Mercedes-Benz knows that it got the original Maybach wrong – something the German car manufacturer is aiming to rectify with this latest model
obody likes a backseat driver but the Mercedes-Maybach really isn’t designed for the person sat in the driver’s seat. Overtly luxurious in every way, the truth is that most owners will likely never even lay a hand on the leather-clad, heated steering wheel.
But first, a little history.
Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau. The name hardly rolls off the tongue, but that was the title of a company set up by Wilhelm Maybach in 1909. Together with his son Karl, Wilhelm originally built engines for the Zeppelins used in World War I, and, later, for German tanks in World War II. In 1960, the company was bought by Daimler-Benz and produced commercial diesel engines before the Maybach name returned as a luxury flagship car for Mercedes-Benz in 2002.
For once, the German carmaker got it wrong, as global Maybach 57 and 62 sales – the numbers denoting the limousines' lengths – never matched expectations. The company ceased production in 2013, but, thanks to a small number of loyal customers, returned in 2014 as a sub-brand. Heavily based on the Mercedes S-Class, the Maybach S600 sold 60,000 cars – well enough to inspire this sumptuous new model which Mercedes hopes will take sales to a new level.
I spent most of the test drive wallowing in the back, in more comfort than a first-class airline seat (remember those?). For here is a level of personalised well-being and pampering rarely experienced in the swankiest of executive saloons.
Fully loaded with every conceivable gadget, gizmo and driving aid, the top-of-the-range S 680 is at the very pinnacle of automotive luxury – a genuine rival to the best that Rolls-Royce and Bentley has to offer. It might seem like an odd statement but, for once, Mercedes is the poor relation in this particular market sector. For my money, however, the latest all-singing, all-dancing Maybach is actually more comfortable in the rear than vehicles from both of those British marques.
And whilst I did enjoy driving a left-hand drive, 6.0-litre V12 behemoth across the Cotswolds, the backseat is where the real story lies – from the seatbelt airbags to the Mercedes MBUX rear entertainment system, this is a space unlike anything you'll find in any other car.
To achieve such levels of comfort, the £201,335 S 680 is stretched a remarkable 18cm longer than the ‘Long’ version of the ocean-going Mercedes S-Class – itself a car that won’t win you many friends in a supermarket car park. Even with four-wheel steering, the Maybach is as nimble as an oil tanker.
Most of that extra length is devoted to a cocooned rear cabin area, which is now more opulent than ever. A system called Active Road Noise Suppression filters out any low-frequency rumbles and has been likened to noise-cancelling headphones.
Less subtle is the ambient lighting display which seems to pop up incongruously on every trim panel. If a motorway driver indicates right while a passing car overtakes in the outside lane, the ambient lighting in the right door turns red. In the rear, turn down the heating on the mini-tablet provided in the centre console and lights on the back of the front seat change colour to ice blue. Thankfully, the lights can be toned down or turned off completely.
There's plenty of sound in the cabin, too. Not from the barely distinguishable V12 engine, but from a new, 30-speaker, 1750w Burmester 4D sound system. The whopping subwoofers are hidden in the rear of the front seats.
Included in this car are optional, silver-plated champagne flutes, cleverly designed to clip neatly on bespoke glass holders. Naturally, there is a bottle cooler in the middle of the rear bulkhead.
Most Maybach buyers swap the standard rear bench seat for two individual airline-style seats cut from Nappa leather. For rear passengers sat diagonally across from the driver, this seat will recline almost into a bed, as the front seat automatically slides forward to allow for extra rear leg room.
Each back seat faces an 11.3-inch touchscreen that complements the mini-tablet found in the centre armrest. The latter can be used inside or outside the vehicle and fits neatly in a jacket pocket.
The rear doors operate from a button on the edge of the roof lining – not to be mistaken for a jacket hook – or can be opened remotely from the driver’s seat. A wireless mobile phone charger is hidden away in the centre armrest, as well as every type of AUX slot ever created. There’s so much technology going on that I’m glad my chauffeur David has spared me the task of reading the manual. Most owners, I'm sure, will only scratch the surface of what the Maybach has on offer.
Lots of cars have voice-recognition these days, for making phone calls or changing the radio station. The Hey Mercedes voice assistant does just about everything and even has attitude. You don’t believe me? ‘Hey Mercedes, tell me a joke’. The response is swift: ‘I’m sorry, I’m German, I don’t have a sense of humour.’
The system can keep passengers entertained on longer journeys with a general knowledge quiz, or tell it that you are stressed and the ambient lighting will dim, the air conditioning cool and music volume drop down a notch or two. I swear I dozed off listening to waves crash on a beach in glorious surround sound. You can even tap in for a training exercise to stretch tired muscles that haven’t been soothed by the massaging features and heated and cooled seats.
The Maybach wafts along on air suspension, with extraordinary ride comfort and body control. The 'Chauffeur' setting is a little on the soft side but opt for 'Comfort' and the balance is just about right. An augmented reality, head-up display flashes vital information onto the road ahead, while a roof-mounted camera sends real-time imagery to the centre display screen, adding blue arrows for sat-nav directions.
The MBUX rear entertainment system even recognises eye direction, body language and hand gestures. Sensors monitor trip data so that an ‘Energising Coach’ can create a ‘wellness programme’ for passengers, boosting sleep quality and lowering stress levels.
Need to escape the paparazzi? No problem, there’s 6.0-litre V12 under the bonnet. It produces 612hp and will reach 62mph in 4.5 seconds. There’s the choice of a 4.0-litre V8 model too, which starts at a not inconsiderable £160,000.
Even if you really do want to drive this thing, the Maybach doesn’t encourage you to do so. Like its Mercedes S-Class sibling, the S 680 is one of the few cars ready for Level 3 semi-autonomous driving, which may be government-approved in the UK by the end of this year.
Such incredible levels of technical refinement don’t come cheap, of course, but I’ll wager that this latest Maybach will send a chill down the spine of other luxury car makers. The S 680 is a limousine for a new generation of more youthful entrepreneurs.
Mercedes-Maybach S-Class – The Vitals
Model: S 680 4MATIC
Price: from £201,335
Engine: 5980cc V12
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds