by HANNAH ELLIOTT
“JUST a minute. You have forgotten your phone.”
The dulcet tone of the voice coming from the depths of the Maybach took me by surprise. I didn’t know who she was, but she was right. I’d left my cell charging in the centre console.
Turns out the Mercedes-Maybach S 580, especially its onboard artificial intelligence minder system, doesn’t miss much for the people who can spend (starting from) US$184,900 (RM824,007) to get one.
Cup holders that keep your coffee warm or your spritz cold. Systems that promote circulation and deep breathing by kneading muscles and adjusting sounds, lighting, air purification and fragrance. Sunshades that provide discretion as much as protection from solar rays.
Wood-grained folding tables that unfurl to support laptops. Suede pillows puffed like marshmallows lashed to the headrests. Warmers that toast your neck and arms, not just your back. It’s a lot.
I haven’t had the chance to review this car yet until recently, although customers have been driving it (or have been driven in it, really) all year. And when I saw the loaner, I was reticent to embrace it.
The two-tone Champagne/Coca-Cola paint job gave me pause; it felt too flashy and too outdated for a car I anticipated to be “just” a tarted-up Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
By the end of the week, I felt so cosseted and safe inside this dignified machine that I may have accidentally fallen in love. Paint job and all.
The strength and status of the Maybach name remain hazy in current market waters, since it can tend to waft into and out of pop culture. The 113-year-old brand beloved by tycoons and music titans alike has survived years of dormancy punctuated by wild success.
But regardless of whether people end up wanting to buy this iteration, I can offer one definitive note: Driving the Mercedes-Maybach S 580 is an affair to remember. Riding as a passenger is even better.
Back From the Dead, Again
You may have heard “Maybach” most recently uttered in tandem with designer Virgil Abloh’s name.
The late Louis Vuitton menswear director designed an 18ft-long Mercedes-Maybach S 680, which goes on limited sale globally later this year. He also designed an off-road Project Maybach concept car, which won’t see production but hints at possibilities to come.
Those are the latest in a long line of coaches from one of the oldest existing auto brands on the market, which became synonymous with speed, power and prestige after Wilhelm Maybach and his son, Karl, founded it in 1909. As early as the 1920s, Maybachs including the SW 42 featured such newfangled inventions as electric windows.
Since then, and until recent years, which I’ll get to in a moment, the brand has oscillated between comatose and life support — with some shining moments of relevance and popularity. In 1960, Daimler-Benz acquired the faltering Maybach Motorenbau business, and in 1997, after long dormancy, Mercedes presented a modern Maybach concept at the Tokyo Motor Show.
The Maybach 52 and 62 arrived in the early 2000s. A 2004 Maybach 57 was immortalised when Jay-Z and Kanye West featured it in a video for their 2011 song “Otis” — just as the brand re-tranquillised itself because of low sales.
In 2014, Mercedes revived the badge with the new Mercedes-Maybach nameplate; a production model premiered in 2015 and led to very limited models like the Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet (99 units) and the Mercedes-Maybach S 650 convertible (300 units) issued in the intervening years, as well as niche models such as the Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman.
An electric Mercedes-Maybach is planned for 2023.
Rejuvenation All Around
Everyone agrees that the potential for Maybach to make big bucks for its parent company is massive. In fact, it’s the key part of a new business strategy Mercedes-Benz Group AG announced that will focus more on higher-end, higher-margin vehicles. (The starting price of the Maybach I drove is roughly US$75,000 more than a regular Mercedes S-Class — and pricing goes up from there.)
It’s pretty much going gangbusters.
Last year, Mercedes-Maybach sold more than 15,000 units globally, up more than 50% from 2020, bolstered largely by sales in China. In May, it uncovered a new concept (an idea exercise to show what the brand might consider for future production vehicles) incorporating Chanel-like boucle, rose gold studs, white leather and shaggy faux fur that basically looked like a vending machine had exploded. But that’s just me.
