If you were given a blank sheet of paper to design the most luxurious four-door limousine on the planet, what would it look like? That was the challenge facing Gorden Wagener’s design team who were tasked with re-imagining the VIP limousine for this year’s Beijing Motor Show back in April.
Famous for their out-of-the-box thinking, Gorden’s designers first addressed the fundamental question asked when an idea has clearly run out of mileage - “Why should we continue down this path just because things have always been done this way?”
With that hurdle overcome they analysed the market trends in ultra luxury limousine buying around the world, and concluded that traditional four-door limousines like the Rolls-Royce Phantom and Bentley Flying Spur are still regarded as luxury status symbols.
However, there is a growing trend, particularly in the newer economies and amongst younger high net worth individuals, towards luxury SUVs like the Bentley Bentayga, Rolls-Royce Cullinan, and the top spec Range Rover as a preferred mode of luxury transport.
If you think about it, these two vehicle types are totally at odds with one another in concept. The SUV has its roots in the country - the clue is in the middle letter ‘Utility’ - and while it offers a commanding driving position and a great view over the hedgerows it is not particularly easy to get in and out of when you are dressed up to the nines for an evening out.
So the Daimler design team came up with a radical third way to solve the problem, fusing the best attributes of limousine and SUV into a unique machine that really stands out from the crowd. While it has the three-box profile of a four-door limousine, the Vision Maybach Ultimate Luxury sits higher and wider just like an SUV. The result is a car with head turning gravitas the likes of which have never been seen before.
This freshly minted interpretation of the limousine paradigm is shorter than a production Mercedes-Maybach, and appears hardly longer than a standard wheelbase S-Class in its bumper-to-bumper dimensions. But with no direct reference to other vehicles its apparent compactness is a proportional illusion derived from the huge 24-inch diameter wheels filling its exaggerated wheel arches.
When you lay eyes on it for the very first time the Vision Maybach Ultimate Luxury really takes your breath away. It was hard to judge its physical size on the stand at the Beijing Motor Show, as well as in the design centre at Sindelfingen. While it is clearly a big car, all six metres of it, we never had a normal car like an E-Class or S-Class alongside for a direct comparison.
It is still hard to judge its physical size here in Valencia, as the soaring arches and domes of the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences designed by the visionary Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava simply dwarf the Vision Maybach.
While it may be reduced to the role of an object in the landscape here, the crisp metallic red hue and chrome trim that define the Maybach’s flowing lines mean that it stands out in stark relief against the white buildings. Meanwhile, the forward-looking concept of this one-off luxury machine fits right in with the futuristic ambience of this breath-taking place.
Given that the car was presented in Beijing, capital city of the world’s best market for Mercedes-Maybach limousines, the paintwork is a natural hue for China where red is a symbol for luck. The white leather trim is a favourite with Middle Eastern buyers, and this contrasting palette works exceptionally well on the show car, garnering much admiration in both Beijing and Valencia.
Bearing in mind that this is a concept car we have to put up with some issues that would need to be resolved were the car signed off for produced. One is the fact that while ground clearance is lower than on a full-size SUV the very wide sills that need to be crossed to reach the seats are significant physical hurdles.
However, once you are comfortably ensconced in the plush cabin the sense of light and space is incredible, and is derived from the light coloured trim and the two long and thin glass roof panels flanking the longitudinal central rib.
This central rib is both structural and a design feature that splits the rear window in a historical reference to cars from the 1940s. The glazed roof panels would likely feature the ‘magic sky’ technology from the SL roadster that turns them opaque at the touch of a button.
The cabin architecture are much more organic than anything in production today, creating a feeling of being in a womb, a high-tech womb flooded with natural light.
The elegant shapes and forms in the cabin re-imagine how traditional trim materials like wood and leather are used. Combined with rose gold coloured highlights and high-tech elements, the result is a uniquely forward-looking ultra luxurious interior whose content will be slowly unwrapped by familiarity.
Not only are the lounge style chairs unique, the rose-gold covered consoles, inspired by pop artist Jeff Koons, give the plush interior a very special twist. Adding to the Chinese flavour of the red paintwork is a tea set built into the center console with the ability to maintain the temperature of the tea at the ideal 85°C.
Like all Mercedes concept cars, the Vision Maybach drives, albeit slowly. So while the rear seat passengers can actually indulge in a luxurious ride, any would be driver has restrictions, the most prominent of which is speed. The engineer in attendance did not actually tell us, “This hand built prototype cost millions, so don’t break it,” but his tentative look said as much.
Rolling along within the confines of City of Arts and Sciences we soon discover the dynamic shortcomings of this concept car. The steering is heavy, the turning circle is huge, and any implied off-road capability ends at the next manhole cover.
So does this avant-garde take on the future of ultra-luxury cars make sense? The Board of Daimler does not seem to think so even though they wrote the cheque for this show car. After crunching the numbers they decided that the potential sales volume was way too low to make it a viable business case. Quite simply the prospect of massive investment into a bespoke low volume luxury model conjures up recurring nightmares of the abortive Maybach 57 and 62 from 2004.
Even so, the ideas generated for the Vision Maybach Ultimate Luxury are not all wasted and we might well see some of the ideas from its gorgeous interior in the Mercedes-Maybach versions of the new GLS and the next S-Class.