The Luxury Game: Everyone Plays, But Few Score
In most cars with adjustable suspension settings the first thing I do is switch to Sport mode. But not in the new Mercedes-Maybach S600. Oh, I tried it, and it’s not bad, but the Comfort setting is much better. More appropriate. The Maybach, you see, is a luxury limousine, and in Comfort mode it actually rides like one. In fact, it might be the best-riding car in the world right now, possibly better, even, than the Rolls-Royce Phantom, though I’d want to drive them back-to-back over the same roads before making a definitive call.
The Mercedes-Maybach S600 is big, powerful, and costs a lot of money. You can quibble about the form—both the Rolls-Royce Phantom and the Bentley Mulsanne are unquestionably more charismatic and distinctive designs than the Maybach’s supersized S-Class meme—but in purely functional terms the big-daddy Mercedes is arguably the more accomplished car.
Editor’s Note: Look for this story to appear as Angus MacKenzie’s The Big Picture column in the November 2015 issue of Motor Trend.
Under the hood is a magnificent 6.0-liter, twin-turbo V-12, a detuned version of the M275 AMG engine that delivers 523 hp and 612 lb-ft and is matched to a beautifully calibrated seven-speed automatic. Like all great V-12s the engine is turbine-smooth right through the rev range, the twin-turbos helping deliver maximum torque from just 1,900 rpm. For those who care, the Maybach S600 nails 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, and the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds at 110.9 mph, which means it’s quicker than a Bentley Mulsanne Speed. It’s also eight-tenths of a second quicker around our figure eight than the hulking Bentley.
Mercedes offers the choice of Comfort and Sport transmission modes, and in Comfort the Maybach will ooze away from a standstill in second gear, just like Benzes always used to. Switching to Sport mode makes the tranny more alert and responsive; more than you need it to be in the ‘burbs, but perfect for rapidly majestic transport along a twisting two-lane lane. There are steering wheel paddles if you want to swap ratios yourself, but in truth they are superfluous. Start hustling the Maybach and the transmission delivers perfectly timed, rev-matched downshifts on the entry into corners.
It was during a brisk, uninterrupted run along Route 198, part of which we use as our Best Driver’s Car test road, that the Maybach made its mark. I left the suspension in Comfort and marveled at the quality of the ride, the dexterity of the body control, and the truly surprising pace at which the almost 18-foot, 5,308-pound limousine waltzed effortlessly down this demanding stretch of tarmac. The Maybach’s demeanor through the swoops and sweeps, humps and hollows reminded me of an old Series III Jaguar XJ12—minus, of course, all the rubbery lateral compliance in the suspension that made the Jag interesting through fast sweepers. There was a graceful elegance to it all that I realized with a jolt is now missing from many of today’s over-tired and tautly damped modern luxury cars, cars that should probably more correctly be called sport sedans. The Maybach’s combination of speed and serenity is unique.
Maybe it’s because I happened to drive the Maybach from L.A. to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where massive, glittering Duesenbergs and Isotta Fraschinis and Packards and Hispano-Suizas recalled a gilded age of automotive excess, but I’ve come to the conclusion that “luxury” has become a cruelly debased term in the modern automotive lexicon. There are fast cars, powerful cars, imposing cars, stylish cars, and great handling cars, many of them superbly designed and engineered and carrying a hefty price tag that puts them beyond the reach of the average consumer. But that doesn’t mean they are luxurious. It means they are expensive.
Effortlessly fast and smooth and quiet and comfortable, the Maybach cossets you, cocoons you, indulges you. It is a luxury car.
Read more from Motor Trend about the 2016 Mercedes-Maybach S600: