2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe and Cabriolet First Drive

It's Good to Be Rich

If you're looking for a fancy and powerful two-door Mercedes-Benz, you have plenty of options. The SL Roadster with its retractable hardtop roof is excellent for long-distance driving in comfort. The AMG GT sits among the world's best sports cars and comes in varying levels of performance. And then there are the two-door variants of the S-Class sedan, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe and 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet.

These traditional flagships might seem like a strange fit in the current Mercedes-Benz lineup. They are luxurious like sedans, yet accommodate fewer people. They are fast, yet not sports cars. And they cost more — a lot more. But for us, the 2018 S-Class Coupe and Convertible remain utterly desirable. Maybe it's the handsome design. Maybe it's the on-road elegance. Or maybe it's the statement a large and impractical but glorious two-door car makes. Either way, we love these cars.

2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe

What's New
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe and Cabriolet follow a similar path as the freshened 2018 S-Class Sedan, featuring updates to the engines, interiors and technology. While most of the changes are similar to those in the sedan, the two-door models have a different exterior front fascia, one that aims to evoke the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT sports car.

These changes for 2018 also include small price increases across the board. The base S 560 starts at $125,495, the AMG S 63 begins at $168,695, and the range-topping S 65 commands $239,895. Want a drop-top? Cabriolet models command an additional $8,000 to $12,000, depending on model.

The names of the three model variants really signify status rather than what's under the hood. The new twin-turbo V8 engine in the S 560 and AMG S 63 has less displacement than the engines it replaces, yet it has more power, producing 463 horsepower and 603 hp, respectively. The top-line AMG S 65 retains the twin-turbo 6.0-liter V12 from last year, but that's just fine with us because it gives you 621 hp and a gut-wrenching 738 pound-feet of torque.

Though the AMG versions of the two-door S-Class have launch control, the all-wheel-drive S 63 is the quickest of them all with claimed 0-60 mph acceleration of 3.4 seconds. The rear-wheel-drive S 65 clocks in at 4.0 seconds, and the all-wheel-drive S 560 Coupe follows at 4.5 seconds, according to Mercedes. (When ordered as a Cabriolet, the S 560 comes with rear-wheel drive.)

2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe

Speaking Softly
No matter the model, the interior of each of these cars greets you with the stately quality you'd expect of Mercedes' finest. The large cabin feels even more spacious thanks to a wraparound dash and the proud display of high-end trim and leather upholstery. The seating position seems high at first, but we're sure many will appreciate the improved visibility it provides. Less convenient is the way the large, heavy doors swing far out to ease ingress and egress — it's a stretch to reach out to close them when you're climbing in and a fright to open them in a parking space when you're climbing out. Of course, a car at this price point probably frequents the valet parking stand anyway.

The digital gauge cluster and center entertainment display sit next to each other, and the twin 12.3-inch screens give the appearance of one unbroken panel. The display sits above the dash panel while ambient lighting highlights the gap, emphasizing the effect. Mercedes calls it a widescreen cockpit, and we like it whatever the buzzword might be.

2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe

On the steering wheel sit two black squares that fall right under your thumbs when your hands are at 9 and 3 o'clock. Like navigating a cellphone touchscreen, you swipe and click these touch-sensitive pads to control the two display panels. It's a neat and largely intuitive control method that didn't generate any false positives in our use, although one switch went a few minutes without reacting to inputs. Fortunately, you can still control most screen functions with separate physical controls, including a multifunction dial that rests ahead of the center armrest.

The sheer number of electronic features in the modern S-Class requires some serious learning by the driver since many of the operating menus are buried deep under the central display's own menu. Adjusting the seat massage, for example, requires navigating to vehicle settings, then seat settings, then selecting either driver or passenger seat, and then finally the type of massage. It would be nice if there were a shortcut button, like the controllers for seat heating and ventilation. On the other hand, too many buttons is a different problem altogether.

