despite its mass, the S 63 is not short on hustle or dynamic will, and along the more flowing sections along the long double-segment Nice/Les Arcs route, it was thoroughly entertaining. The SLC 43 may have had the more engaging terrain in the back-to-back drive, but the S 63 turned out to be the more engaging car.

Good grip levels, coupled to a quick, precise reaction to steering input, offers the S 63 a delightful agility for a two-tonne plus offering. The only downside is the seven-speed MCT’s shift response, which doesn’t have the smaller Merc’s 9G-Tronic’s instantaneous qualities.

While nowhere as raucous as the SLC 43’s, the S 63’s exhaust has great tonality, despite it not being as loud as that on the Coupe – according to Storp, the Cabriolet’s has been tuned down slightly with an additional mid-section muffler unit to account for top down use. The discerning may like sporty, but not done too loud, so it would seem.

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Whatever has been done hasn’t affected engagement levels; if anything, the aural note is even better because it has more volumetric scope with the roof turned down. Up, the fabric top works as advertised, doing a sterling job in insulating external noise.

In its closed position, the latter does noticeably cramp the spatial aspects of the interior (something that was noted with the coupe when driven in Cologne last year), the cabin’s dimensionality taking a huge jump when the top is unshackled. It’s also a much more pleasant proposition for rear passengers once that happens, but that knee-room looks like it’d be a challenge for trans-continental runs, with or without roof in place.

Technically accomplished, the S-Class Cabriolet is a great statement product, especially in its AMG S 63 4Matic form, but undoubtedly a very niche one. Unless you count the French Riviera or California as home, it’s bound to be a rare sight, asking price notwithstanding – closer to home, you’ll only need to look out your window or pop outside, and you’ll see why this will be as rare as the elusive Coupe.

GALLERY: Mercedes-Benz S 500 Cabriolet

GALLERY: Mercedes-AMG S 63 4Matic Cabriolet