The big sedan is idling on the tarmac as we step off our Gulfstream G4. No mad crush at the gate, no waiting in line for luggage. This is how the other half lives. Or more precisely, the other tenth of one per cent, the folks for whom money really is no object.When it comes to automobiles, their list of extravagant options is about to get a bit bigger with the imminent launch of the all-new Maybach brand. Actually, to be more precise, the revival of one of Europe’s most elegant and exclusive brands which, from 1921 to 1941, sold an average of barely 90 automobiles a year.
In 1998, when Rolls-Royce Motor Co. went on the auction block, DaimlerChrysler briefly bid on the esteemed British brand. But it quickly decided to instead bring an ultra-luxury brand of its own to market, reaching into its archives and finding the long-dormant Maybach marque.
2003 Maybach M57Enlarge Photo
That’s actually longer than the Ford Excursion SUV, making the M62 one of the longest passenger vehicles ever built. Not surprisingly, it’s also positioned as the car for the chauffeured set. The M57, meanwhile, is billed as the “driver’s car,” and with a V-12 producing 550 horsepower and seemingly endless amounts of torque, there’s no question it’s got more than enough muscle to burn up the Autobahn.
2004 Maybach 62
But do these two new sedans have what it takes to command such a stratospheric price tag? And can they displace the two nameplates that have long defined the pinnacle of automotive affluence, Rolls-Royce and its former sibling, Bentley? To find out, TheCarConnection spent a few days living the life of luxury on a cross-country German jaunt that included time both behind the wheel of the M57 and in the back seat of the M62.
For those used to pumping their own gas, this is definitely a different lifestyle. As our chauffeur, Manny, opened up the M62’s gate-sized rear door, we entered a cabin larger than some New York apartments, and as well-appointed as Donald Trump’s penthouse. The M62 makes a Mercedes-Benz S-Class seem Spartan. It’s outfitted with incredibly supple Neubock leather and appointed with triple-scalloped cherry, burr walnut or veined amboyna wood.
2003 Maybach M62Enlarge Photo
Maybach planners prefer the word “individualization” to the more pedestrian “customization,” and according to Assistant Brand Specialist Mark Ramsey, “there are likely to be no two alike” among the estimated 1000 Maybachs to be built each year. You want platinum-plated switches, a marble bar and a fax machine, with the exterior paint matching your wife’s lipstick? Not a problem.
2004 Maybach 62
There are even three sunroof options, though we expect the majority of M62 customers will opt for the Panoramic roof that blends a classic appearance with some very high-tech touches. Framed in wood, it features a phototransparent panel that, at a touch of a button goes opaque. At night, another touch illuminates a hidden photoluminescent panel, giving a soft glow to the rear cabin.
Without question, though, the M62’s most distinctive feature is its business class aircraft-style rear seats. With a touch of a button they unfurl, reclining about 45 degrees, with their well-cushioned leg rests using up nearly every inch of the five-foot rear cabin space.
Speeding with Manny
In that position, tooling the countryside on a gray fall afternoon, it was difficult to keep from nodding off, but Manny wasn’t about to let us doze. As traffic on the Autobahn cleared, he squeezed the M62’s accelerator pedal smoothly to the floor. With an unexpected leap, the Maybach took off. A trio of large, analog gauges mounted overhead made it easy to monitor the sedan’s progress as it soared to 200 km/h and kept climbing.
2003 Maybach M62Enlarge Photo
2004 Maybach 62
As Manny eased back off the throttle just a bit, the car settled down, providing a level of quiet comfort at 125 mph few cars offer at half that speed.
But we were chomping at the bit for a chance to drive, rather than ride. For that, we had to take a short flight from Hamburg to Stuttgart aboard the DaimlerChrysler corporate jet. Appropriately, a small fleet of M57s were arranged on the runway. There was no red carpet, but their engines were running, and it didn’t take us long to head for the Autobahn.
A half-meter, or nearly 20 inches, shorter than the M62, there’s a notable difference in the visual balance of the M57. But the look is nonetheless imposing. This is a car that speaks of money, but without the in-your-face and over-the-top ostentation of the classic Rolls-Royce.
The design is modern and reasonably handsome, though were it not for the car’s size, it would likely be described as unremarkable. Perhaps we were expecting some touches lifted from the original Maybach. But other than the oversized delta hood ornament and double M etched into the projector headlamp lenses, there were none. There are a few notably odd details, such as a grille that could have been plucked from the Lincoln parts bin. The high, bustle-back trunk, vaguely reminiscent of the new BMW 7-Series, takes getting used to, though it provides some functional justification. It improves high-speed aerodynamics, for one thing, while creating a cavernous, 22-liter trunk that could outfit a PGA foursome.
