DATELINE--Santa Barbara. I may be drifting off to sleep on a sueded pillow of dreams, but it doesn't stop me from thinking of all the vehicles I've been driven in. It's mostly not illustrious. Prom limos. Airport shuttles. White Ford Crown Victorias with pretty red and blue lights.
A few miles down the road past Neverland Ranch is all it takes to realize that, for a very thin slice of society, the list gets much, so much better: Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, custom watercraft, sedan chairs. Somewhere in that heady mix, no doubt, will be the new Mercedes-Maybach S600 S-Class, a car so good, apparently, it has the power to evict "Benz" from the automaker's badging.
Maybach was most recently a stand-alone model, back in the early 2000s, when it was priced closer to $400,000. When I spent most of a day in one being driven across Switzerland, lulled to sleep with Diana Krall on endless DVD repeat. It's now a sub-brand of Mercedes-Benz in the same way Mercedes-AMG has been upgraded in status. The most noticeable difference: the perfect jazz notes of Mrs. Costello have been replaced by a colleague explaining, basically, how Santa Barbara is an oasis in the failed state of California.
Back on topic, Maybach has a new mission, to specialize in ultra-luxury upfitting across more than just one model line. The goal of the Mercedes-Maybach S600 left unsaid, is to make the standard S-Class seem a shame, really. Like, if you bought it, you'd be in the same agony if you were a learning patient for the League of Aggressive Dental Hygienists. (We know that's not true.)
There's just one way to approach a test drive like this one, and that's why I commanded our chauffeur for the day to "Drive it like we're under mortar attack." It's the only real test of a $200,000 sedan that's aimed mostly at folks with big collections of things--cars, militias, economies.
What makes it a Maybach?
The Mercedes-Maybach is derived from the new S-Class, a car so good it's already flatlined the current German competition. A car so nifty it has its own fragrance, just like Jennifer Lopez and that miracle of zombie licensing, HUMMER.
Understated and handsome, the quite clearly stretched Maybach has a lovely stance. It's not effusively wrong like its two-toned predecessor, the Maybach 57/62, a testament to ungainly badge engineering if ever there was one (two if you count the Fox-body Mercury Capri).
The grille and air intakes on the front are slightly different, but all the big changes come in the Maybach's profile behind the front doors. The rear door is shorter (by 2.6 inches) and the little triangle of a window has moved to the car's body, all better to disguise the roughly eight inches in length that have been implanted between its wheels.
It achieves the gravitas of a Bentley, and there's a real distinction between the S-Class' lithe look and the formal take of the Maybach--like adding a vest and lapel flower to a suit. The pillars wear double-M logos and the rear end wears Maybach badging, just in case you hadn't noticed the screened-off, blacked-out windows of the person being driven in the rear seat.