Merc-Maybach S-Class needs to lose its chequered but memorable past
Linked originally with Zeppelin, the ill-fated German airship firm, but responsible for mobilising much of Nazi Germany’s war machine, recalls Iain Robertson, Maybach also produced some of the most opulent motorcars in the world from around 1921.
Its days as a carmaker were curtailed in the post-WW2 period, until Daimler-Benz purchased the company in 1960. With much of its past brushed neatly beneath the carpet, not one but two variants, 57 and 62 (representing in decimetres the lengths of each car) appeared in the late-1990s, based clumsily and obviously on an aging Merc S-Class chassis.
For mostly Chrysler reasons, Merc’s head was not really where it needed to be. The Teutonic giant was determined to become a major player in a very restricted and subsequently economic crash-affected, super luxury car market…but its sums were confused and its arrogance unrelenting. Vehicle testers were restricted to being chauffeured in the mega-comfortable ‘dentist chairs’ constituting the spacious rear compartments.
Apart from an ‘invitation-only’, indoor exposition held during the Goodwood Speed event, to which only the world’s super-rich were invited, the European media launch was an utterly confused but ultra-costly exercise. Able to see the Maybach 62, through a glass encasement mounted to the deck of the QE2, only the most notorious members of the motoring press travelled to New York in excess luxury in late-June 2002, returning on-board Concorde, after a few days of Champagne quaffing and being chauffeured around NYC. It was laughable, with invitations being received by the ‘wrong’ journalists, to supplement the comedy of errors.
Despite an annual target of 2,000 registrations, of which at least 50% were supposed to come from North America, Mercedes-Benz was forced into buying back 29 US dealers in 2007, its expectations unfulfilled. Claiming that poor sales forged its decisions, Daimler announced that Maybach would cease as a brand in 2013, with its last example being made in December 2012. Less than 3,000 examples had been made in a decade.
Barely, two years later, a sorely chided Daimler-Benz announced that the Maybach name would be revived as the luxury antithesis to sporty AMG. The Merc-Maybach models would continue to be built at the Sindelfingen S-Class factory but, intriguingly, also at Pune, India. The latest range has just been revealed, with prices starting at a seemingly realistic £162,390, for the S580 4Matic, rising to £204,375 for the S680 4Matic First Class.
The ‘entry-level’ model is powered by a 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine, which produces 503bhp and 516lbs ft of torque. A further 20bhp and 147lbs ft are available thanks to the EQ Boost mild hybrid system, which features an integrated starter-generator powered by the 48V on-board electrical system that is intended to improve overall performance and efficiency. It can scorch from 0-60mph in just 4.5s and has an electronically limited top speed of 155mph, while delivering up to 25.5mpg and emitting 253g/km of CO2 (the First Class variant releases 265g/km), all of which seem entirely reasonable considering the car’s dimensions.
The range-topping 6.0-litre V12 S680 4Matic First Class produces 612bhp and 663lbs ft of torque and is capable of sprinting to 60mph in just 4.2 seconds, while returning 19.8mpg and emitting 325g/km of CO2. All versions come as standard with a 9G-Tronic nine-speed, fully automatic transmission and are only available in long wheelbase form. Intended shamelessly for chauffeured driving, the wheelbase is 18cm longer than the long variant of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The company’s focus on the rear occupant area is underlined by even more refined appointments, with new seat massaging functions and an extensive upgrade for the First Class detailing.
Tablets and touchscreens proliferate around the interior, accompanied by hand-stitched hide, impeccable wood veneers and highly polished lacquer. However, unlike the earlier Maybachs, the standard seating arrangement in the rear is by conventional and super-comfortable bench, with the multi-adjustable ‘dentist-chairs’ being an option. Apart from four-wheel steering (up to 10-degrees of angle at the rear) for much easier manoeuvring, fully active suspension ensures that the 2002 models’ ponderous handling (a good reason for journalists not being allowed to drive those cars!) is responded to appositely. Merc needs to forget as much of its past in respect to Maybach as possible!
However, bespoke excess has not been side-stepped and Maybach Exclusive Two-Tone Paints are available in eight different choices for an extra £13,650 consideration. The Mercedes-Maybach Exclusive nappa leather designo package, at £28,000, is available as an option on First Class models adding: designo black piano lacquer trim with flowing lines, designo roof liner in nappa leather with topstitching, finished in crystal white, front centre console sides in nappa leather with topstitching, inserts in the door sill panels in nappa look, Maybach Exclusive nappa leather in designo crystal white and silver grey pearl, multifunction steering wheel in wood/leather, nappa leather covering on sun visors, pockets on driver’s and front-passenger’s backrest, window frame, A-, B- and C-pillars and upper and side cover on the instrument panel and two upholstery cushions covered in nappa leather, with diamond quilting and Mercedes-Maybach logo, plus piping, in contrasting colour.
With both Rolls-Royce and Bentley in its sights, a missed acquisition opportunity, when both British brands were for sale, the latest Merc-Maybachs are clearly upmarket, mega-chromed versions of the monster S-Class and they are not bad for the money. At last they can compete head-on with the BMW and VW owned superbrands, without the brassiness and misdirected snobbishness of almost two decades ago.
Naturally, the market has changed significantly since then, with both China and India placing greater demands on the marque. Yet, more importantly, Merc, now totally free of its loathsome Chrysler corporate connection, can relax into its own renown, full in the knowledge that its products possess a second-to-none reputation around the world. Merc’s repute was dragged through the muck during its fateful relationship with Chrysler Corp. The earlier Maybach debacle is now a distant irrelevance. The latest Maybach developments sit more comfortably in the company’s broader profile.