Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 18, 2021
Maybach first resurfaced in the 21st century with the 57 and 62, uber-luxury sedans aimed at wealthy buyers with what was essentially a stretched out S-Class wrapped up in fancy woods and leathers. But their price tags were unreasonably high, and Maybach had yet to build the brand cache to justify them, especially when compared to Bentley and Rolls-Royce. The collapse of the global economy in 2007 didn’t help matters either. Daimler pulled the plug on Maybach in 2012 due to unprofitable sales, but they have since resurrected the moniker as a sub-brand for the upper tier of Mercedes vehicles. Two branches of the same tree, Mercedes-Maybach now represents luxury and comfort, while Mercedes-AMG focuses on power and performance.
As such, Mercedes has put all their marbles on the table with the new Maybach GLS 600, showcasing their entire arsenal of technology and materials. Is it enough to move the brand upstream to challenge the likes of Bentley and Rolls-Royce? That’s what we are here to find out.
Let’s start with the looks. Spending north of $200,000 means you should stand out on the road, and the GLS 600 successfully manages that with its vertical-slat grill, heavily-meshed air intakes, heaps of polished chrome, and massive 23-inch wheels. And is that a Mercedes star I see proudly perched upright on the hood? Haven’t seen one of those in a while - a classic nod to the silver star’s past - but it’s a shame they don’t offer monoblock wheels to match. The biggest standout is the Maybach’s optional two-tone paint with eight combinations to choose from, with the colour divide starting at the bottom of the windows. Other than the paint and the army of Maybach badges, there’s not much else to distinguish it from a standard GLS, especially to the untrained eye.
It didn’t help that our Maybach test vehicle was spec’d in the most unimaginative way possible. I call this the resale spec. We’re talking black paint on a black leather interior. I would have loved to see Maybach showcase a two-two paint scheme, or even the optional mahogany and beige interior combination. Would also be neat if they offered the option to replace the silver star hood ornament with a Maybach one as well. The 23-inch wheels look spectacular though, rivaling Alpina on the number of spokes, and I’m sure the sleeper looks of this blacked out GLS will appeal to those wishing to fly under the radar.
The interior then? Here’s what Maybach has really stepped up their game. Nappa leather is everywhere, and I’m not talking about the scratchy rough kind they call leatherette. This is full-on expensive Louis Vuitton-grade leather on every surface, from the roof pillars, sun visors, side of the dashboard, and even the entire headliner. Yes, the entire headliner is leather. There are a litany of Maybach logos as well so you never forget you’re in something special, from the steering wheel, digital gauges, center wrist panel, door sills, and even the aluminum foot pedals.
Ever experienced first class on an Emirates 777? The ambiance is the same (sans the showers), with rear accommodations fit for a king. The rear seats have been shifted back by 120 mm compared to the regular GLS, for optimal legroom, and they are fully reclinable in their own pod-like cocoon, replete with a massage function, microsuede headrest pillows, and a leather back pillow. The Maybach even comes with a raisable foot rest that extends out from the bottom of the seat, just like your living room chair. The rear passenger has the best seat in the house - they can push the ‘lie-flat’ button that extends the front seat forward and fully reclines their seat back. The closest thing you will get to a bed on wheels.
A wood-trimmed center console hides fold-out picnic tables just like on an airliner, a refrigerator with champagne flutes is mounted in the rear console, and there are chilled and heated cup holders with a dedicated clamp for your champagne glasses, locking them at their stem so they don’t wobble around during travel. There is even a tablet that handles all the vehicle functionality should you not want to use the rear entertainment screens instead, though I am a little divided on the wireless smartphone charging pad that sticks out like a sore thumb, which cannot be retracted.
The Maybach receives its own exclusive air fragrance set that they describe as a ‘white osmanthus blossom with a gentle leather note and spicy tea’. Smells like money to me, and I love it. Ensuring occupants are kept in their own first-class bubble, Mercedes have beefed up the windows and windshield with an acoustic and heat absorbing membrane, and installed a partition and fixed parcel shelf behind the rear seats to keep out unwanted noise from the trunk compartment.
Other little nifty Maybach additions include the beautiful pinstripes that line the dashboard and cleverly match up with the lines up on the fan vents. Extendable running boards made from high-gloss aluminum deploy whenever you unlock the vehicle or touch the door handles. While the doors don’t open and close themselves like a Rolls-Royce, they are soft-close, and come with electronically-operated sunshades.