The design of the car is meant to “punch you in the nose”, Steffen Köhl, the director of advanced exterior design, told me in an interview at Mercedes’s design studio in Nice, France, at the time. I considered myself punched.
Earlier this year, Maybach named Daniel Lescow, a mild-mannered former executive in Daimler’s Smart division, as its top executive and chief spokesperson to promote the brand’s rejuvenation.
In Carmel, California, last week for the auto show, Lescow told me that Mercedes-Maybach has already sold more than 10,000 units globally in the first half of this year, an 80% increase compared to the same period last year. Like I said, gangbusters.
The Here and Now
Which brings us to the car at hand, intended to launch the brand yet again into modernity. The Mercedes-Maybach S 580 offers plenty of actual rejuvenation to those of us inside its confines, for reasons that have little to do with its 496hp V8 engine and 516 lb-ft of torque.
Driving from Hollywood to the Bloomberg newsroom in Century City, I instead felt more in tune with its “airmatic” suspension, active dampening and butter-smooth nine-speed automatic transmission, which meant it glided over the potholes of Santa Monica Boulevard like a stingray cutting through a tide pool.
That it can hit 60 mph (96.6 kph) in 4.7 seconds and gets just 24 mpg (38.6 kpg)on the highway isn’t great, but you’re not buying a 5,236 lb comfort chariot for its speed and efficiency.
More relevant to the discussion are the half-dozen charging ports, an optional rear-cabin fridge with Champagne flutes and abundant legroom throughout, since the wheelbase of the Maybach is more than seven inches longer than that of the standard S-Class. The point of this car, in case I haven’t laid this on thick enough, is total relaxation and comfort.
Speaking of: Although I did not sip from long-stemmed flutes, two friends who joined me for a night on the town did indulge in the full Maybach luxury experience. (We dined at Gigi’s in West Hollywood. If you’re not driving, get the Smoke & Mirrors tequila and charcoal cocktail. If you’re not paying, get the US$58 Dover sole.)
I love inviting non-car folks to ride with me in fancy things; the way they approach and digest it all is fascinating and informative, and often closer to real-life feedback than when “car guys” examine them. My friends reclined the two private-jet-level heated, ventilated back seats (a rear bench seat is also available) and played with the black, rear-cabin, DJ-caliber wireless headphones and Burmester High-End Surround Sound.
They tuned the 64 colours of interior ambient lighting to resemble a “nightclub in Tokyo, but in a good way” and complimented what we discovered was the “No 12 Mood” scenting the cabin from the small puck of fragrance squired away in the glove box.
They commented on how nice it was that the seat belt holders have a thin red line illuminated around where they snap in, so you don’t struggle to belt yourself in at night. They remarked on how cool it was that the “bat-signal-like” Maybach logo displayed on the ground when the doors swung open.
They were fascinated by the soft-close doors, something no one would think to ask about when studying nice cars, but which contribute greatly to the overall feel of opulent luxury. Even the dual colours of the exterior paint didn’t bother my twin fashionistas; in fact, they loved them.
The next morning, back to sitting in traffic in the Maybach on my daily commute, I found my eyes caressing the gorgeous pinstripe wood along the dashboard — it had me daydreaming that I was lounging in one of those expensive wooden boats you find in Lake Como — and making phone calls to people I’d ordinarily avoid, just because it was so easy to flip through multimedia options using voice commands, the controls on the steering wheel and the almost 13-inch OLED touchscreen central multimedia display. I didn’t even mind the 100°F (37.8°C) heat or the constant struggle of fighting inept drivers down Olympic Boulevard during rush hour.
Somewhere near Robertson Boulevard, it hit me. Mercedes had conjured some sort of X-factor here: The appeal of the Maybach S 580 is greater than the sum of its many detailed parts.
The more time I spent in it, the more I felt cared for by it and the more I liked it. Now, I just need to hire a driver. —Bloomberg / Pics by Bloomberg