Ralf seems to have calmed down, so I take stock of his baby. At 20 mph, the Ocean Drive is making a shameful waste of that lovely 510-hp, twin-turbo V-12 murmuring under the hood. Its effortless reserves of torque would make it the perfect engine for production, though. The steering seems lighter than that of a stock S-class, not that I'm giving it any fast inputs. The car doesn't feel like a bowl full of jelly, even though its body has not been reinforced like it will be if it's brought to production, and the cowl is reasonably rigid.
It's too soon in the Ocean Drive's gestation to worry about such mundane matters as structural rigidity and chassis composure. The question at hand is whether or not this car has the aura and the street presence to merit production. It does, in spades. Mercedes-Benz's Irvine, California, design studio, led by Gorden Wagener, smoothed away all of the S-class sedan's clunky curves, fitted an imposing pointed grille that's both more upright and one-third bigger than the one in the S-class, and coated the whole delicious thing in two-tone metallic paint.
It is a big car--more than seventeen feet long--and it has four doors, but the Ocean Drive almost reads as a coupe when it wafts by you on the street, thanks to its raked windshield and the slimming effect of its flowing shoulder line. Even when its long, thickly padded fabric top is raised (a completely automatic process, of course), the Ocean Drive looks svelte and elegant.
The interior was designed at Mercedes-Benz's Como, Italy, studio. It's awash in matte-finish birds-eye maple, gorgeously stitched leather, and open-weave, cream-colored fabric that's applied to the seat inserts, the doors, and the instrument panel. The square-bottomed steering wheel is nice but perhaps a little race-car-ish for this application. The instrument binnacle, the arc of climate-control buttons, and the seat controls are all from the S-class. The rear-seat area is ideal for exhibitionist hedonists, with plenty of foot and legroom, excellent sight lines, and DVD screens. The center console houses a bottle of champagne and two flutes, a prestige-car affectation that has become a clich.
The Ocean Drive is a desirable bauble, sure to curry favor in South Beach, the Cte d'Azur, and anywhere else in the world where sunshine, sea breezes, beautiful people, and money converge. Mercedes-Benz is coy about whether it will be produced, but apparently there are no insurmountable technical challenges. Sources within Stuttgart indicate that the Ocean Drive originally was intended to be a Maybach, but clearly, this vehicle is too cool to be affiliated with that floundering brand. (The party line is that Mercedes has a history of building four-door droptops--a mint 1960 300D was on hand to drive home the point--and that's why the Ocean Drive got a three-pointed star. Mmm-hmmm.) Mercedes made the right branding decision, and it should go ahead and build the Ocean Drive. I'd sure like to drive one faster than 20 mph.