MERCEDES can't be accused of not giving its customers ample choice.
You dream it, they'll build it. Seemingly every possible model niche is filled, and almost any of its engines will work in any of its body styles.
You can spend $38k on an entry-level A-Class or more than half a million on a Merc-AMG S65 Cabrio. No matter your budget, there'll be a few Benzes in that price region to tempt.
This month, the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Cabriolet joins the fray, assuming the top perch in the C-Class rag-top line-up.
If we consider the convertible C-Class is niche enough (you can also have your "C" as a sedan, coupe, wagon and, arguably, as a mid-size SUV in GLC coupe and wagon styles), your grade choice is exhaustive.
Entry to the drop-top club starts at $85,900 for the C 200 Cabrio, $99,900 has you in the C 300, while the recently-released all-wheel drive AMG C 43 version ($119,900) uses a bi-turbo 270kW/520Nm 3.0-litre V6 to propel it to 100kmh in 4.8-seconds.
But there is, of course, that wonderful AMG bi-turbo 4.0-litre V8 motor available. So this C 63 S version was bound to arrive.
With 375kW and 700Nm on tap, Merc-AMG is inviting you to enjoy the wind in your hair at near-supercar speeds - zero to 100kmh in 4.1-seconds - and asks $179,900 before on-roads for the privilege.
What do you get?
A riot for the senses. Here we have a four-seater ticking so many boxes on the dream drive front: beauty, luxury, technology and a brute of a boosted V8 slinging you towards the horizon with a raucous soundtrack. And all this is on offer while open to the elements.
For starters, it looks every inch the performance weapon. Low, squat and with a fat rear end, the C 63 S uses matt black 19- and 20-inch forged alloys, red brake callipers (gold if you get the brake upgrade pack), quad exhausts, subtle boot lid spoiler and powerdomes in the bonnet.
Roof down it's a wonderfully proportioned sports car and in no way looks awkward with the fabric top in place. Speaking of which, your cabrio comes with a folding black soft top but it's no extra charge to option yours in dark brown, blue or red. The latter certainly adds a more in-your-face performance hint.
Obviously your $180k pays for a decent dose of luxury, and toys too. Behold AMG active dynamic engine mounts, electronic rear axle locking differential, beefy composite braking system and a rasping, popping, delicious performance exhaust system.
Inside there's Nappa leather, an AMG Alcantara flat-bottomed steering wheel, climatised front seats, an Airscarf wafting warm air around your neck, digital TV tuner, Burmester surround-sound system and comprehensive Comand Online package with all your infotainment through a 21.3cm display at the touch of a rotary dial or touchpad.
You'll struggle to crash it too, with safety kit including a 360-degree camera, active blind-spot assist, semi-autonomous braking, steering assist, cross-traffic assist and active lane-keep assist, to name a few.
Manage to roll the C 63 S and two cartridges pyrotechnically fire out behind the rear seats to provide a survival space.
You can still spend more though. One of the cars I tested came with heated AMG Performance bucket seats - firm but manageable on a long journey - which cost an extra $1900 and you lose the Airscarf and ability to cool your seats.
For track day fans - not that Cabrios are often found in the pit lane - an additional $9900 sees long-lasting ceramic brakes added.
On the road
The Cabriolet may weigh 125kg more than the coupe version, but you'd hardly know it. We have monumental power here, and unlike the C 43 Cabrio baby brother, it is all directed through the rear wheels. - just like a purist's sports car should.
My test drive was from central Sydney to Bathurst via the Bells Line of Road, a 59km stretch crossing the Blue Mountains.
Once it would have been a motoring nirvana, but in 2017 it is busy with traffic, chocker with roadworks, ever-changing speed limits, police patrols, fixed and average speed cameras. Even if planning to stick within the speed limits, the fun is sucked out of the route by having to constantly watch your speedo. Not easy when every gentle squeeze of the throttle unleashes bi-turbo V8 fury.
As a result I could only get a taste of the performance, but as with many full-fat AMG products, further exploration is really only possible at the racetrack.
