First Drive – 2017 Drop Top Duet; SLC and S-Class Cabriolet

Axel Catton
Daimler Global Media
After cruising through the south of France in the new SLC and S-Class Cabriolet, European Editor Axel Catton can confirm that some of the best things in life are Mercedes-Benz convertibles

First Drive: Drop Top Duet

 

After cruising through the south of France in the new SLC and S-Class Cabriolet, European Editor Axel Catton can confirm

that some of the best things in life are Mercedes-Benz convertibles

 

Article Axel Catton

Image Daimler Global Media

 

At the other end of the range, and exactly 20 years after the launch of the original SLK Roadster, the new SLC is poised to take its place in the carmaker’s lineup.

 

That was a good enough reason for The Star to attend the launch event for both of the models in the south of France – the first of a number of convertible introductions for the brand this year. After previously designating 2015 as “the year of the SUVs,” the Stuttgart marque has announced 2016 to be “the year of the convertible.”

 

This SLC300 sparkles in Brilliant Blue In the hills above Nice.

Driving the SLC

 

Affordable fun for two is the province of the SLC. The name is new for the face-lifted Mercedes-Benz SLK Roadster. Not that this name hadn’t been used before – for the closed-top sibling to the R107 Roadster from 1971 to 1989 – but this time it denotes the little two-seater’s technical connection with the C-Class sedan. With the new name came a host of smaller and larger improvements that warranted a test drive in the new model.

 

Of particular interest to me was the journey this model has traveled since its original debut in 1995. After the SLK’s first-ever press launch in Tuscany that year, I wrote, “the SLK symbolizes the start of a new legend.” I am not sure that the little roadster still deserves the legend moniker, but it certainly got the original idea right. At just 162.6 inches in length, the sporty roadster stays true to its initial concept of offering driving fun with just enough space for two occupants and their luggage.

 

And while my first assessment of the 1990s’ SLK critiqued the rather firm ride employed to provide sporty handling, the updated 2017 SLC iteration now offers the best of both worlds, with Dynamic Select and its separate selections for engine response, steering and suspension. Chasing up the fabulous Col de Braus Alpine mountain pass, the Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual settings were selected in quick succession. I loved the option of an Individual setting, which for me ended up in Sport for both engine and steering while choosing Comfort for the suspension setting. This may sound funny, but today’s suspension technology means that even in Comfort setting, a demanding mountain pass can be attacked with ease and precision while keeping a calm composure even while traveling over particularly bad road surfaces in France.

 

We sampled both SLC variants, the 4-cylinder SLC300 and the SLC43 6-cylinder and – surprise – thought the smaller SLC300 with its single-turbocharger inline-4 did the job formidably. With 241 horsepower and an acceleration of 5.8 seconds to 60 mph, the SLC300 is faster and more powerful than the 1990s’ top 6-cylinder model. The Mercedes-AMG SLC43 comes with the wonderful 362-horsepower 3-liter twin-turbo V-6 that we sampled and loved in many recent Mercedes-Benz models – from the SL to GLE. The SLC43 is an impressive all-rounder that offers power, sound and performance associated with much bigger models. Both variants come standard with the 9G-Tronic automatic transmission.

 

Wind intrusion into the cabin was noticeably stronger than I had expected; we did most of the morning’s drive with the windbreak down and windows up.

 

The SLC300 was available in North America in June; the AMG SLC43 will arrive later this summer. Prices had not been announced at this writing.

 

 

European Editor Axel Catton enjoys the warm Mediterranean sun behind the wheel of a stately Ruby Black Euro S500 Cabriolet.

The S-Class Cabriolet

On the other end of the open-top spectrum in terms of size, space, power, performance and price, the new S-Class Cabriolet is making a bold statement. Four decades ago, the Mercedes 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet represented the epitome of open-top motoring. While there were other models competing in that lofty market niche – most notably the Rolls-Royce Corniche and Jensen Interceptor – all had several weaknesses. Even today, nothing says “wealth, taste and lifestyle” better than a 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet. No question, then, that I was eager to take the two variants at the launch – S500 (North America will get the S550) and S63 AMG – out for a first spin.

 

Let’s cut straight to the chase: Both S-Class Cabriolet models are utterly fabulous, offering the very best of all the facets that matter in a four-seat open cruiser. The looks, serene ride – thanks to the Mercedes-Benz Airmatic air suspension – and extremely low noise levels with top down or up, underlines Mercedes-Benz’s aim to build the best full four-seat convertible in the market. So which elements stood out?

 

The triple-layer soft top is so quiet; in closed form, you wouldn’t know you’re driving a convertible and the 0.29 drag coefficient sets a new benchmark for convertibles. When the top is opened, a space divider in the trunk automatically extends into the luggage compartment to make way for the top; no need to get out and manually fuss around with this.

