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MERCEDES-MAYBACH S560

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has always represented the pinnacle of Stuttgart’s expertise in the field of luxury motoring. Now, the recently upgraded executive saloon also takes the firm’s technological ability to a new level. But there is a caveat…

The pursuit of automotive perfection has been the driving force behind the development of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury saloon since the first saloon officially designated as the S-Class, debuted in 1972 with the W116 model – preceded by three Mercedes saloons from 1954: including the Ponton (although only the six-cylinder W180 and W128 lines are considered part of the S-Class chronology), the “Fintail”, and W108/109 cars.

Indeed, the S-Class draws its heritage from a time when inertia reel seatbelts had not even been conceptualised, and active cruise control, LED headlamps, and interior mood lighting had yet to become science fiction, let alone automotive fact.

Officially, Mercedes-Benz has produced six generations of the S-Class saloon, with the current (W222) wafting onto the luxury automotive scene in 2014.

THE MAYBACH CONNECTION

Although rooted in aircraft engine building, Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH first built an experimental car in 1919, which was introduced as a production model two years later at the Berlin Motor Show. Between 1921 and 1940, the company produced a variety of opulent vehicles, now regarded as classics, but after WWII ended, the company never returned to creating luxury automobiles, until Daimler-Benz purchased it in 1960, that is.

Post-1960 the company mainly produced special editions of S-Class Mercedes cars in the W108 and W116 ranges, all virtually hand built.

Decades later, Mercedes re-introduced the Maybach brand as an ultra-luxury vehicle concept at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show. Two variants were brought to life – a 5.7-metre and a 6.2-metre version – with a 57 S version joining the line-up in 2005.

Although powered by a 6.0-litre V12 bi-turbo engine producing 450 kW and 1,000 Nm of torque, not even the enhanced Maybach saloon could save the brand from imminent demise after weak sales, and the economic crash of 2008, sucked the last dregs of life from Mercedes-Benz’s most audacious luxury vehicle project of the 21st century.

The reasons for Maybach’s demise as a standalone brand where multiple – a lack of differentiation from high-end S-Class cars of the same era, a disconnect between the historical Maybach nameplate and new Maybach models, and a dearth of driving excitement in the Maybach limousines. Perpetually poor sales performances eventually led to the discontinuation of the Maybach nameplate in 2012, with the last vehicle rolling off the production line on 17 December.

REVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

In November 2014, Daimler announced the revival of the Maybach as sub-brand of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W222), positioned as an upscale version akin to the sportier Mercedes-AMG brand.

In anticipation of its April 2015 launch, the flagship Mercedes-Maybach S600 was unveiled at car shows in Los Angeles, United States and Guangzhou, China, and the production model at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show. Mercedes-Maybach was officially reborn alongside its S-Class brethren, rather than in spite of them.

STYLE UPGRADE

Words such as ‘sumptuous’ and ‘lavish’ don’t quite illustrate how luxurious the palatial Mercedes-Maybach S-Class truly is. Passengers can stretch out and relax on hot-stone-style massaging leather recliners and enjoy the Burmester audio system, while an atomiser fills the cabin with one of Maybach’s five signature fragrances.  

The Mercedes-Maybach S560 ultra-luxury sedan is for the affluent buyer who prefers understated elegance to pure flamboyance. Whereas the Bentley Flying Spur and the Rolls-Royce Ghost are both unique in their design within their brands, the Maybach has bodywork similar to that of the shorter and more demure Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Like the S-Class, the Maybach has undergone an extensive refresh for 2018. All S-Cass sedans receive new fasciae along with LED head- and taillights that bring it online with contemporary Mercedes cars.

On the Maybach, details include a Maybach badge in the redesigned grille and a Maybach-specific front bumper with chrome-outlined lower air intakes.

Besides this additional detail, the Mercedes-Maybach’s most notable exterior features remain its elongated greenhouse and rear doors. Both are the result of the Maybach’s stretched wheelbase, which is 200 mm longer than its – now extended to long-wheelbase only – S-Class cousins.

REAR OF THE YEAR…

Nowhere more so than in the rear does one expect, and find, the benefit of the car’s longer dimension, than in the rear. Legroom at the back, as legroom increases from 861 mm in the Mercedes-Benz, to just less than 1,020 mm in the Maybach. The extended rear compartment includes four-way power-adjustable outboard seats with heating and cooling functions, power-operated leg rests, and a built-in massage feature.

