Listen to the smooth and mellow sounds of yesteryear.
Dad bought a new Cadillac Eldorado convertible in 1976. GM touted it as the last of the big droptops, a majestic parting shot seemingly designed to transport prom queens, grand marshals, and Boss Hogg types into an increasingly dystopian, gas-rationed future. Dressed in triple red with every option, including fuel injection, automatic high-beams, power everything, and a hard tonneau “parade boot,” that 18.7-foot luxo-barge weighed 5231 pounds and was motivated via an 8.2-liter V-8 under a hood so long you could land an Airbus A380 on it. No one can say that Cadillac let the convertible go gently into that good night.
What no one could have imagined back in 1976 was that big convertibles would exist at all 40 years later, much less as 500-plus-hp chariots for the same well-to-do neighborhoods that Cadillac once owned. In a world of $2.50 gas and ever-growing stock portfolios, the parade car has returned. Using a big, thirsty, open-air sled to declare “I’m rich and deserve this” is again possible without having to resort to the classic-car market.
After a four-decade hiatus, Mercedes is back to building full-size convertibles. Save your letters; we’re not counting the E-class–based 1993–95 cabriolet because it did not achieve true pulchritude. In no dimension, except maybe build quality, does it measure up to this S-class–derived four-seater. Available in three flavors, Merc’s convertible is a leather-packed bullet aimed squarely at the Bentley Continental GT convertible. Constant updates have kept the now 12-year-old Continental as relevant as any car costing more than $200 large can credibly be.
Admittedly, when conducting a comparison of cars this ludicrously expensive, logic is trumped by baser stuff. Cadillac certainly wasn’t thinking logically when it built its 8.2-liter V-8. Just as with old stars that grow so large they collapse upon themselves, Cadillac’s 500-cubic-inch supergiant, in its final year, made just 190 horsepower (215 with fuel injection) and 360 pound-feet of torque, numbers that Mercedes can now match with a 2.1-liter turbo-diesel. But with two turbochargers and more than 500 horsepower each, these modern V-8s certainly recall that Cadillac’s excess.
Bentley and Mercedes do offer larger 12-cylinder engines, but we chose the V-8 versions because upping the cylinder count adds weight, complexity, and cost without, in our opinion, improving the driving experience. Okay, so sometimes logic does trump emotion, even in the illogical world of the big convertible.
On the Mercedes side, we selected the 577-hp AMG S63 that starts at $178,325, here to do battle with the 520-hp Continental GT V-8 S convertible that opens at $234,525. AMG’s 5.5-liter blown V-8 is the perfect foil to Bentley’s 4.0-liter blown V-8. Because it’s not exactly Bentley’s engine—it’s the same unit found in a number of Audis—this is sort of a proxy war between two German rivals.
Cloth-top, two-door personal luxury machines might perplex those of us without vacation homes and yachts, but as with the Eldorado of the ’70s, there’s a seductive magic to a comfortable, tech-filled premium convertible with a V-8 heart.
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