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2013 BMW M6 Convertible vs. 2013 Jaguar XKR-S Convertible, 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG, and 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet
Barons: William Randolph Hearst's backyard plays host to a European summit of luxurious sports convertibles.
About halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, somewhere near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse where the sea otters bob and the elephant seals tussle in the slimy kelp just off the shoreline, the Santa Lucia Mountains take a step back from the water’s edge, leaving a rolling, doughy apron of greens and browns. On January days when the gray doesn’t hang low and the squalls don’t roll in on the crest of a sniping wind, the fog can settle with damp permanence and bleach everything the color of statuary.
In 1865, a man named George Hearst came and spent some of his mighty takings from the Comstock Lode on a cattle ranch here. It must have been a sunny day, because when the sun is out in San Simeon, heaven has no equal. Hearst found his refuge on these hillsides, and his son and heir, William Randolph, would eventually build a towering concrete château big enough to be labeled a castle.
It is a fact of American life that the victors get the spoils. Ranches and castles are two, and a vehicle to access them quickly and in sublime comfort is another. At one time the Hearst property here encompassed 250,000 acres, so, likewise, we were not tame in our appetites. Our four convertibles live in the very upper reaches of luxury, just where it scrapes the bottom of the exotic realm.
None costs less than 130 large with options, though the BMW M6 comes closest as our price leader, even with its optional, special-order $5000 “Frozen Silver” matte paint finish. The Bimmer has a number of -ests on its curriculum vitae. It is the longest, widest, tallest, and heaviest in the group. Its twin-turbo 4.4-liter is the smallest of three V-8s here, but makes the most horsepower in the test, at 560 (the Benz gets the torque medal, at 664 pound-feet).
The dash-S marks this XKR as Jaguar’s hottest number, with a 550-hp supercharged V-8 that blurs the scenery in this aluminum-bodied, British Racing Green (but, of course) sprinter. At $138,875, the XKR-S is complete with no options, though, as with the M6, the premium for the convertible version is $6300 over a coupe.
Optioned to the hilt with, among other things, a $9000 performance package that adds carbon-fiber bits and 27 horsepower, this $171,225 Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG lands 10 grand shy of a Bentley Continental GT V-8 coupe. The two-seat SL with its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 is our only dedicated roadster; no coupe is available. But it is also the only one with a retractable hardtop that turns it into a decent facsimile of a coupe.
Last in both alphabetical and dimensional order is the Porsche. Befitting a Stuttgart stallion, the 911 Carrera S cabriolet is the smallest and lightest car here, and it also suffers the least horsepower. Yet it is not the least expensive, at $136,430. You can get into one for $108,950, but the Premium package ($4445, with heated power seats, bixenon headlamps, and other froth), the Burmester audio package ($5010), Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control ($3160), or any of the many other options might be temptations too many. We asked for a PDK to match our other automatic contenders, but all Porsche could provide was a seven-speed stick with just 350 miles on the odo.
European art was William Randolph Hearst’s passion, and we’ve brought some—albeit using a definition of the word he would find rather loose—to his former doorstep to see which one best befits a baron in his castle.