Carrying Big Sticks
With the lineup of AMG GTs now responsible for all-out driving thrills for those who choose the three-pointed star, the S-Class Coupe and Cabriolet now prioritize refinement over all else. These are large, heavy cars that nevertheless handle with fluid grace. They don't like to be pushed hard, but you can drive them spiritedly through corners. Light-effort yet accurate steering makes these cars feel more agile than you'd expect, while an endless supply of engine thrust proves delightful for all-day highway cruising.

2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe

The S 560 and S 63 gain speed effortlessly, backed by a terrific, guttural V8 soundtrack and a quick-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. In particular, the S 63's twin-turbo V8 emits a wonderful crack during full-speed upshifts that you might mistake for someone banging a baking sheet against a wall. Meanwhile, the S 65's V12 seems to be the soul of refinement as its seven-speed automatic clicks smoothly from one gear to another when you accelerate. Yet once you really get after the throttle, the engine's seemingly limitless supply of torque will power you down the road in a way that you can feel in the pit of your stomach.

The S 65 comes standard with an active suspension control that can tilt the body 2.7 degrees to resist roll in the corners, making the car feel supernaturally supple on a winding road. And then when you're on the straight and narrow, the suspension lowers the body's ride height, improving aerodynamics for better fuel economy. Meanwhile, a forward-looking camera system actually reads the surface of the road ahead and adjusts the damping accordingly so you don't feel the bumps. Overall, the result is an unparalleled combination of predictable handling and resilient ride comfort.

The Cabriolet's fairly large fabric roof takes 20 seconds to open and close, and you can operate it at up to 31 mph. When it's shut, the soft top's multiple layers of insulation shut out not just the heat and cold but also external noise, such that you might not realize you're even inside a convertible. Large wind deflectors to reduce cockpit air turbulence can be raised or lowered while you're motoring with the top down, though their effects are more noticeable at higher speeds.

2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe

Like the S-Class sedan, the S-Class Coupe and Cabriolet can be equipped with Mercedes' optional suite of advanced driver aids. We're particularly impressed by its adaptive cruise control, which includes steering and lane-change assistance. When activated, this cruise control system lets you glide down the freeway with your hands just grazing the wheel, and the car simply follows traffic ahead at a distance that you determine, accelerating and braking with intuitive precision. It's an experience that takes much of the stress out of rush-hour traffic and improves safety besides. Although the system operates at higher speeds as well, we preferred to take back full control simply because the system reacts slower than we like in some circumstances and quicker and more abruptly than we like in others.

At the same time, we found that some of the safety features in the Mercedes-Benz safety suite can be overzealous. The lane keeping assist once unexpectedly triggered as we crossed a lane marker while exiting the freeway, grabbing the right front brake in an effort to pull us back into the slow lane. This behavior is not unknown in lane-keeping assist technology we've experienced in other brands, but we were disconcerted to see it here. Similarly, the active speed-limit monitoring is a neat idea since it's meant to adjust your speed to the posted limits when cruise control is engaged. But it can surprise drivers in other cars that might be following closely, a situation that's probably more common in the U.S. than in Germany.

2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Mercedes-Benz safety suite (well, odd might be a better word) is a group of wellness-oriented features. Selecting "Energizing Comfort" in the vehicle menu prompts you with a group of categories with labels such as "Refresh" and "Pleasure." Upon choosing one, the entertainment system shows different colors and plays music that is meant to fit the theme. The seat massage engages at a preselected setting, and then the climate controls adjust accordingly. There's even a section of 10-minute videos that walk you through various stretches you can do while driving. It seems silly — and part of it certainly is — but the stretches actually give you something to do in stop-and-go traffic. If you've ever wondered what goes on up there in your airliner's first-class cabin, now you know.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe and Cabriolet perform their duty as flagships of the Mercedes-Benz ideal with predictable aplomb, combining gorgeous design, effortless power and unflappable composure. While the pricing of these cars carries them into the same category where you encounter the most exclusive brands, the Mercedes S-Class Coupe and Cabriolet deliver the same extraordinary luxury as their rivals with an added dimension of practicality, technology and safety.