Putting aside its misbegotten attempt to establish Maybach as a full-line competitor to Rolls-Royce and Bentley, Mercedes-Benz has re-introduced Maybach as a luxury sub-brand companion to its AMG tuning house. The Maybach name will be added to various production Mercedes models, the S600 having been first in line. Indeed, there are already rumours that Maybach’d versions of the GL-Class large SUV and E-Class mid-size sedan are on their way.
So unlike the previous Maybach 57 and 62 sedans produced between 2002 and 2012, most of the S600 Maybach is clearly beholden to the Mercedes S-Class sedan. In fact, from the B-pillar forward, the only difference between the Maybach and other S600s is the unique grille texture. And mechanically, everything from the 523-horsepower, 6-litre twin-turbo V12 engine and its companion seven-speed automatic transmission, to the diabolically brilliant Magic Body Control suspension system that uses a camera to digitally scan the road ahead and adjust damping accordingly, carries over from the standard S-Class.
The true substance of the Maybach package is found in the car’s 207mm (8.1in) longer wheelbase. All that additional space between the axles has been dedicated to the rear seat area, where Lord Master of the Universe sits while being ferried between Very Important Engagements. Back there, such a passenger finds momentous thrones, covered in Nappa leather, that recline backward 43.5 degrees for comfortable napping (which may or may not explain the two Ps in the word “Nappa”).
Separated by a large centre console and entertained by individual video screens, rear passengers are indulged in ways few other cars can manage. Did we fail to mention the optional “hot stone” massage function in the seats? Or the available refrigerated cooler stocked with two sterling silver champagne flutes? Also on the menu of options are aircraft-style foldout aluminium tables. No wonder Mercedes calls that area a “First Class Rear Suite”.
An Air Balance package that purifies and scents the cabin can be fitted to any S-Class, but the Maybach gets an exclusive new spritz, Agarwood. “Agarwood”, you inquire? Hint: it smells like money.
The stretch in wheelbase leaves the Maybach looking more substantial than the very substantial S-Class. A triangular window has been added to each of the C-pillars, allowing each rear door to cut downward ahead of the rear wheel arches. Throw in a set of 20in aluminium wheels that look as if they were forged by Vulcan himself, and the effect is glorious.
And yet the best thing about the S600 Maybach is the S600 part. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is by broad consensus the best-driving, best-riding and most technologically advanced sedan on Earth. The torque delivery of the big V12 is so creamy that it spreads across roads like butter. The transmission operates as if it were insinuating shifts rather than making them outright. And the suspension handles road irregularities by expertly tailoring itself to the conditions. Wind noise? Tire noise? Not in here.
For all its added heft and length, the Maybach surrenders little pace in translation. Zero to 60mph only takes about five seconds, and the car will top out at 155mph and stay there until the tank is drained.
That’s what is so fiendish about the Maybach. No matter how good it is to be driven in, it’s still even better to drive. It’s a completely satisfying machine even if you’re simply the chauffer. And if you don’t want to drive, take your hands off the wheel and it will remain between your lane’s lines without your input. At least for a while.
But there are reasons not to get an S600 Maybach right now. First, some buyers will want the even more powerful 630hp V12 from the S65 AMG version of the S-Class. And there’s every reason to believe that they’ll soon get what they – and likely you – want. Second, because even the least expensive S600 Maybach will cost you $190,275, a figure that climbs quickly when options are added. But perhaps the biggest strike against the Maybach is that it isn’t British.
Rolls-Royce and Bentley long ago achieved a certain elevated sense of elegance that no maker off their island has ever been able to duplicate. So go for the real thing, in its most spirited form, at a remarkably low price. We are talking about the 1990-1997 Bentley Turbo R.
Even when new, the Turbo R was already anachronistic. The blocky “SZ” series body was a decade old, and much of the suspension design actually dated back to 1965, when the Bentley T-Series of vehicles was introduced. And it was engineered back when Rolls-Royce and Bentley were tied together but adrift in the market by themselves – without the resources to push any technological envelope, long before BMW Group (Rolls-Royce) and Volkswagen Group (Bentley) came calling with cash in hand. There is consequently nothing digital about the Turbo R, nothing that is not handcrafted and nothing that does not feel very, very outmoded and very, very special.
Bentley began building the Turbo R in 1985, but took the better part of the decade perfecting the recipe. By 1990, its big turbocharged V8 engine had sprouted fuel injection in lieu of carburettors, and the car’s appearance had matured with the addition of four round headlamps and a colour-keyed grille shell. And sometime during the 1991 model year, General Motors’ reliable four-speed 4L80-E automatic transmission replaced the cantankerous three-speed Turbohydramatic unit.
At 6.75 litres, the Turbo R’s overhead-valve V8 remains one of the most enormous passenger-car engines of the past 30 years. With the turbocharger heaving pressurized air into its combustion chambers, the resulting 385hp could rocket the car up to 155mph.
But it’s not the sense of relentless pace that makes the Turbo R so spectacular. It’s the sheer sensualness of the thing. It’s the depth and shine of the wood veneers on so many surfaces. It’s the feel of the large-diameter steering wheel in your hand. It’s the leather upholstery, so supple it seems to shape almost erotically around your form. It’s the simple fact that they don’t build Bentleys like this any more.
By contemporary standards, the Turbo R isn’t exceptionally quick and doesn’t handle particularly well. So the trick is to apply different standards. This is not a Super Audi like current Bentleys, but something regal, stately and quite cold-blooded.
Buying an old Bentley is a full commitment. It is not that such cars can be finicky, but that they are finicky. The hydraulic suspension system will need attention, the electronics will need tending, and maintenance must be fanatical. But in compensation, a very good Turbo R of 1990-92 vintage can be had for around $25,000 in the US. It’s unlikely the Turbo R will depreciate much from there, either.
What’s more, the power to confer respect unto its driver – or rear passenger – remains remarkably intact. To own a Turbo R in an age of multiplying Mercedes-Maybachs is to tell the world, “I could, but I choose not to.”
And that, lords and ladies, is true luxury.
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