Why did Maybach put a speedometer in the rear of the cabin? The salesman’s line: “so you can tell the driver to slow down.” I don’t think so. Plutocrats don’t get to be plutocrats by ambling about, caring about the hired help’s driving record or hiring chauffeurs who can’t drive safely. [NB: Mohammed Al Fayed wasn’t a plutocrat.] My explanation: velocity equals distance over time. Maybach figured its patrons would want to note their speed, check the flanking clock and calculate when they’d get to where they’re going. In other other words, Maybach owners would want to know when they’re going to leave their Maybach. The roof-mounted speedo embodies the luxury limo’s underlying philosophy. Maybach. The ideal conveyance for people who’d rather be somewhere else.
The Maybach 57S’s exterior does nothing to contradict this theory and much to confirm it. Think of it this way: If an upscale automaker wants to cater to super rich consumers who don’t like cars, or already own all the cars they like, there are only two ways to go. First, they can try to change the customer’s mind with seductive curves (e.g., Maserati Quattroporte) or unabashed excess (e.g., Rolls Royce Phanton).
Failing that, fuck it. Just build something. Make it vaguely brand-compliant and call it good. Although Porsche’s new Panamera is a timely example of The “Whatever” School of Car Design, the rapidly aging Maybach’s exterior is the gold standard to which lazy and/or deeply misguided luxury carmakers must eternally aspire.
That said, the Maybach 57S’s shortened wheelbase eliminates some of the 62’s bland, ungainly hideousness. Unfortunately, as there was so much bland, ungainly hideousness to start with, that’s not saying much. The 57S still looks like the genetically-challenged offspring of a three-way between a Kia Amanti, a 2003 E-Class and a contemporaneous S-Class. The Maybach 57S lacks überholprestige; it isn’t attractive enough to deliver deference, nor ugly enough to scare small children. It’s quietly absurd.
By its very existence, the Maybach 57S compounds this cognitive dissonance. A “sport” version of a three-ton limo? If nothing else, the concept implies that the Maybach 57S owner wants to drive his own car. Any such well-heeled wheelman will feel significantly shortchanged, in the Bernie Madoff sense of the word. Inlaid carbon fiber can’t disguise the fact that the 57S pilot’s ensconced in a cockpit that’s virtually identical to a Mercedes S-Class. The last generation S-Class. The Maybach 57S’s only “sense of occasion”: a button releases a dash panel which slides down to vomit forth a phone holder. Hey look! It’s 1997 calling!
OK, you can spend $9K and upgrade the 57S to full Bluetoothery. But when it comes to driver comfort and aesthetic appeal, the current generation Mercedes S-Class AMG has it all over the Maybach. As do a dozen cars stickering for $300K less—all of which are more attractive and prestigious (i.e. recognizable).
Yes, well, there is that. But if we set aside such prosaic concerns as badge snobbery and value-for-money, another question suggests itself: has Maybach succeeded in its questionable quest to transform Ginormica’s whip into the world’s most expensive sports sedan?
Maybach’s mechanics fit the 57 with a larger V12 (6.0-liter vs. 5.5-liter), increasing both horsepower and torque (603hp and 738 lb·ft vs. 543hp and 664 lb·ft). They also re-calibrated the 57’s air suspension, lowered the ride height by 0.6″, beefed-up the anti-roll bars and shod the beast with 20″ wheels. According to those in the business of selling it, the resulting 57S is “surprisingly agile.” Yes and no. If you try and turn the 57S hard into a corner, you will certainly be surprised—by the enormous vehicle’s desire to pivot on its axis. It’s oversteer Jim, on a planetary scale.
The logical response: forget cornering per se and go for maximum glide. In this the 57S’s engine and gearbox are remarkably uncooperative. In sport mode, the 12’s power delivery is twitchy and harsh, like the nervous lump lingering in the SL65’s snout, with an equal paucity of gears to smooth out the transitions (five’s your lot). In normal mode, the Maybach 57S takes a good half second or so to “wake up.” But don’t worry, the tire thump generated by the massive meats will keep you from drifting off (so to speak).
The 57S has one party trick: straight line acceleration. The zero to sixty sprint takes five seconds. In-gear teleportation is equally impressive. Provided you slap the autobox upside the head by slamming the go-pedal to the carpet, the Maybach 57S will take you from any speed to 171 mph on a single seamless wave of thrust. And . . . that’s it. That’s all you get.
There’s only one place to be in a Maybach, any Maybach: in the back. Anyone who buys a 57S to drive it simply doesn’t understand their place in life. A shortcoming they share with the vehicle itself.