I always wondered why car-maker Mercedes-Benz would give one of its luxury vehicles a name other than the universally recognised moniker synonymous with the three-pointed star. It’s only recently that I learned that Wilhelm Maybach, after whom the stately sedan is named, is also an original founder of Mercedes-Benz, along with Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. He’s the lesser known one as he resigned in 1894 when Daimler returned to the company after a hiatus. Maybach and his son then founded their own company in 1909, which later became part of the Mercedes-Benz Group.
All this, however, is ancient history, and the question we’re addressing today is this: What makes a Maybach so special? For starters, it’s aimed squarely at billionaires and the super-rich. After all, absurd duty structures render imported cars like the Maybach two or three times more expensive than elsewhere in the world. Second, it is Mercedes’ rejoinder to the ultra-luxurious sedans made by its competition, which includes the Bentley (Volkswagen Group) and the Rolls-Royce (BMW Group).
The backstory here is that Mercedes actually had a chance to buy one of these two competitors but opted instead to fashion their own product named after an early founder. When the Maybach was launched in 2002, the first delivery in the United States was done with style—the car was ferried to New York City on the deck of a ship, and air-lifted by helicopter to a spot near Wall Street.
In the subcontinent particularly, the Maybach has found favour because it is seen as a great value proposition despite its high price. The new Mercedes-Maybach S-Class has an unmistakable presence with its flowing lines, aggressive front grill, distinctive double M logo on the hood, and large-rimmed tires. Most owners will agree that this is part of the allure of the Maybach—it signals the owner’s arrival before he or she has even stepped out of the car.
“I wanted my car to reflect my work philosophy, which is about making a statement without being flashy or loud,” says Krupa Zubin, co-founder of Mumbai-based ZZ Architects, who recently traded up her BMW 7 Series for the Maybach. “This car is the right balance between luxury and understatement,” says Zubin, who doesn’t mostly drive herself.
Critics who suggest that the Maybach is nothing more than the Merc’s flagship S-Class with amplified livery and accoutrements, should probably take a ride in one. It takes comfort to a new high with its plush seating, goose-down pillows on the headrests and a super-silent cabin that keeps out the clamour of the world. The leg-rests, with their mechanically adjusted inline function and built-in massage controls, allow for deep tissue, regular and upper back and shoulder rubs that convert a car into a spa on wheels. If that isn’t enough, a flick of a button can add aromatherapy, soft ambient music and lighting to the mix.
The latest Maybach brings quite a few firsts to customers in India. There’s the Level 2 autonomous driving systems software, which includes features such as ‘evasive driving assist’ and automatic braking to avoid collisions. Headlamps are equipped with projection systems with more than 1 million pixels per lamp, lighting up the road ahead more brightly and sharply.
If you’re sitting in the back, Maybach has programmed the vehicle with sensors that allow you to shut the door without touch via a “royal wave”. It’s a gimmick of course and takes a while to get the hang of the particular top-to-bottom sweeping motion, but it brings a smile on your face.
The drive experience in a Maybach is as expected—buttery smooth suspension, and a silky engine that purrs its way to high speed. It helps that the 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 has been hushed to the point that only an aggressive overtaking manoeuvre elicits so much as a murmur from the engine bay. The nine-speed auto, too, has had its shifts smoothened out so much that you forget it’s even there.
Interior touches are a slick but tasteful combination of metal, leather, and wood—appointments that would make a first class cabin in a commercial airliner pale in comparison. The seats are way comfier than those in an expensive jet.
While the Maybach is in theory a five-seater, the rear is actually a bench seat. So the two outer passenger seats are the larger ones and the middle seat appears when you lift the armrest, making it more suitable for a child. For those who are going to be seated in the rear for the most part, which is likely to be the vast majority of buyers, the Maybach offers unbridled entertainment in the form of two fully integrated 11.6-inch high-resolution displays to enjoy films and access internet content via a new Samsung touch tablet in the centre console.
If the front of the car is quiet, the rear is even more so because of technology that works in the same way as noise cancellation headphones do—by using counter-phased sound waves to eliminate undesirable sound. Music lovers and audiophiles will note that the hi-fidelity sound system made by Burmester exhibits superlative performance with its 30-speaker (yes 30), 4D sound systems that even includes components inside the seats for that extra burst of sound.
Mercedes-Benz has proclaimed that its cars are the safest in the world. The Maybach doesn’t come with factory-fitted armour-plating but for those who live life in the fast lane, this can be organized at an extra cost. For the more sedate owner, the abundant airbags—it has 13, including units in the rear seat and the seatbelts—should be more than enough.
Is there a downside to this car? If I had to pick, I’d say its size. It is a large vehicle made especially larger after the company extended the wheelbase this year. So parking could be a challenge and cruising in and out of narrow lanes is definitely not recommended.
Priced at around ₹2.5 crore for the locally-made version and ₹3.2 crore for the imported S-680 version, the Maybach is certainly a good way to make an unforgettable entrance. Or as Zubin puts it, “It’s quite timeless and will age well.”