Spin-offs always seem like sure things right until they're not. Baby Boomer nostalgia pap "Happy Days" was itself spun from "Love, American Style," and begat the successful "Mork and Mindy," along with the less-than-beloved "Joanie Loves Chachi" and entirely forgotten "Blansky's Beauties." What is the opposite of “Ayyyyyyyyyy!”?
No better example exists of this phenomenon in cars than Mercedes-Benz' second coming of the storied Maybach ultra-luxury brand in 2002. Bloated, baroque, and brazen as a mobster’s master bath, its opulent but outdated product was meant to sell 2,000 editions per year. Instead, it sold about 3,000 — in nine years. No one mourned its passing, least of all Bentley and Rolls-Royce, who were happy to Hoover up its market share. (Rolls sales have quadrupled since 2009.)
After this humiliation, Mercedes vowed never to make another Chachi.
With the economy back on track — or at least the portion of the economy occupied by the Global Ultra Rich — Mercedes has attempted to wipe our minds of that error with its new $189,350 Maybach S600. Now a luxury sub-brand rather than its own stand-alone marque, the Maybach name can be appliquéd — like the optional silver “metallized” finish on the limousine’s ample wood veneer interior trim — to a range of delightfully unobtainable products without having to open a slew of expensive freestanding dealerships, privileging the Mercedes uber-brand while providing an optional up-sell for those picky individuals who want the more/most expensive one.
Though it seems impossible, after spending a day with and in the new Maybach, we would suggest that, for the 211,275 Global Ultra Rich individuals whom Swiss banking giant UBS estimate to collectively control $30 trillion in personal assets, buying one would be money well spent.
The S600 takes as its base the world’s best full-size luxury car: the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. To this winning recipe, it adds as standard equipment requisite niceties like a Burmester stereo with more wattage than a nuclear plant, a color head-up display, a pair of reclining and massaging and ottomanned rear seats, a pair of rear passenger infotainment screens, and an IWC analog dash clock that looks like it was pried off a robber baron’s greedy fist. It also includes a 6-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 engine that makes 523 hp and 612 lb-ft of torque. And an eight-inch stretch to the rear compartment that makes your feet look like a distant memory. Joanie loves legroom.
If you require additional indulgence, you can also get a pair of airline-style folding tray tables ($1,950) and an integrated champagne cooler ($1,100) all of which slot between the rear seats (though the latter’s physical and mechanical superstructure impinge on trunk space). Or a glass-darkening wizard for the panoramic sunroof, named somewhat ominously in Mercedes style, MAGIC SKY CONTROL ($2,500). Or a quartet of exclusive 20-inch chromed wheels, which resemble a cross between a silver salver and a sawmill blade. If we were specing ours, we would insist on all of it. When you control $30 trillion, what’s another ten grand?
Were we left to our own devices, we would never have emerged from our pillow-soft, chauffeur-driven lair in the back seat. (Did we mention the carpet? It was either cashmere or Pekinese.) But once we were ensconced up front, we found fresh comfort in the fact that, like every top-spec S-Class, the Maybach can pretty much drive itself. And though the super-sedan feels as heavy and unyielding as a mother-in-law at a bachelor party, this colossal lunk can hustle to 60 mph in under five seconds on the way to a 155-mph top speed. It does not dance, per se; it simply renders curves, impediments, and imperfections irrelevant. It even feels inured to pesky obstacles like gravity. In fact, it feels positively armored. (Though thankfully it is not actually balistically reinforced. Were it so, the earth’s crust would require an upgrade to support its mass.)
Does it have any flaws? We honestly couldn’t detect any — except if you’re a Bentley or Rolls-Royce dealer, who should see the S600 as a scary challenge to British-veneer luxury. (They're all born of German heritage, just like the Queen herself.) And the scaring will get scarier, as Mercedes readies a more expensive and exclusive Pullman version of the S600, a state limo that harkens back in name and scale to the beloved W100, ride of choice for the international playboy/Hollywood A-list/third-world dictator set of the 1960s and '70s. And the chief of Daimler — who also runs Mercedes day-to-day — says a Maybach SUV is “most likely.” We hope it’s the six-door G65 landaulet we’ve been fantasizing about since childhood.
Mercedes-AMG, the sporty fraternal twin to Maybach’s splendor, now stamps its souped-up imprimatur on about a dozen Benz models. Maybach shouldn't water itself down like "Mary Tyler Moore," which spawned "Rhoda," "Phyllis," and "Lou Grant." But even "Breaking Bad" now has "Better Call Saul." In the quest for Teutonic dominance, the spin-offs already seem like a sure thing.