Roof down and foot planted, I was rewarded with a thumping muscle-car burst from the AMG exhaust, and you whip up to speed in a heartbeat, with the tail displaying some welcome movement to remind there's 375kW going through the hefty rear treads.
Lift off the throttle and race-esque pops send a big grin to the open-top occupants.
And my test road did have some benefits with high rock walls for that sound to reverberate off: drop a gear on the paddle shifter and enjoy a singing V8 at high revs.
Road holding, chassis balance and steering turn-in and feedback proved superb - this is no "soft" soft top by any means. As for ride comfort, the C 63 S is quite crashy over poor surfaces - a trade-off for the dynamism of the superb chassis - but the drive mode shifter gives you the option of Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus, Race and Individual.
Comfort mode tames things somewhat, but obviously it's still no S Class on the comfy ride front. That said, on a decent stretch of highway with the roof up it proved a cosseting and relaxed cruiser.
Don't let the soft-top bit put you off either. Despite rivals such as the BMW M4 Convertible using a folding hard top, the AMG's fabric does a superb job of blocking out wind and driving noise when raised. Not coupe-good, but damn near good enough.
Roof down (it takes 20 seconds and at speeds of up to 50kmh) and conversation without shouting was possible, even at more than 100kmh. A roof-frame fitted electric draught-stop reduces interior turbulence, while there's a second one behind the rear seats to improve things for back-seat riders. Meanwhile, the Airscarfs (heater vents in your headrests) in particular keep occupants nice and toasty, even on a chilly day with the roof down.
But really, AMG offerings such as this are typically the reserve of city folk... and city roads. I endured a painful two-hour sit in Sydney traffic (roof up to avoid the fumes) and I never lamented it being a cabrio or an AMG.
It proved docile in town, but you can't help thinking too many of these AMGs are wasted in such circumstances. They deserve better than a stop-start peak-hour traffic existence.
Escaping to the sun for a long weekend is an ideal drive for the C 63 S Cabrio. With roof up you have 360-litres of boot space available, dropping to 285-litres (VW Polo size) when going topless. Two soft bags would be best.
The two quite firm rear seats have acceptable legroom - and offer a superb view in leather-cocooned luxury - but if not in use they can be split-folded 50:50 for better cargo space. This makes long distance touring for two with big bags a possibility.
It's happy shopping in the performance luxury German convertible market, with Audi's RS5 Cabriolet ($177,226 but a new one is coming soon) and BMW's M4 Convertible ($161,615) also worth a sample.
A rich man's plaything indeed, but the C 63 S Cabriolet will be bought by those who simply love a pure driving experience.
There's epic power directed through the rear wheels, and that AMG bi-turbo V8 noise is pure theatre with the soft top stowed.
The luxury, cabin design, superb engineering and high specification are as you'd expect from a $180k AMG, but the muscular beauty of this thing and its thrilling open-air drive remind it's a special car indeed.
It will be bought by those who demand the range-topping best of the best, but it's hard to neglect the far cheaper and arguably only slightly lesser C-Class cabrios that Benz offers in its range.
A C 43 Cabrio ($60k cheaper) should scratch most performance itches, and the C 300 ($80k cheaper) is elegant, high specification and quick enough to still get yourself in trouble on our heavily regulated roads.
But if you can reach for the stars and afford a C 63 S Cabrio, you'll be blessed with some truly rarefied driving experiences.
Driving experience 19/20
Features and equipment 18/20
Functionality and comfort 18/20
Value for money 14/20
Style and design 18/20
Model: Mercedes-AMG C63 S Cabriolet
Details: Rear-wheel drive, two-door, four-seat, performance convertible.
Engine: 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 with maximum power of 375kW @ 5500rpm and peak torque of 700Nm @ 1750rpm.
Transmission: AMG Speedshift seven-speed automatic.
Consumption: 9.4-litres/100km (combined average).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 4.1 seconds.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $179,900.
What matters most
What we liked: A beast of an engine, muscular but elegant design, superb balance and feel for a convertible, high level of tech and safety kit.
What we'd like to see: Slightly less crashy ride over poor surfaces, looks expensive next to other C-Class cabrios.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited km warranty. Servicing is at 20,000km or annually.
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