Are all of these upgrades enough to convince buyers out of a Bentaya or Cullinan? Not quite, but it does rival the Range Rover SVAutobiography that is also trying to swim its way upstream. Because once you look past the leathers, wood veneers, and LA-Z Boy chairs, you will still find the bare bones of a standard GLS 580, which costs $73,500 less than the Maybach. The steering wheel is the same, the infotainment unit is identical, and most of the materials and switchgear are carried over. While that does ease the learning curve for those transitioning up into a Maybach, those wishing for something different might walk away without much satisfaction, especially if they’re going to be spending most of their time in the driver’s seat.
What is it like to drive then? The GLS 600 is home to a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 with EQ Boost, and is tuned to produce 550 hp and 538 lb-ft of torque. Expecting figures in the 600s as the badge implies? Leave that to AMG. This is the luxury division afterall, and those looking for a V12 will only find that in the S-Class Maybach.
EQ Boost is Mercedes lingo for a mild hybrid that marries an electric supercharger with a 48-volt electrical system, and it serves multiple purposes. It powers the car’s electronics, acts as both a starter motor and alternator, allows the car to disconnect from the transmission while coasting at speed, and dishes out 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of supplementary torque that serves as an intermediary to eliminate turbo lag. The end result is an incredibly polished, cohesive, and lag-free powertrain.
The GLS 600 feels perfectly suited for both cross-country journeys and cruising along the boulevard. There is an abundance of low-end torque that makes propulsion instant and effortless. The gearbox remains invisible during normal operation, though we caught it napping a few times when we pulled the paddles, expecting some quicker downshifts for a last minute overtake. When all hands are on deck, the GLS 600 will sprint from 0-100 km/h in a scant 4.9 seconds, enough to easily outrun a Range Rover V8 and Mercedes-Benz G 550, but will lag behind the Rolls-Royce Ghost, Bentley Bentayga, and BMW Alpina XB7. Choose your drag races wisely. It makes a decent baritone grunt, though. Have a listen to our latest Exhaust Notes video.
There are air springs on all four corners, an adaptive suspension to soak up road impacts, and E-Active Body Control that uses electronically-driven hydraulics to control the spring and damper forces at each individual wheel. It’s also a hilarious way of activating the car’s ‘Rocking Mode’, where the dampers oscillate the Maybach up and down like it’s riding on a full hydraulic setup. Pimp my ride, much?
What all these suspension tricks amount to is remarkable road comfort, delivering that wafty feeling that SUV owners desire. Handling is sound and secure, and while far from sporty, bumps and crevices are muted out effectively, even on the 23-inch wheels, neutralizing all but the harshest of impacts, but even those barely register as vertical motions. What you can feel however is the pitching of the front nose as the car accelerates and brakes. You can’t fight physics, especially with a 2,611 kg SUV. Not even the Rolls-Royce Cullinan could truly eliminate brake dive.
As a remedy, Maybach have added their own exclusive driving mode, aptly named Maybach. Selecting this optimizes the powertrain and suspension for the best ride comfort for rear passengers. The acceleration curve is much flatter in this mode, the transmission is tuned to provide fewer gear shifts and to always start in second gear, and the start/stop function is turned off. It’s quite a neat little gimmick, and while I didn’t notice any difference in road compliance, acceleration is clearly flattened and more predictable, which means I don’t have to manually feather my right foot as much to modulate the throttle for the smoothest launches.
Mercedes has finally concocted a viable alternative in the upper echelon of luxury SUVs. Bringing back Maybach as a sub-brand was a clever idea, as was the relatively low starting price that undercuts its true rivals from Bentley and Rolls-Royce, but its brand cache still dwarves by comparison. The $199,400 entrance fee is nothing to scoff at, nor is the $229,200 as-tested price, considering you can buy two Escalades with that amount of coin, but without the need to chase performance outputs or lap times, Mercedes was able to focus all of its attention and development into ride comfort and rear cabin amenities, and have aced it in spades. While not an imperative upgrade over the equally impressive GLS 580, the Maybach still delivers a first-class ride that solidifies its place amongst the greats.
Model: 2021 Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600
Paint Type: Obsidian Black
Base Price: $199,400
Price as Tested: $229,200
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,205 / 2,156 / 1,838
Curb weight (kg): 2,611
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 + EQ Boost
Horsepower: 550 hp @ 6,000 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 538 lb-ft @ 2,500 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.7