It’s been quite some time since two-tone paint was in vogue, but it proves to be one of the car’s most appealing features, the contrasting tone used to highlight the sides of the car and contained within an elegant chrome frame.
2004 Maybach 62
Buyers get to choose from 17 unique paints, by the way, though they have access to dozens more from the Mercedes-Benz catalogue and, as noted, Maybach will match any hue you want—for a fee. Indeed, the order process is as much a part of the Maybach “experience” as the big engine and massive rear seat.
In the U.S., there will ultimately be 88 dealers authorized to sell the marque. In the rest of the world, there will be just 25 special centers where a buyer can go to spec out the vehicle of their choice. They’ll be able to mix and match two-tone combinations, feel the leather and wood and even experience a virtual reality “fly-by” to experience the car. That’s because there will be few, if any, demo models produced. Since each car is built to order, it will take a minimum of four to six months to take delivery.
If there is one feature in the Maybach that customers might wish to completely replace, it’s the COMAND system, also borrowed from the S-Class, and probably the feature most often criticized in the Mercedes. Trying to program the navigation system, indeed even trying to select a CD from the instrument panel’s confusing controls proved an exercise in futility. We finally settled for German pop music on the radio. About the only control that is easy to find and use sets the volume.
There are some trade-offs for those who opt for the M57. The unique sunroof and airline-style seats won’t be available on the smaller car. But what you get as an alternative is a car that’s unexpectedly nimble and breathtakingly fast for its size.
As we hit the Autobahn, we nudge the car over to the left lane, patiently waiting for a break in the heavy Stuttgart traffic. We’re already cruising at 180 kmh—125 mph—when a gap appears and we slam down the throttle. We’re rewarded with a forceful burst of torque as the twin turbochargers breathe vital air into the V-12. The speedo needle swings past 210, 230, 250. And according to our hosts, it would keep on going to nearly 320 before the M57 runs out of steam.
2004 Maybach 62
While you’re not likely to see many Maybach’s drag racing, they’d likely fair well, with the M57 rated to do 0-100 km/h (0-62.5 mph) in just 5.2 seconds. Not bad for a car weighing in at 5852 pounds. The 6116-pound M62 will need an extra 0.2 seconds to hit 100 km/h.
On Germany’s normally glass-smooth highways, the Maybach inspires a sense of calm, even at such speeds. And there’s certainly none of the jittering we experienced with the one M62 a day before.
Our route book spelled out a long, circuitous course that eventually took us to Frankfurt, but which also wove in some challenging driving time in the hill country to the northeast of Stuttgart. The Maybach is no sports car, yet it proved reasonably nimble during our drive. Steering is precise and tight. There’s far less boost in the power assist once you get going, so you’ve got a good sense of the road and can point the car precisely where you want it to go.
The computer-controlled air suspension, basically a modified version of what’s used in the Mercedes S-Class, responds well and rapidly to changing road conditions.
In reality, the average Maybach owner is expected to have a fleet of cars in the garage, so there’s always the Ferrari for a really fast run through the countryside. But the M57 will certainly not embarrass itself. Like the Bentley Arnage T, it’s got incredible power, but it’s also outfitted with a much more modern suspension and body which translate into a vehicle able to handle just about any driving situation you’d experience.
As we reached our destination in Frankfurt, we reluctantly handed the keys over to the valet, knowing that tomorrow we’d have to return to a more normal life of pumping our own gas and grabbing some fast food for lunch, rather than the lavish meals we’d experienced on the Maybach trip.
The rich are definitely different from the rest of us. And the new Maybach is designed by those who understand the difference. Is it worth $300,000? If you have to ask, as they say, you probably won’t understand. But there are likely to be more than enough who do get the picture. And if early orders are any indication, this reborn marque is going to have trouble keeping up with demand.
2003 Maybach M57 AND M62
Base price: $310,000 and $360,000 (est.)
Engine: 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-12, 550 hp
Transmission: electronic five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 225.3 x 78.0 x 61.9 in (M57); 242.72 x 78.0 x 61.9 (M62)
Wheelbase: 133.5 in (M57); 150.7 (M62)
Curb weight: 5852 lb (M57); 6116 lb (M62)
EPA City/Hwy: N/A
Safety equipment: Dual-stage front airbags, four side airbags for front and rear occupants, pretensioning seatbelts, electronic brake system, crash cell body structure, halogen headlamps and fast-lighting LED taillamps.
Major standard equipment: Automatic climate-control with separate A/C system for front and rear, 10-way power seats, tilt-telescopic steering column, rain sensor with automatic wiper speed control, DVD/CD entertainment system, airline-style fold-out seats (M62 only), navigation and telematics systems
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles