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First Drive

Road Test: Mercedes-Benz S Class Mercedes-Maybach S600L 4dr Auto

£165,700 when new
Published: 05 May 2015


  • BHP


  • 0-62


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  • Max Speed


47° 51.959 N, 123° 52.221 W. These are the co-ordinates, according to acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, of the quietest place on Earth. It's in the Olympic National Park, not far from Seattle. Hempton wrote a book called One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet, so he knows what he's on about. We live in a heinously noisy world, and he reckons our peace of mind is in peril as a result.

Merc agrees, and, among other things, claims that the Maybach S600 is the world's quietest car. Sure, at £165,700, it's a touch pricier than a return plane fare to Seattle or a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, yet Stuttgart's second go at reviving its pre-war luxury nameplate is more thought through than 2003's ersatz predecessor.

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That car was based on the late-Nineties S-Class and leant heavily on its wildly indulgent luxury accoutrements to reel in the oligarchs and moguls. It didn't really work. Merc pulled the plug on Maybach in 2012, after a rumoured £1bn investment and 3,200 sales (100 in the UK), while BMW's Rolls-Royce experiment triumphed. Rather than sulking, Merc has re-entered the fray, armed with a new strategy.

Not an especially bold one, at first glance - the reborn Maybach is effectively a reworked S-Class. On the other hand, given that the current model a) is comfortably the best car in its segment and b) shifted in excess of 100,000 units worldwide in its first full year on sale, that's a rational jumping-off point. Mercedes now sees Maybach as a distinct sub-brand, in the same vein as AMG, whose technical reliance on the Stuttgart mothership is hardly what you'd call an impediment.

Rather than driver entertainment, however, the focus here is on the rear compartment, and the elevation of the passenger experience to as near an art form as a bunch of German engineers can get. "Maybach stands for space, exclusivity, and world-leading refinement," product boss Martin Hülder tells TopGear. "The S-Class is already at the forefront when it comes to powertrain and performance, so we've concentrated on optimising the NVH levels and the customer experience."

Further Maybach adventures are in the pipeline, with a new super-sybaritic SUV the likeliest next step. "It was difficult to remain state of the art on the previous Maybach, given the very limited volumes that market sector requires," Hülder says.

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The current S-Class platform - which combines aluminium and high-tensile steel and has exemplary rigidity - sidesteps that problem. Although it's 207mm longer overall (all in the wheelbase), the rear doors are actually shorter than those of the LWB S-Class. The C-pillar takes up the aesthetic slack, and the car manages to avoid looking bloated or clumsy. There are subtle tweaks to the radiator, chrome accents on the B-pillar, and double trim in the air intakes and on the bumpers, with chromed tailpipes and double louvres on the rear bumper. The polished 20in alloys on the test car are very LA, but even dialled up to the max it stays firmly on the right side of obnoxious.

Underpinned by a pathological attention to detail, the Mercedes-Maybach bridges the gap between a refreshingly old-fashioned concept of luxury and 2015's near-frenzied obsession with connectivity. At this oxygen-thin level, the term ‘options' sounds positively proletarian, but an additional £7,200 is needed to secure the First Class Cabin. This splits the rear compartment into two stupidly comfy individual seats, each of which features 24 separate motors whose gyrations mimic those of a particularly adroit osteopath. The seat behind the front passenger reclines to a near-airline flat-bed 43.5°, allowing you to stretch out, enjoy more space than the old Maybach 57 offered and gaze through the Magic Sky Control panoramic roof - translucent or dark at the touch of a button - marvelling at your exceedingly good fortune. The backrest is behind the C-pillar for maximum privacy, and unique rubber seals and air ducting around the parcel shelf minimise noise.

Mercedes has markedly improved the interior quality across its entire range of late, and with unique suppliers responsible for the wood and leather, the Maybach eclipses even the craftsmanship and marquetry of a Bentley. Silver-plated champagne flutes by renowned German silversmith Robbe & Berking live in their own dedicated armrest. The cupholders glow blue when they're cooling your Dom Perignon, red when they're keeping your artisan coffee hot. The Burmester 3D audio system has 24 speakers and a colossal 1540W total output, and spiral tweeters in the rear doors that rotate out. It also features an integrated voice amplification system so that the driver doesn't have to shout or crane his neck when he's talking to the boss. Phone calls are relayed in ‘HD voice', operating in a frequency range double the norm.

Mercedes is now so technologically omnipotent it can even manipulate the atmosphere in the cabin, using its ionising Air-Balance system. The Maybach gets an agarwood scent prepared by the company's in-house perfumier - yes, you read that right - whose oud essence is apparently more valuable than gold. (The tree, not the perfumier.) Other scents are available.

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This finery is complemented by the usual raft of safety features, which run to a seatbelt airbag, and another secreted inside the seat cushion: should your good fortune suddenly evaporate in the event of a high-speed impact while you're at maximum recline, this inflates to stop you from ‘submarining' under the seatbelt.

As ever, the only weak link is the wobbly human charged with getting to grips with the technology. It surely can't be long before a university offers a course in in-car connectivity. You'd need a PhD to suss out the S600 Maybach.

So relentless is the Maybach's softly spoken assault on your senses that actually driving it could seem like an afterthought. That would be a grave error. Only the S600 will be available in the UK. It's powered by Merc's 6.0-litre, 523bhp, bi-turbo V12, so 62mph is dusted in 5.0 seconds dead, and there's enough mid-range torque to uproot entire forests. Up front, the engine remains a mostly theoretical presence, and the 7spd transmission is an equally unobtrusive partner. All sorts of clever sound insulation tricks have been used to suppress NVH, and it's only if you bury your right foot that you think, "Yep, 12 cylinders." It weighs 2,335kg, but Merc's re-engineering efforts are such that it feels generally un-bargelike. The Rolls Phantom is still the king of making the real world disappear, but the S600 Maybach runs it close. Merc's Magic Body Control, which uses a roof-mounted stereo camera to scan the road ahead and adjust the suspension in advance of surface bobbles, smothers bumps beautifully.

Merc expects most Maybachs to go to China, with the Middle East, Russia and the US close behind. As statement cars go, it's difficult to see what else you could expect from a super-limo, and though the Maybach S600 could never fly under the radar exactly, nor does it have the alarm bells clanging at the taste police's HQ. Post 2008, that's probably no bad thing. Incredibly, at £165,700 it's also almost good value. One of these and an AMG S63 Coupe for the same money as a Phantom? It's one of those pointlessly entertaining dilemmas.

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