Ambient lighting, a cocoon-like interior, and champagne flutes - the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is a cut above its standard sibling and offers a strong alternative to British luxury marques such as Rolls-Royce and Bentley
The history of the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is complex. Around the turn of the century, Daimler was a bystander in the battle over Rolls-Royce and Bentley, fought out between BMW and the Volkswagen Group. Their response was the resurrection of the lost Maybach brand, and from 2002 to 2012, the Maybach 57 and 62, technologically based on the W140 S-Class, served as Daimler's answer to the British luxury brands. But it never came close to projected sales numbers and when the brand disappeared in 2021 most expected the chapter to be closed.
Yet in November 2014, Ola Källenius announced the return of Maybach, now as a sub-brand and positioned somewhat lower than before, designating a stretched and more luxurious S-Class. Despite the skeptics, Mercedes-Maybach was a success – mostly in China and the US. Beyond the stretched S-Class, Mercedes-Maybach has since introduced a Pebble Beach concept car, a limited-edition S-Class Cabriolet, a G-Wagen Landaulet and a version of the current GLS. In 2018, the Maybach S-Class received a unique grille. Now it's time for a new model: The second Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, codenamed X223.
Unlike the Maybach 57 and 62, and just like the previous X222, the X223 keeps a strong connection to the S-Class (W223 with short wheelbase, V223 with the longer wheelbase) on which it is based. The distinct C-pillar retains its unique look, including a Maybach logo; the front and rear of the car are adorned by the Mercedes-Benz star. Hand-applied two-tone paint with a separating line is an expensive option that's exclusive to the Maybach, and the X223 also receives a unique wheel program with multi-spoke or disc wheels that eschew any fake sportiness and exude traditional elegance. The range-topping S680 gets lower front air intakes with a chrome pattern.
"The Maybach S-Class was a data-driven process: the team made sketches, but no scale models were built"
Work on the X223 began in September 2016, and unlike the predecessor, the stretched version was intended to be a Mayhach right from the outset. The designers began with the shape of the V model to find stable proportions; production numbers of the V models are far greater than the short-wheelbase, Europe-focused W model and the Maybach X model.
"We strongly focused on the rear compartment, which is the signature of the Maybach S-Class," says Hartmut Sinkwitz, head of interior design at Daimler. The project was shaped by designers from the department for feasibility and precision, which is part of Daimler's greater design department. Focused on quality and perception, they are sometimes tasked with the development of derivatives to take the burden off the creative team.
The Maybach S-Class was a data-driven process: The team made sketches, but no scale models were built. One full-size interior design model was made as a seating buck to evaluate materials and components, such as the ultra-sophisticated rear center console.
"We chose from several themes," says Sinkwitz. "We tried out and could have gone for more straight lines, but we chose an evolutionary theme that encompasses the rear passengers like a scarf, with the central waterfall element, for a cocooning effect that has become a trademark of Maybach." Still, the overall look is less playful, far more contemporary and modern than the previous car.
Sheer opulence, meticulous attention to detail: colour and trim is a key component of Maybach's appeal. While the previous model used contrast colors, Maybach is now moving to a monochromatic look: "Luxury comes from brightness," says Sinkwitz. The previous model's available two-tone leather seats, in fact, were a leftover from Mercedes' "designo" trim packages. The Maybach-specific interiors are called macchiato beige/bronze pearl and crystal white/silver gray pearl; there are further colours shared with the regular S-Class, and if customers ask, they can get a leather-free interior. However, Daimler has not received a single such request in the past few years.
Contrast is still used as a design element on the doors, and it is especially pronounced when the car is fitted with the crystal white interior and high-gloss black floating panels. While two interior colours are exclusive to the Maybach S-Class, all wood decor can be specified on the shorter W and V models as well: "We couldn't bring ourselves not to offer it on the lesser models," Sinkwitz says.
