2016 Mercedes-Maybach S600 First Drive
Maybach’s Marvelous Mulligan: Making the best of a second chance at a first impression
It's said you don't get a second chance at a first impression, but modern attention spans have given lie to the adage. Make a strong enough first impression, good or bad, and you'll never have another go at it. Make a weak impression and wait long enough, though, and you'll get another shot.
By the time the revitalized Maybach brand ceased production in 2012, most people had forgotten it was still on the market despite having been around for 10 years. This time, though, things are different. The brand is now Mercedes-Maybach, embracing its roots and buying a bit of prestige from the powerful Mercedes-Benz brand, and it's a genuinely fantastic car. Yes, it's a stretched S-Class again, but it's not some aged-out chassis. It's the best S-Class Mercedes has ever built. The Mercedes-Maybach is 8.1 inches longer in both wheelbase and overall length than a long-wheelbase (U.S. only) S-Class, which translates to an additional 6.3 inches of rear seat legroom.
Under the hood, it carries a familiar twin-turbocharged V-12 engine displacing 6.0 liters. As in lesser models, it produces 523 horsepower and 612 lb-ft of torque and directs them to a seven-speed automatic gearbox en route to the rear wheels. It may not be new, but it's an elegant powertrain befitting the vehicle. V-12 engines are known for their smoothness, and this one doesn't fail to deliver. The transmission keeps its shifts seamless at light to moderate throttle inputs, and the whole car simply swans ahead in the finest British tradition. Sharper throttle inputs can register a shift stiff enough to be noticed, and the engine will release a pleasant but distant growl.
The powertrain offers just two drive modes, Efficiency and Sport. They could just as easily be called Driven and Driving. The former specifies throttle response that could be characterized as lethargic if it weren't so smooth and gentle. Apply throttle, and the car wafts forward, nearly all sense of acceleration hidden by the cabin's isolation. This is chauffeur mode, meant to prevent any possible champagne spillage. Push it hard enough, and the big V-12 will roar to life and pull the car forward as if caught in a tractor beam.
Should you wish to drive your own Maybach a bit, you'll probably prefer Sport mode. The acceleration is just as smooth, but the throttle response is much sharper. I might suggest it's even too sharp, that a middle ground would be preferable for the driver/chauffeur who wants to more easily keep up with traffic without jostling the passengers too much.
As Sport mode will rarely be exercised, the rest of the car seems built around the default setting. That is, it's free of sharp edges in any metaphoric form. The brakes, for example, are more than strong enough to stop the big car and provide a good bite, but it's nearly impossible to stab them sharply enough to throw the passengers forward against their seatbelts except in full emergency stops.
Likewise, the ride and handling balance delivers nearly complete freedom from bumps and dips without allowing the car to wallow or list in a corner. Here, the S-Class' Magic Body Control is in rare form, allowing the car to lean gently in corners, never sharply. Even on a tight canyon road, the car never pitches or heaves from side to side. It's as though the center of gravity is a mile below the road surface. The steering, meanwhile, is perfect in both responsiveness and weighting and wouldn't deign to bother the driver with any feedback from the road. It simply flows around corners like a ballroom dancer. You can set the suspension to Sport separately from the drivetrain if you like, but the improvement in handling doesn't match the cost in ride quality.
"Drive it as you would pilot a private jet with a cranky billionaire in the back."
Of course, this car isn't really meant to be driven. It's meant to be ridden in. The interior is familiar if you know the S-Class, and that's not a bad thing. From the front, most everything looks the same but is made of even richer wood and leather. What you'll notice most is the silence. Mercedes claims this is the quietest luxury sedan cabin on the market, and I believe it. Even so, there are microphones to broadcast your voice to the rear seat, relieving you of the indignity of raising your voice to your employer.
From the rear, it's a whole new ballgame. Those extra 6.3 inches make an already spacious car feel palatial. Fittingly, two throne-worthy seats are the centerpiece. Each makes your favorite armchair feel like a lawn chair and is wildly adjustable. From the right rear seat, you can send the front right seat all the way forward and folded up against the dash for maximum space. Even the seatbelts are opulent, with soft, cushy belts and power extending buckles. Fully reclined, the seats are comparable to first class airline seats that don't fold flat (crash reasons, mostly). Individual climate zones are matched by heated and cooled seats as well as heated and cooled cupholders. Optional tray tables extend from the center console and are impressively adjustable. Special cupholders clasp the optional silver-plated Robbe & Berking champagne flutes, filled by bottles from an optional refrigerator between the rear seats that seriously impacts trunk space.
Unlike competitors, who provide a single rear seat control center, Maybach provides two remotes that can control most of the car's functions. Each can be easily set to operate either rear seat screen or the primary information and entertainment system up front. This means you can change everything from the radio station to the interior ambient lighting color from the remote. The cherry on top? Drive Information, like a commercial jet's "Airshow," a slideshow that shows you your position on the map, speed, altitude, temperature, etc., but this will show you more, everything up to and including views from traffic cameras along your route.
Mercedes says the new Maybach is the epitome of understated luxury, and that might just be the big selling point. True, it doesn't have the master woodworking shops at its disposal or quite the level of customizability, but at $190,275 to start, it offers a value for the money the competition doesn't. Hey, no one gets rich by overspending.