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 will note their speed, check the flanking clock and calculate
when they’ll get to where they’re going. In other other words, Maybach
owners 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 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).

Just build something. Make it vaguely
brand-compliant and call it good. Although the 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 understeer 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.