Steve Siler, Contributor
Morning drives don't get much better than this. It's beautiful, crisp and swimming in sunlight. The backdrop is southern Spain's gorgeous Costa del Sol. We sit atop napa leather chairs that are massaging and ventilating our backsides. The speedometer needle hovers around 200 kilometers per hour with nary a sound to be heard from the outside world. The only audible noises are the muted hum of a 612-horsepower biturbo V12 and the occasional sigh of sheer sensory satisfaction slipping from our mouths.
We're piloting the new 2006 Maybach 57 S, a vehicle claimed by its maker to be the most powerful production sedan on earth. And it's not letting us down.
According to Maybach, "S" stands for "Special." Now there's an understatement, just like this one, regarding the mission of this super-sedan: to deliver "luxury and performance combined at the highest level." In other words, it's over the top. And hella fast. Think of it as the illegitimate offspring of a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and a Cartieri di Pisa megayacht. And at $367,000, it's priced to match.
Impressive, not imposing
Now any car that's nearly 19 feet long, 6.5 feet wide and 5 feet tall is going to be impressive. Pictures simply can't convey the massiveness — nor the 3-ton curb weight — of this car. But if you've ever seen a Maybach in person, you know what we mean. They're enormous.
Which is not to say intimidating, like the locomotive-nosed Rolls-Royce Phantom. Indeed, the criticism most often levied against Maybachs is that they don't catch the eye the way such a pricey car should. Then again, as a Maybach sales consultant in Beverly Hills, California, pointed out to me once, "People this rich don't always want to look this rich."
Fair enough, at least for the buyer of a "standard" Maybach. But those folks would probably also be content with the regular 57's performance credentials, which are more than decent, to be sure. But we would expect "S" buyers, who are spending an extra $35 large primarily for an engine upgrade, to be somewhat more extroverted. Don't they want more flash with their dash?
It's different. Can't you tell?
Maybach thinks not. Besides the additional power, the S brings with it only slight exterior modifications, which start with monochromatic paint in either silver or black. Of course, for a price, Maybach will paint it any color you want, but for now, it's offering only those two colors.
Up front, a "twin-louvre" grille replaces the more conservative waterfall-type version on the 57. The front bumper now houses tiny round foglights, and the headlight surrounds are painted body color to accentuate the canted oval shapes of the headlight assemblies. All other Maybachs feature a gray headlight surround.
Out back, a revised rear "apron" now prominently displays its twin tailpipes, which have been rendered in a nifty trapezoidal design, and the deck lid wears a "57 S" badge on its right cheek. Similar badging can also be found on each front fender.
Most noticeable, perhaps, are the S-specific 11-spoke wheels, which measure 20 inches in diameter (up from 19) and 8.5 inches in width. Their multispoke design is said to allow for greater brake cooling, which anyone trying to stop a 6,033-pound car can appreciate.
The four-seat interior of the 57 was also retouched oh so slightly to create the 57 S. As with the paint, the napa/nubuck leather seat, dash and door trim — some 12 bulls' worth — is offered in just two colors: subtle black or splashier white with black piping. So what if white is hard to keep clean, that's why these people have personal assistants.
Though the interior architecture hasn't changed per se, the S swaps the 57's natural-stained wood trim pieces for gorgeous piano black lacquer bits with door and center console panels of carbon fiber or charcoal-stained poplar.
Now, carbon fiber is always novel, but frankly, what may look cool on a Porsche Carrera GT may seem somewhat out of character on a car like this. The dark wood treatment seems more fitting, but even with its exquisite chrome detailing, it falls short of feeling truly special. It's too reminiscent, perhaps, of all those other luxury cars out there.
The most appealing arrangement, we think, involves replacing the carbon fiber or poplar with additional black lacquer. Particularly with the white leather, this creates an art deco mood that takes you back to an era when Delahayes, Bugatti Royales and Mercedes-Benz 500Ks graced the boulevards.
Naturally, creature comforts are too numerous to list. But among them are a rear-seat champagne cooler, twin sterling silver flutes, four-zone climate control, twin rear television screens, voice-activated this and that, navigation, and a 600-watt audio system with surround sound for all four sets of ears. Each seat gets heating, cooling and massaging features, as well as actively inflating side bolsters to hold occupants in place during spirited cornering. Yeah, if you think it sounds like a nice place to spend time, you're right.
Performance: the Ultimate Luxury
Cushy as it is, what really makes the 57 S, as they say, "Special" is the sensational performance that accompanies the opulence. This starts, of course, with the enhanced biturbo V12 residing under the long hood. Each engine, built by a single technician at DaimlerChrysler's AMG division, features 10-percent greater displacement and modifications to the turbochargers and intercoolers compared with the standard 57's V12. The result: 612 hp at 4,800 rpm and 738 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm.
Yes, this is the same great motor found in the great "65-series" SL-, CL and S-Class Benz models. Equipped thus, Maybach says the 57 S makes the 0-to-62-mph sprint in just 5 seconds. Even more impressive is its 50-to-75-mph burst, which Maybach says takes just 3.7 seconds. Needless to say, on Spain's curvy motorways, passing slower drivers, which included, um, pretty much everyone, was no problem.
Chassis modifications include thicker stabilizer bars, a 15mm ride height reduction and stiffer configuration for its semiactive air suspension. According to Maybach, these contribute to a 15-percent reduction in roll angle in the sportiest of the adjustable suspension's three available settings.
That sounds good, but it'll take more than that to calm the rocking motion of the Maybach's 3 tons of leather, wood and metal shifting along its yaw and roll centers. We selected the stiffest setup and didn't dare change it. Roll was also apparent during our shotgun ride around the glorious, privately owned Ascari road course nestled in the mountains north of Marbella. That said, once the body took a set, the tires gripped and didn't let go, making aggressive cornering a stable, predictable and fun affair.
Interestingly, Maybach didn't enhance the sedan's brakes, which proved more than up to snuff for "S" duty. The track time at Ascari demonstrated just how well the big gal can halt her progress. The driver stabbing the brakes approaching the corner would leave us hanging off our seatbelt.
Some of that stellar braking and cornering no doubt can be attributed to the specially commissioned, high-performance 275/45YR20 Michelin Pilot Sport tires, with their "variable contact patch" technology. These tires incorporate harder compounds on the outer shoulder of the tire for handling and a softer compound in the center for ride comfort.
'Bach or boat? Decisions, decisions
Maybach representatives regularly back away from comparisons to other automobiles such as the similarly massive Rolls-Royce Phantom or the slick new Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Rather, Maybach says it considers motor yachts and personal aircraft as the primary competition of the plain-Jane 57. Uh huh.
With the 57 S, Maybach doesn't have to play coy anymore. Thanks to its fantastic engine and uncompromising, feature-laden interior, the 2006 Maybach 57 S is better than those other two cars, and anything else in its segment. So, Maybach, shut up about the yachts and kick some Rolls-Royce arse already.
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