 

The improved Airscarf and Aircap system deflect wind from occupants while creating a swirl of warm air that makes open-top motoring a breeze – even on a cool April morning. The Aircap is a deflector erecting from the top beam above the windshield, but it only extends when the rear windbreak is extended as well. Finding that the windbreak obstructed the rearward view, I often lowered the Aircap and windbreak just to experience the feeling of being outside.

 

And while we’re at it: controls for the roof operating system, Aircap and the button that lowers or raises all four windows at once are hidden underneath an extra flap on the console. Given the amount of time I spent playing with all of these controls, I would have preferred them to be more easily accessible. Rolling along the luxurious boulevards around the Cap d’Antibes Peninsula, I noticed that I had all four windows down more often than expected; wind intrusion was very limited. But at no point did the 198.6-inch-long cabriolet conceal its true bulk. Cruising through small French towns, I needed to pay particular attention before entering a narrow street to ensure I would be able to exit at the other end.

 

In keeping with the preferential niche of this model, the engine lineup will be limited to only the very top powerhouses. Both the S550 and S63 AMG were available to test; the S65 V-12 will come at a later date. The S550 sports a 449-horsepower V-8 mated to the new 9G-Tronic automatic transmission, while the twin-turbo V-8 in the S63 AMG offers a whopping 577 horsepower and uses AMG’s Speedshift MCT 7. While both delivered an extraordinary experience, it wasn’t for the first time I personally found the AMG variant a little bit too much of everything. The S550 combined quietness, comfort, speed and sound into one irresistible package. So, my money would be on the S550; the $45,000 saved would be a nice down payment for that SLC300 to cruise around those small French towns, don’t you think?

 

Both the S550 and S63 AMG went on sale in North America in late spring, and will be available at dealers by the time you read this. The S550 will cost $131,400; the S63 AMG, $176,400. The 12-cylinder S65 AMG is expected to arrive here in late summer and will carry a price tag of $247,900, as breathtaking as the car itself. All quoted prices include destination and delivery charges.

 

Specifications

 

2017 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet

TYPE: Two-door, four-passenger soft top cabriolet

S550 ENGINE: 4.7-liter biturbo V-8 

HORSEPOWER: 449 @ 5,250 rpm  TORQUE 516 lb-ft @ 1,800-3,500 rpm 

TRANSMISSION: 9G-Tronic 9-speed automatic

ZERO-60 mph: 4.5 sec  TOP SPEED: 155 mph

S63 AMG ENGINE: 5.5-liter handbuilt biturbo V-8

 HORSEPOWER: 577 @ 5,500 rpm  TORQUE 664 lb-ft @ 2,250-3,750 rpm 

TRANSMISSION: AMG Speedshift MCT 7-speed

ZERO-60 mph: 3.8 sec  TOP SPEED: 186 mph

WHEELBASE: 115.9 in  LENGTH: 198 in  CURB WEIGHT: 4,818 lb

 

 

2017 Mercedes-Benz SLC

TYPE: Two-door, two-passenger convertible hardtop

SLC300 ENGINE: 1,991cc turbocharged inline-4

 HORSEPOWER: 241 @ 5,500 rpm  TORQUE: 273 lb-ft @ 1,300-4,000 rpm

ZERO-60 mph 5.8 sec  TOP SPEED: 155 mph

SLC43 ENGINE: 2,996cc biturbo V-6

HORSEPOWER: 362 @ 5,500 rpm TORQUE: 384 lb-ft @ 2,500-4,200 rpm

ZERO-60 mph: 4.6 sec  TOP SPEED: 155 mph

TRANSMISSION: 9G-Tronic 9-speed automatic   

EXTERIOR DIMENSIONS: WHEELBASE: 95.7 in   LENGTH: 163 in  

CURB WEIGHT: SLC300 3,296 lb  SLC43 3,518 lb

 

Compact SLC300 in Brilliant Blue fits effortlessly into the Mediterranean scene.

 

 Party trick: SLC43 in Designo Cerrusite Grey doffs its convertible hardtop

 

Subtly sporty interior trim sets the SLC43 apart from its siblings. SLC300 handles changing road conditions in south of France with poiish.

 

This SLC300 sparkles in Brilliant Blue In the hills above Nice.

On top of the world: S63 4Matic Cabriolet finished in Allanite Grey Magno with red leather.

High-style Designo Porcelaine leather interior of Ruby Black S500 complements high-definition digital instruments.

 

Forty years after production’s end for the fabulous W111 280SE Cabriolets, Mercedes-Benz has now added a new full-size convertible model to its growing S-Class lineup.

Allanite Grey Magno S63 4Matic  Cabriolet at speed on coastal road.

Diamond stitched rear seats in red Nappa leather.

 

 

Designo Cerrusite Grey SLC43

Brilliant Blue SLC300 takes the sea air.

 Axel Catton samples top-down life in Euro S500 Cabriolet.

 

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