A refrigerated box in the rear is optional, as are handcrafted silver champagne flutes, while entertainment screens (in the front seatbacks) are standard and offer rear passengers their own set of infotainment controls as well as individual sets of wireless headphones.

…AND UPGRADED IN FRONT

Although the Maybach’s back seat has been even further refined, the comfort of its 12-way power-adjustable front seats is by no means lacking. With heating, cooling, and massage functions, the Maybach is built as much for the benefit of its driver, as its passengers.

As with other S-Class models, the Maybach has received significant tech and style upgrades for the 2018 model year. Some changes are more understated than others – such as placing the Maybach’s pair of 12.3” screens behind a single pane of glass. As before, the screen directly in front of the driver offers standard vehicle instrumentation information and options such as the feed from the front-mounted infrared night-vision camera. The centre-mounted display provides all infotainment functions and is operated by the passenger using the familiar rotary dial, while the driver now accesses functions using touch-sensitive pads located on the reshaped three-spoke steering wheel. The left pad works the infotainment screen, while the pad on the right manages the instrument cluster. The infotainment system also accepts voice commands.

MADE FOR CRUISING, BUT…

Mercedes has ditched the previous cruise-control stalk mounted on the steering column by moving all cruise control functions to the steering wheel. Changes to the workings of the system also reveal a wholesale overhaul of the system – including better use of navigation data that allows the Mercedes-Maybach to adjust its speed automatically in preparation for upcoming turns.

Combined with multiple standard driver assistance systems, the Maybach takes a significant step towards autonomous driving, elevating – at least in theory – Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive to the next level.

Yes, the range of systems is comprehensive and includes Active Braking Assist, Crosswind Assist, Attention Assist, Traffic Sign Assist and also the occupant protection system Pre-Safe and Pre-Safe Sound (prepares human hearing for the anticipated accident noise when there is a risk of a collision). However, negotiating some fair to mild road conditions at the car’s South African launch event in KwaZulu-Natal, we found the semi-autonomous functions to come up a little short under harsher conditions. The Maybach tended to slow down too drastically for turns, and tended to modulate uncomfortably back and forth across the lane on all but the straightest of roads.

Turn the semi-autonomous features off, though, and the big Mercedes drives as confidently as would be expected from the three-pointed star. As before, the steering is supremely light at lower speeds – for a vehicle that weighs over 2.3 tonnes – yet it quickly adds gravitas and feedback as one escalates the pace.

There is also no lack of refinement, as the Airmatic suspension delivers first-class smoothness over most road imperfections while avoiding excessive body roll through turns or pronounced dive during heavy braking.

POWER IS ADDICTIVE

Capacity downsizing with increases in power output has become the norm in Mercedes-Benz cars of late, and the Maybach is no exception. Sporting a new 345 kW twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine in place of the previous 335 kW twin-turbo 4.7-litre, the Maybach now strides (a car like this doesn’t sprint) from zero to 100 km/h in 4.7 seconds, whereas the previous generation S550 4Matic chalked up a 5.0 seconds result.

As would be expected, the Maybach has no noticeable lag, although it is not quite as surefooted without the Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel-drive system on-board. Inexplicably, Mercedes-Benz has not made any 4Matic S-Class versions available for the 2018 cycle, and this includes both the S63 and S65 Mercedes-AMG versions of the car as well.

In our opinion, a behemoth such as the Maybach, and its high-powered S-Class siblings do well with all four corners providing acceleration, especially under hard driving conditions.

Mercedes’ intelligent nine-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters does, however, do a fantastic job of reacting to accelerator input.

Opting for the additional space and splendour of the Mercedes-Maybach S560 requires an investment of R2,450,000 – that’s R410,000 more than the mechanically comparable Mercedes-Benz S560 L. The even more opulent Mercedes-Maybach S650 tips the scale at R3,210,000, or R610,000 pricier than the range-topping S600 L. Our protagonist Maybach S560 undercuts its British competitors; the eight-cylinder Bentley Flying Spur by R1,163,108, while the price for the 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce Ghost is not divulged. It is likely to be significantly more expensive, of course.

LAST WORD

Although the Maybach’s familiar styling may not garner the same attention as its British competition, the massive Mercedes provides a similarly cosseting cabin as those found in the pricier Bentley and Rolls-Royce. Be sure to employ an excellent chauffeur, though, because if you’re not going to ride in the Maybach’s opulent rear seat, you may want to stick with the smaller and less-expensive Mercedes-Benz S560 L.

 

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