More than ever, the world is divided into two classes of motorists: the drivers and the driven. Lyft and Uber supply rides to urban, tech-enabled millennials. Google's top nerds tackle the challenge of designing a self-driving car.
We're witnessing the birth of a generation of backseat drivers.
But the privileged among us have embraced an analog form of autonomous driving for decades. It's called hiring a chauffeur.
Which brings us to the Maybach. Or, as I've decided to call this particularly glorious black one, my Maybach. At least until the people at Mercedes cruelly take it away from me.
The 2016 Mercedes-Maybach S 600 is essentially a top-model S-Class car from the driver's seat forward. If that's where you're stuck sitting – sorry Cortland, but you drew the short straw here – you'll appreciate the 6.0-litre V-12 engine and its 523 horsepower.
It's a longer wheelbase that differentiates my new Maybach, Mercedes's second shot at capitalizing on the Maybach brand after the first revival – Kanye and Jay-Z chopped up a 2004 model in their music video for Otis – was shuttered in 2012.
The S 600 features 20 additional centimetres between the wheels, with all of that extra interior space swallowed up by the backseat. Forget the engine's 5980cc displacement. You're buying those 20 centimetres.
And what do you do with the extra space? The first thing I do is slip out of my shoes. I don't ask for permission. Shoes are for drivers.
The second thing I do is press a button in my door-panel seat control menu that shifts the passenger's seat forward – initiating what I like to call Master of the Universe mode.
The passenger headrest tucks. My calf-rest deploys, as does a footrest from within the passenger's seat. Now I'm sitting in First Class.
Next, Cortland activates the fragrance dispenser. For the Maybach, Mercedes created an exclusive scent, Agarwood, whose blend of resin and smoke recalls a members'-only club with a walk-in humidor and luxurious billiards tables. Agarwood, it turns out, smells like money.
"I'm surprised how little road noise I hear up here," says Cortland, without warning me that he's activated the driver's voice amplification system – or as I'm now calling it, Voice of God mode. If a little amplification is enough to make me jump in my seat, I guess it is pretty quiet back here.
So let's put this sound system through its paces. There are 24 Burmester speakers scattered around the interior, some visible and some hidden.
Selecting my music source from the video screen's menu, which I navigate with a hand-held remote, is less than intuitive. Maybe, as Malcolm Gladwell posits, I need 10,000 hours in the Maybach to really attain proficiency?
In any case, I'm eventually able to queue up Lorde's hit, Royals, which introduced teenagers to this grown up luxury brand with an irony-tinged shout-out to "Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece."
(I hate to quibble with an 18-year-old pop princess, but Maybach is a German family name, so instead of rhyming it with "payback" I've been instructed to say "my Bach" – like my own test model of the 18th century German composer.)
In any case, the bass-heavy chorus of Royals sounds terrific, filling the car. When I step outside during a pit stop, leaving the music cranked loud and
closing the door, it's barely audible.
As we climb the Santa Barbara hills, I expect the ride to feel a little more like driving around in a tank. But the Maybach is outsized luxury in a svelte, more modestly sized package. Even from the backseat, I can sense that the car handles well, and accelerates smoothly – those 523 horses certainly help here.
When we arrive at our destination, the Presqu'ile Winery in Santa Maria, a Mercedes rep asks if I'd like to take the Maybach for a spin. I think about it and then politely decline. That's the thing about the Maybach: if you're fortunate enough to afford one, and you find yourself behind the wheel, something's gone wrong.
You'll like this car if ... A "stretch" is too much, this back-seat drive provides the space to stretch out, sleep or conduct business comfortably.
- Base price: $231,200 in Canada and $190,000 in U.S.
- Engine: 6.0-litre twin-turbo V-12
- Transmission: seven-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 18 city/11.8 highway
- Alternatives: BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Cadillac XTS, Lincoln MKS, Lexus 600h L, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Bentley Flying Spur
- LOOKS: The forward presence is maintained with a coupe roof line and fall-way lines below the door handles. LED tail lights are integrated into the body like a red ruby into a silver pendant.
- INTERIOR: Mercedes claims this car to be quietest in its class. Wood trim and hand-stitched leather on door panels offer touches of class, infotainment monitors are built into the front seat backs, and there’s an optional rear business centre console with folding tray tables.
- TECHNOLOGY: An active LED headlamp system, road surface scan, body control suspension and Intelligent drive package are included as standard features.
- PERFORMANCE: The V-12 generates 523 horsepower, versus 543 hp in its predecessor. This would enable the vehicle to flee paparazzi from a full stop to 100 km/h in five seconds. A feature of the suspension, Magic Body Control by Mercedes, provides continual damping to increase road control.
- CARGO: Plenty of room for two checked luggage pieces and a carry-on too.
Beautifully improved over the poor-selling predecessor.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
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