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AUTOS FIRST DRIVE Mercedes dials 2018 S-Class back to 560
by Casey Williams,

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Mercedes aficionados know some numbers are more special than others when it comes to the marque's most revered models: 770, 300, and 600 top the list. But, if the 1980s, as proposed by Mercedes Enthusiast Magazine, is Mercedes' best decade, then the high point of that decade raises another number: 560—affixed to the 560SEL, 560SEC, and 560SL. Now, Mercedes turns the S-Class back to 560.

Star-topped limousine

In classic Mercedes parlance, 560 implies a 5.6-liter V8, but that's not what our new 560 has. It launches off with a 4.0-liter Biturbo V8 engine delivering 463 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque. That's all sent to the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system through a 9-speed automatic transmission. An impressive 17/27-MPG city/highway is achieved.

Although the S560 will run 0-60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, it's less about quick burn-outs and more about having plenty in reserve when you wish to kick it across continents full-out in the left lane. It's more of a 21st Century Pullman car than a mortal sedan, riding along on its AIRMATIC suspension that, along with the throttle and steering, can be tuned for wafting old-world Comfort, fuel-optimized Eco, or corner-carving Sport.

Even with four doors, the S560 looks serious. Our car came with AMG trim that includes 20" wheels, meaner front facia, and enhanced ground affects. That big grille tells slow-pokes to disappear. Hearkening back to the 560SEL, designed by legendary Mercedes stylist Bruno Sacco, the body is understatedly smooth with deft bodyside sculpting that hints at fender curves from the '30s. I'd get mine in the same Ruby Black Metallic paint. Lighting is all LEDs—not a bulb inside or out.

While you could park a 1988 560 next to its 2018 counterpart and recognize they're both Mercedes, that's not the case inside. Front occupants are greeted with twin flatscreens in the dash—one each for gauges and infotainment. Use the knurled aluminum joywheel to select functions. Connect smart phones via Bluetooth or USB ports; tap into 4G Wi-Fi to conjure the cloud. Apple CarPlay makes navigating smart devices easy.

The old 560s harbored some of the most indulgent cabins of their era, but the S560 is beyond. Heated/cooled seats and a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel are sweet, but our test car further spoiled with heated armrests and door panels, sumptuous Nappa Leather, and Bermester 3D audio so fulfilling you'll set your home system on the curb. Our car's Mahogany/Silk-colored interior looked smashing with the black piano lacquer wood with flowing lines. Customize the cabin's scent atomizer and ambient lighting as you please. Go ahead and indulge in the multi-function seat massagers and turn the sunroof from clear to tinted with a switch.

Keeping this luxury train on the tracks is a suite of safety technology that's second to none. Of course, the car has blind spot warning, lane keep assist, forward collision alert, and rear cross path detection systems. It will autobrake should you fail to step in yourself. Going steps further is a lane centering system that can even steer around curves ( with hands at least lightly on the wheel ). A night vision camera with pedestrian detection clears the fog. Should the car detect you're changing lanes quickly to avoid an accident, it over-boosts the steering for quicker response and helps center the car in the next lane.

Gripes are minor. I wish designers would quit being cute by changing the grille logo from blue to black and changing the G. Daimler sticker on the windshield. Just leave them alone! You can choose from three instrument cluster designs for the flatscreen, but none echo the classic '70s-'90s arrangement with large speedometer and orange accents. Fortunately, they left the hood ornament in its proper location on the hood—in full glorious view of drivers, reminding them they're more spoiled than everybody else.

To further remind the proletariat, let's retract the top.

S560 Cabriolet is made of dreams

I've dreamed about Mercedes. At a press event for the E-Class cabrio several years ago, Mercedes brought a 1969 280SE 3.5 cabriolet—painted gold over a black leather interior—for journalists to drive. The steering was imprecise enough that you more encouraged it in the right direction than steered, but it was dreamy floating on its suspension. Wealthy sun-seekers would have to wait over four decades after the car went out of production in 1971 for a follow-up, but boy did we get one in the S560 Cabriolet.

Much of the chassis, powertrain, technology and comfort features are shared with the sedan, but where the sedan is about covering vast distances in a hurry, the cabrio is for reeling it back and relaxing ( though, it can still cover vast distances in a hurry ). It's a stunningly beautiful car, faced by Mercedes' sport grille with large star hung on a single lamella. The hood wears twin bulges from the classic 300SL gullwing. Look close and you'll notice 19" AMG wheels, real Swarovski® crystal headlamp accents, and LED taillights that twinkle off when parking at night. I'd get mine in our test car's Anthracite Blue Metallic paint with blue cotton top.

The light beige and brown interior will absolutely get dirty, but it is soothing—as are the heated/cooled front seats, heated armrests, and heated neck scarf that kills the chill on clear fall days. Black Piano Lacquer wood sweeps from the dashboard into the doors while ambient lighting, Bermester audio, and wood/leather steering wheel add class. Just don't plan on loading up with passengers as luggage and rear seat space is limited.

The cabrio comes with the same 4.0-liter engine and 9-speed transmission as the sedan, but with the cotton roof, the exhaust note sounds a bit more boisterous. Stomp down and it purrs like a 4,000-lb. pussy cat as the turbos deliver massive torque and shove the big car forward at what seems like an ever-increasing rate. Fuel economy rates 17/26-MPG city/highway, only 1-MPG below the sleek sedan at cruise.

Although the cabrio has the AIRMATIC adjustable suspension, there's something about the relaxed elegant demeanor of the cabrio that encourages you to leave it in Comfort mode where it can waft down city boulevards, two-lane country roads, or miles of Interstate. Even at speed, the interior suffers virtually no wind noise and is quiet enough to hear every note from the Bermester audio system.

If money is no object, should you choose the sedan or cabrio? Well, nothing compares to sitting in the sedan and seeing the three-pointed star at the end of the hood. And, it is definitely more convenient with its cabin class rear seating and roomy trunk. But, the top does not go down and it will not be nearly as coveted thirty years from now I'd be seduced by the cabrio, but would probably marry the sedan.

Of course, anybody contemplating an S560 should be prepared to write a heavy check. The sedan starts at $89,900, but came to $139,405 as tested. Stepping up to the cabrio will cost at least $133,300, but rose to $154,595 as optioned—a relative deal considering pristine 280SE 3.5s can command over a quarter-million dollars. Competitors include the Bentley Flying Spur/Continental GT, BMW 7-Series, Audi A8, and Rolls-Royce Ghost/Dawn

Storm forward!

See . Contact Casey at .

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