The massive wooden "waterfall" between the rear seats is a Maybach exclusive, as are the panels on the back side of the front seats; compared to smaller radii and the futurism of the front cockpit, the shapes in the rear are softer and more opulent. The "waterfall" is not present on the five-seater version, for which Daimler has registered significant demand on the Chinese market.
The diamond-shaped double-seam stitching on the Maybach S-Class is not available on other S-Class versions; it is extremely contemporary in style, in marked contrast to the more classic diamond stitching patterns used on British luxury cars. Carpeting is a notch above the regular S-Class. Further differentiation is achieved with larger, illuminated stainless steel door sills and ambient lighting that emphasises the arch around the rear seats. The steering wheel, while of identical shape, gets additional wooden elements, and there are optional, heated pillows for the rear headrests. The "Exclusive" package applies leather to virtually every surface. The headliner is executed in microfiber, and the key fob can be specified in rose gold. Maybach logos appear on the pedals, headrests, on the steering wheel and between the top-level rear seats.
"The ambient lighting functions are class-leading and feature Maybach-specific colouring; there are specific working and lounge light programs"
The Maybach is designed as a car to be chauffeured in, yet more than a few customers – particularly in China – like to get behind the wheel themselves on the weekend. "We had no desire to come up with an entirely different cockpit," says Sinkwitz. The 12.8-inch OLED center display, which offers surprisingly strong contrasts between deep, glossy black and the illuminated segments, is shared with the regular S-Class, as is the screen in front of the driver - including an optional 3D function which creates a uniquely futuristic experience, and the optional head-up display with three-dimensional elements that enter the realm of augmented reality.
But the designers managed to add a bit of differentiation nonetheless. There is a Maybach-specific animation when entering the car, and the "Exclusive" display mode features rose gold needles and gauge surroundings. The digital clock features a rose gold stone element.
Lighting is part of the experience, too. The ambient lighting functions are class-leading and feature Maybach-specific colouring; there are specific working and lounge light programs. And the rear compartment can be specified with sensors, placed in the central roof section, that monitor the passengers and automatically direct the spot lights everywhere they are needed. The MBUX system can be operated from the front and the rear; the rear screens are much faster than on the previous S-Class and allow for far greater interaction with the car.
"Maybach is a strong alternative to classic British luxury, without copying it"
While the new S-Class is brimming with features that set it apart from its competitors, the Maybach version adds further layers. The optional First Class rear features seat backs adjustable from a tilt angle of 19 to 43.5 degrees. Footrests are included, and the right front seat can be moved out of the way from the rear. The massage program includes a calf massage function.
The cupholders in the rear centre console feature electrically operated covers, and optional tray tables are designed for the MBUX tablets or notebooks. The rear doors can be opened and closed electrically with little effort, including on hillsides, and the function can be activated by the chauffeur from the front of the car.
The rear passengers are automatically handed their seat belts with a seat belt extender. This system launched 40 years ago in the C126 S-Class coupe, but it has now for the first time been applied to rear passengers. And the acoustic comfort is enhanced by an electronic noise compensation system that is only available on the Maybach version. As part of the optional Burmester-supplied 4D surround sound system, it neutralises sound waves and suppresses road, wind and powertrain noise effectively. This system required the cooperation of suppliers, specifically the Harman subsidiary HALOsonic. For a final elegant touch, the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is again available with champagne flutes. They fit specifically designed holders, while the bubbly can be stored in an optional ten-litre refrigerator.
Inside and out, the new Mercedes-Maybach S-Class elevates the predecessor's style to another, far more contemporary level, and it distances itself remarkably from the regular S-Class. It provides a strong alternative to classic British luxury, without copying it.
Head of Daimler Design: Gorden Wagener
Head of Interior Design: Hartmut Sinkwitz
Head of Interior Design Precision and Feasibility: Georg Asal
Team Leader Interior Design Precision and Feasibility: Christoph Machinek
Designer India Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India: Mandar Tamhane
Team Leader, colour and trim: Ralf Krausse
Colour and Trim: Jörg Gerlach
Start of project interior: November 2016
Text: Jens Meiners