As life goes on, you become able to make some choices, and I had one such decision to make the other weekend, around a new Mercedes-Maybach S650. Go in the back or the front, of the pub?
Actually, I’ll confess to my CC counsellors that I hadn’t realised that the Mercedes-Maybach S650 was actually on Britain’s roads. Britain gets short and long wheelbase Mercedes-Benz S-Class variants and I was aware that there was an extra long wheelbase Mercedes-Benz S -Class available at least in some markets, which I had assumed to be Germany, perhaps North America and, of course, Asia, and that there was an intention to re-use the Maybach name in some way. But I didn’t know I could buy one at home. Obviously, I don’t car shop in the right places.
Maybach was a business based in Friedrichshafen in southern Germany, principally building aero engines and diesel engines for rail and marine use, as well as limited numbers of high end luxury cars. In some respects, it mirrored the pre-war Rolls-Royce business. Car production stopped in 1939 and never resumed. The business was absorbed by Daimler-Benz in 1960, and then built limited numbers of specially adapted Mercedes W108 and W116 ranges, always badged as Mercedes-Benz.
The previous Maybach 57 and 62, profiled here by Jim Klein, were not what could be called a commercial success. Designed to compete with the Rolls-Royce Phantom and Ghost from BMW and the Bentley Mulsanne from VW, sales totalled around 3000 in 9 years from 2003 before it was suspended without a direct replacement, contrasting with over 3000 Rolls-Royces or 8-10,000 Bentleys (of all types) a year. The cricketing term is “retired hurt”.
Explanations vary. Possibly the style; looking like a very long wheelbase (almost stretch limo to some) version of an S-Class or E-Class may not have had the appeal of a bespoke style; the name has a strong history but it’s from a long time ago (a what? Made by Mercedes? A posh Mercedes then) and, frankly, the quality of the competition. Is there a better luxury saloon than the Phantom? Really?
So, surprise was indeed the keyword, when on a Sunday afternoon, there was Mercedes-Maybach S650 parked outside the pub, on what we call trade plates. In other words, the car was not registered but on the road under the care of a motor trader, distributor or possibly manufacturer (hence the term “trade plate”).
The car itself was sufficiently understated as to need a second glance to verify its identity. My first assumption was a black S Class and then that it was a long wheelbase S Class. But then I noticed fully the revised rear roofline and pillars, the V12 badge and the unfamiliar logo, and realised it was something more than just a Mercedes-Benz. As Marks and Spencer say in their advertising, it’s not just a Mercedes-Benz, it’s a Mercedes-Maybach.
The Maybach is a clear derivative of the current S Class. It is 8 inches longer, a touch taller and all the extra space is in the rear compartment. Unsurprisingly, the equipment level is best described as indulgently opulent – soft leathers in various colours, sliding panoramic roof, ventilated front and rear seats, electric sunblinds, electrically adjustable and massaging seats, a glass cabinet, four-zone climate control, reclining rear seats, and heated armrests and steering wheel are all standard.
The infotainment is inevitably top drawer – sat nav, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, DAB radio, Wi-fi hotspot and a TV tuner, alongside a rear entertainment package which includes 10in screens, a DVD player and wireless headphones. Much of this can be controlled from your Smartphone.
Power comes from the Mercedes 6.0 litre V12 with 630bhp and 737 lbft (a nice round 1000 Nm in German) of torque. Speed is limited to 155 mph, as is the German norm, and 0-60 is 4.7 seconds. This is no slouch Brougham. Yes, it is 260lb heavier than the equivalent S Class, but that’s not a bad place to start by any means, and bulk aside, the driving experience is as good as you’d hope. There’s even a Sport button, presumably for the chauffeur (optional, customer specified equipment) to use on the way home.
The only chargeable options are the £7200 (UK market) First Class Cabin option, with twin rear seats rather than a bench, inset tables, cupholders and silver champagne flutes or £13000 worth of extra soft leather. Obviously. You can’t expect to spend £183,000 on a car and not need to spend more.
Even so, the interior has the look of one of those first class pods you see as you walk through a Boeing or an Airbus – objectively very luxurious and comfortable but not actually that memorable in appearance or definable in style.
If you want to place the car in a context, I guess you could consider the Maybach 57 and 62 as equivalent to the Mercedes-Benz 600 (Grosser) and the Mercedes-Maybach S650 as a fully optioned 300SEL 6.3.
And it faces tough opposition. The Bentley Flying Spur and Mulsanne (just leaving production this year), and Rolls-Royce Ghost will not roll over lightly. The interiors of these are also more special in visible craftsmanship, with more individuality being permitted, and indeed expected. Rolls-Royce say 95% of their cars are personalised in some way, something Mercedes-Maybach seem to be avoiding. The British cars also have the advantage (or disadvantage depending on your preference and the circumstances) of clearly signalling their presence to all.
In absolute, objective terms, the Mercedes-Maybach is a strong high luxury car, albeit with very unfamiliar branding. In subjective terms, it probably misses the mark for many. In Europe, you could imagine a large corporation buying a Mercedes-Maybach for the CEO to be chauffeured about in, when the big Mercedes-Benz look is almost expected, and then the car being sold into to the luxury airport or hotel chauffeur market, but also see that the individual purchaser would be deterred by the anonymity of it. Hence I walked past it, almost.
Daimler has clear ambitions for the Maybach sub-brand. In addition to the S650 (and 4 litre V8 S560 in some markets) there are now G-Class G650 Landaulet, which has Middle Eastern market written all over it, and the GLS600 based on the new GLS series, with suitable grilles and equipment to justify a price of £180,000.
To be honest, I almost missed it entirely, as it looks so like an S-Class in airport limo black. But I was concentrating on entering the pub, which I can afford to go into.