- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

This fall, superlatives will likely fail you as DaimlerChrysler reintroduces a legendary ultraluxury brand, the Mercedes-Benz Maybach.
The 2003 Maybach 57 and Maybach 62 will offer the most horsepower, the most luxurious amenities, the best customer service and the longest body available on any stock automobile, anywhere in the world.
Yet, even all these "mosts" and "bests" will not be enough to describe the sheer grandeur of these two new vehicles, which come with custom silver champagne flutes as standard equipment in every model.
Introduced recently, with production slated to begin soon in Stuttgart, Germany, Mercedes' ultraluxury offerings made their debut James Bond-style, with a dramatic helicopter airlift from New York City's harbor, after a cross-Atlantic journey riding enclosed in a see-through container on the foredeck of the Queen Elizabeth II.
Juxtaposed with the site where the World Trade Center towers once stood and the battered financial district, the scene was a contrast to the belt-tightening economy of Wall Street and the nation.
Perhaps that contrast was deliberate. After all, the original Maybach and Mercedes vehicles became synonymous with luxury during the Great Depression.
Born of a friendship between a young Wilhelm Maybach, once dubbed "the king of engineers," and Gottlieb Daimler in the late 1800s, the Mercedes-Maybach design partnership began humbly in a garden shed, but soon spawned the Mercedes brand of vehicles, beginning with the 35-horsepower model now considered to be the first modern-day car.
More than a century later, the legacy of the Mercedes-Maybach partnership has created these ultimate high-end sedans with prices starting at $300,000 in the midst of an economic recession and global unease.
The timing makes revival of the Maybach brand both ludicrous and optimistic, but no matter what the context, there can be no denying that these cars deliver the kind of technical sophistication and customized features most car owners would hardly dream about.
That's the key. There can be no doubt that the target customer base is not "most car owners." With a planned production run of only 1,000 units this year and a highly specialized approach to Maybach customer service, these vehicles will be within the reach of few.
Those aficionados who can make the automotive investment that bests most folks' mortgages will be treated like the royalty for whom Wilhelm Maybach designed airships in the later part of his career.
All Maybach customers will have the opportunity to oversee their vehicles' design and production in DaimlerChrysler's Sindelfingen Center of Excellence, a $10 million studio dedicated to the development of vehicles such as these.
The Maybach is essentially a made-to-order automobile, with each vehicle referred to as a "saloon" because of its spaciousness and loungelike atmosphere.
Customers specify interior and exterior colors and finishes, including a variety of burnished wood and leather surfaces, as well as more exotic requests, such as a built-in cigar humidor, golf clubs or a luggage set.
These specifications are fed directly to the manufacturing center.
A key player in this process is the Personal Liaison Manager (PLM), a group of Mercedes consultants, on call 24 hours a day and able to make the impossible look easy.
Literally available 24/7, these consultants can be contacted instantly via a button on the standard car phone and offer help at all stages of ownership, from choosing the carpeting to planning vehicle services.
Mercedes also boasts that PLMs can arrange tickets for Formula 1 races and other events.
When it comes to servicing these fine motorcars, mechanics at the 50 specialized service centers around the globe have telephone and videoconference access to designers, engineers and mechanics at the Sindelfingen studio 12 hours a day for troubleshooting and repair.
The other half of the day is covered by "Flying Doctors," a group of 12 mechanics on call in Germany who will fly directly to a saloon in distress for immediate repair within hours. Now that's what I call service.
Named for their length, not the size of the engine they share, the sedans are enormous.
Maybach 57 is 5.7 meters, or about 19 feet long, while the Maybach 62, at 6.2 meters, is more than 20 feet long longer even than the massive Ford Excursion SUV.
The exterior is everything one would expect a luxury sedan to be sleek and understated. Oval headlamps are encased in smooth glass that almost seamlessly integrates with the rest of the front end, while a raised hood line evokes classic 1930s limousine styling.
The grille is adorned with vertical slats and topped with the Maybach signature hood ornament not the better known three-point Mercedes star, and a low front air dam lends a stealthy look.
Seventeen exterior paint colors are available, with the option for side panels that are painted a contrast color that matches the overall paint tonally for example, a dark silver Maybach would have side panels in a slightly paler color. The effect is terrific, adding dimension to what could otherwise be a fairly dull look. Tires are 19 inches with alloy wheels and optional run-flat feature.
Under the hood, an enormous three-valve-per-cylinder V-12 delivers 550 horses and more than 800 foot-pounds of torque, the most power and torque in any series production car in the world. Overall the engine is extremely torquey, with peak output available at just 1,500 rpm, thanks in part to a powerful bi-turbocharger that boosts intake. This boosted V-12 sprints to 60 mph in under 6 seconds (5.2 for the shorter, and 5.4 for the longer version), despite its massive size.
This engine is matched to an electronically controlled, "almost undetectable" automatic transmission. Although Environmental Protection Agency estimates are not yet available, the car is designed to meet EU4 emission limits that will not go into effect until 2005.
An all-new suspension and braking system is a prime feature of this superluxury car. AIRMATIC DC (dual control) air suspension, the latest from this German automaker, does what so many owners of high-end cars would like their car to do: It combines responsiveness and road feel with ride comfort. Neither sport-tuned nor floaty, this system is a whole new experience. And, SBC electrohydraulic braking ensures a respectable braking distance for this cruise ship.
Each saloon is highly customizable from the inside out, from wood trim to leather seating areas. In fact, more than 2 million permutations of the interior are possible, including six types of leather, three types of wood and a host of personalized touches such as a panoramic roof with electrotransparent glass, active seat ventilation or KEYLESS-GO, a remote locking system.
Regardless of how it's tailored, though, this motorcar, which is described by Mercedes-Benz as a cross between a concert hall and a mobile office, is made for the kind of luxury only seen in Hollywood films.
Both versions are equipped with a TV/DVD entertainment system in the rear, Dolby surround-sound system, four-zone climate control and contoured seats for all passengers.
The front center console includes a large DVD/satellite navigation system, as well as climate and audio system controls, all encased in smooth lacquered wood trim.
Ten air bags add to passenger safety inside its highly rigid frame.
Each vehicle is designed to seat only four passengers, and each gets a contoured, oversized, remarkably comfortable chair.
In the Maybach 62, the rear seats are designed like reclining seats in airline first and business class, with retracting leg and foot supports.
Each rear passenger in the 62 also gets his or her own color TV/DVD monitor, built into the back of the front seats. A mobile phone and permanent car phone are part of the communications system in the rear.
Audio controls and a refrigerated compartment (for the champagne, of course) are in the center of the two seats. Perhaps, the only things missing are that little drinks cart and a friendly flight attendant.
With its air suspension, airtight cabin and smooth engine, Maybach saloons are almost silent inside, made for the kind of high-powered deal-making one could imagine would take place in a chauffeured version of one of these vehicles.
Of course, the vast majority of us won't ever have the experience of making deals, watching a DVD or putting our feet up in a Maybach, never mind piloting one.
Sales start in Europe this fall, and are projected to account for 25 percent of Maybach's volume. Maybach will go on sale in the United States this spring and it is expected that American buyers will make up 40 percent of the new marque's market. Other markets include Japan and the Middle East.
Mercedes' latest offering truly is the ultimate in luxury, and it deserves all the superlatives it gets, even if I and very likely you can't get one.

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