When I went to Santa Barbara, Calif., to drive the 2015 Mercedes-Maybach S600, the Mercedes-Benz suits from Stuttgart had just read my nightmarish account of driving the E63 AMG wagon across several 25-below-zero Western states (accompanied by the worst station wagon ever made and a fully caged Checker Marathon race car), en route to work at a 24 Hours of LeMons race at Sears Point.
Since I'd be going to another winter Sears Point LeMons race, directly from the Maybach event, somehow it was decided that I'd be given a gorgeous Alanite Grey matte-finish S65 AMG sedan to drive the 350 miles north to the track. Therefore, your humble Race Organizer is following up his Chevy Volt Race Organizer Review with an account of taking an Oligarch-Grade Benz to an event at which the value of this car exceeded that of all 93 vehicles entered in the race, plus tow vehicles,combined.
Leaving Santa Barbara and heading north on a perfect coastal-California winter day, the big S-class sedan proved obscenely comfortable as well as absurdly powerful. I suppose I could have thrown it into the corners on the twisting stretches of road in the mountains on California State Route 154 and it would have impressed me with its sure-footed agility, et cetera, but the driver of an S-class must remain cool, lest an unregistered first-gen Sable rolling on a couple of space-saver spares careen into his path from a fire road.
What I did do was take advantage of all that forced-induction power when I got stuck behind an over-cautious nonagenarian in a Park Avenue … and that's when I realized that the owner of an S65 AMG could get into lose-your-driver's-license trouble in a hurry, just making ordinary passes on the highway. This car is so quiet and so drama-free at speed that you're always in danger of hitting handcuffed-in-the-back-of-the-Crown-Vic velocities when you're just trying to squeeze around some schnook doing 47 mph in the fast lane. I learned to ignore my senses and keep half an eye on the speedometer during any sort of pass.
Driving from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area in an S-class reminded me of another trip I'd made with a brand-new W126 S-class, nearly 25 years earlier. Of course, I wasn't in that Benz; I was accompanying that car in my primered-out 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan, on my way to see the Butthole Surfers, Ice-T, and the Rollins Band at the first Lollapalooza Festival in 1991.
My friend's girlfriend had a rich Orange County father who was out of town making some big deal, so she grabbed his new black 560 SEL for our road trip. Back then, this car seemed every bit as amazing (though without quite the ridiculous performance specs) as the current S-class. The gulf between my hooptie and this futuristic luxowagen plunged me into the sort of existential despair that I assume is a selling point for potential S-class buyers considering the effect of their rides on Impala drivers. But now I was the driver sneering at the rabble in their Intrepids and Leganzas from my champagne-fridge-equipped Mercedes sedan.
Once I arrived at The Track Formerly Known As Sears Point, I conferred with my fellow LeMons Supreme Court justices about the relative merits of our respective judgemobiles. Judge Shawn got high marks for the mixture of class and family-man practicality in his W124 wagon. Judge Tim, also known as the founder and editor-in-chief at Hooniverse, brought his daily-driver 1964 Ford Falcon Futura, featuring a 260-cubic-inch V8 and 4-speed manual transmission.
In the eyes of the racers, Tim's car was the coolest, Shawn's was the most sensible, and mine was the most ridiculous.
I was expecting the thousands of car freaks at the Good Effort Grand Prix to be more impressed with my evil-looking gray monster, but Odell's Falcon really stole the show. I suppose you need something like a Tesla Model S P85+ to impress this crowd (which, come to think of it, is packed with Tesla Motors employees).
In any case, the thumpingly excellent Burmester sound system in the S65 got a lot of attention when I cranked up the Mike Jones in the Sonoma Raceway paddock.
So, what we have here is just about the most technologically sophisticated internal-combustion sedan in the world, packed with every conceivable option to make its occupants comfortable and isolated from the madness without, with a price tag that would buy you a pretty decent house in much of the United States. I put 772 miles on it, managed to get 17.5 mpg --amazing for a car with 621 hp -- and was amazed by how far the automotive art has come since Karl Benz started this whole game.
Still, though, I never challenged this car, not the way I had done with the E63 AMG, and so it wasn't too jarring when I flew back home and scraped the snow off my 18-year-old LS400 at Shadow Government World Headquarters parking lot. I think if I'd presented the S65 AMG with the kind of punitive conditions to which I'd subjected the E63 AMG, I'd end up moving the Best Long Road-Trip Vehicle crown from the head of the E63 wagon to that of the S65 sedan.
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