The market for the Mercedes-Benz S560 Cabriolet must be vanishingly small. In fact, we'd wager you'll be able to count on the fingers of one hand the number of them you'll see out and about on the roads in a year - if you see any at all.
Part of the reason for that is the eye-watering price. The S560, as Sam noted in his review, is in direct competition with some of the finest cabriolets in the world - so it's a good job it happens to be one of those too.
It is wonderfully smooth, effortlessly powerful and unceasingly opulent throughout - yet it also manages to eschew completely any notions of sportiness (well, with the exception of the aggressive AMG Line bodykit that comes as standard) in favour of a singular focus on comfort. But surely, given how vast its price is, we can find a better-value alternative - a four-seat drop-top that does the job of wafting you around in no-holds-barred luxury and with V8 power for half the price of the Merc?
Our first thoughts turned to one of Mercedes's most obvious rivals. BMW, of course, produces its own four-seat convertible - or at least, it did until recently, when the 6 Series went off sale. And depreciation being what it is, for half the cost of the S560, you can actually afford this M6 Convertible that's just a year old, with 3,000 miles on the clock - in other words, basically a new car. The M6, let's not forget, can boast considerably more power than the Merc - and while it's hardly the last word in handling, it'll go round corners a fair sight more sharply, too. Trouble is, that's not what we're looking for here - and an M6 just can't muster the same line in aristocratic grace as the Mercedes. We'll have to look elsewhere, then.
This Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante, on the other hand, has just that in spades. Granted, it doesn't have a V8 up front, but we reckon a V12 serves as an acceptable substitute. And while this example is steeply priced, it's done just 13,000 miles, which should make it feel incredibly tight, despite its 14-year age. Then again, spending this sort of money on something with Ford Granada air vents still feels wrong; what's more, while the Aston is technically a four-seater, sticking an adult in the back for any length of time is liable to result in a bill for a trip to a chiropractor.
The ideal half-price alternative to this luxurious Merc is, in our book, some sort of Bentley. After all, why have chicken when one can have steak? But we aren't talking about a Continental GT - goodness, no. We're talking about a proper, full-fat, SZ-series model in the form of this glorious Azure.
Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way first, at 22 years old and with 52,000 miles on the clock, the Azure isn't exactly a spring chicken. But on the bright side, that age means its prices are stagnant and, economic catastrophes notwithstanding, should soon be on the way up - whereas the Merc's are only going to be going the opposite direction for a long time to come.
That cash you're saving in depreciation could go toward upkeep which, let's face it, ain't going to be cheap. And with an official average consumption figure of 13.2mpg, you might be well-advised to set some aside for your own personal fuel bowser, too. Ouch.
But what else do you expect from a car that weighs more than two and a half tonnes, and comes with a 6.75-litre V8 and an interior more lavish than your living room? Its haughty stance, vast haunches and sheer presence make the Merc look common-or-garden, and as beautiful as the S560's interior is, it can't compete for sheer opulence with the Bentley's burr this, Connolly that and lambswool the other.
Sure, with the Bentley you'll have to do without modern trimmings like sat-nav and a digital radio, but who cares? With the top down, burbling around the British countryside in summertime, you'll be able to look down on the proles in their S560s and chuckle knowingly. Because you've got the car that's steeped in luxury, that oozes true class, the one that'll make people think you're Lord Wossname-Somethingorother when you rock up at the village pub. And you'll know you that for all this, you've paid half the price - and that you'll be able to sell it on for at least the same figure when the time comes.
So sod the fuel consumption and hang the maintenance costs. Don't buy that S560 you were all doubtless planning on rushing out to slap a deposit down on. Instead, find yourself a neo-classic Bentley; spend half your budget on that instead, and put the rest aside for the moment it bankrupts you. You can't lose. Probably.
SPECIFICATION - MERCEDES-BENZ S560 AMG LINE CABRIOLET
Engine: 3,982, V8 biturbo
Power (hp): 469@5,250-5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@2,000-4,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 2,075kg (EU, with driver)
MPG: 27.7 (NEDC)
Price: from £115,855
SPECIFICATION - BENTLEY AZURE
Engine: 6,750cc V8,
Power (hp): 390@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553@2,000rpm
0-60mph: 6.3 seconds
Top speed: 150mph
MPG: 13.2 (official average)