Bentley Arnage R, Maybach 57, and Rolls-Royce Phantom

George Saitas

MAYBACH 57

We love this car the way we love the Mercedes-Benz S600, perhaps the smoothest ride known to man and a car that is never far from mind when one gets behind the wheel of a Maybach. The controls and switches are recognizably S-class, revised gauge faces notwithstanding. From the view out to the ergonomic relationships, it all feels similar. That's the downside of sharing so much with the S600, but there's a big upside: the S600. The connection ensures that virtually every mechanical and electronic aspect of this vehicle is as good as it gets, save perhaps the slightly ponderous recirculating-ball steering system that adds refinement to an air-suspended chassis but removes sensitivity.

Like the big Merc, the 57 is more nimble than it has any right to be. But so is the stately Rolls. And the pocket-sized Bentley takes the cornering cake. However, if your main thing is that you want to go 150 mph and barely notice it, then head to the nearest Maybach showroom. (There are seventy-seven nationwide, and they don't have stock. You order a car to be built on a special line at the Mercedes factory in Sindelfingen, Baden-Wrttemberg.)

Full Rear View

There is, regrettably, the Maybach's exterior styling, which leaves us a little cold. Make anything large enough, and it will acquire presence, as the 18-foot, 10-inch Maybach 57 and the even longer (20 feet) Maybach 62 do. But, to us, they look like S-classes that somebody took tire pumps to, then gave a two-tone paint job and an any-grille. The Maybach logo, prominently displayed in a hand-sized hood ornament, scans more curious than distinguished. But what do we know? Out among the great unwashed masses, the 57 proved the most popular of our three test cars. Mercedes psychographic style research obviously ran deep and true.

Weighing a very maxi 6030 pounds dripping wet, the Maybach is a seriously heavy car, but it accelerates like a seriously fast one, the result of a whopping 550 horsepower and an even more amazing 664 pound-feet of torque. That's what happens when you take the twin-turbocharged V-12 found in the S600 and tune it for additional low-end muscle. The word seamless doesn't begin to describe the turbinelike smoothness as the Maybach hustles from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. Clichs fail us. That is thunderingly quick for a sedan that weighs more than a Suburban, but it's chicken feed next to how you feel quietly blasting from 80 to 130 mph in the blink of an eye, just by slap-shifting the robust five-speed auto box from fifth down to third and standing on it.

Rear Interior View

Mercedes has the parts bin to make the best car in the world, and it may well have succeeded. Which is why it occurs to us: You could take a wild ride through the Merc options list, have a long phone call with the Beverly Hills Motoring Accessories people, and buy more or less the same car, gaining one additional rear seat and saving shedloads in the bargain. It would be called an S600, and it wouldn't even necessarily be that much more common a sight than a Maybach. So the question is, what are the Maybach name and style worth to you? If you have to ask, then you can't afford them. We've no doubt it will be an acceptable premium for enough of the very few to make this a worthwhile venture for its makers. But true aesthetes may be looking to the white cliffs of Dover.

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