WaBenzi, in the Bantu language of Swahili, denotes politicians; it literally means “the people who drive in a Benz.” When was the last time a car made you feel upper-crusty? We’ve just had that sensation while riding in the rear seat of the most over-the-top vehicle imaginable, brought to you by the fine people at Mercedes-Benz, who took their iconic G-class and converted it into the Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet.
You read that model designation correctly: The team working under Dr. Gunnar Güthenke, CEO of Mercedes-Benz G (yep, the Geländewagen platform has its very own CEO), started out with a basic G-wagen, took the portal axles of the ultra-aggressive 4×4² version, stuffed the G65 AMG’s twin-turbocharged V-12 under the boxy hood, stretched the wheelbase by 22.8 inches, and added the “first-class” rear seats from the Mercedes-Maybach S-class. For good measure, the rear portion of the standard fixed roof has been replaced by a power-operated fabric top (last available nearly four years ago). Sure, it’s a parts-bin production—but using only parts from the shelf above the top shelf. Cars don’t get much more extreme. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche reacted with enthusiasm when he first saw the project and jacked up the production target, originally planned to be minuscule, to 99 units.
There should be no problem selling that many, as our impressions from the back seat of this behemoth were mostly favorable. Perched on polished 22-inch aluminum wheels shod with 325/55R-22 tires, this glitzy beast looks as if it could conquer anything—and it certainly has the mechanicals to cash the check the styling writes. Rarely have we experienced a vehicle that tackles off-road challenges with such ease. Craggy rocks, nasty holes, and muddy swampy bogs are simply nonissues, and there is so much ground clearance—17.7 inches—that chances are any bush you drive over will emerge unscathed. As with every G-class, a low-range transfer case is standard, as are locking front, center, and rear differentials.
The hiss of the AMG-sourced 621-hp V-12 is muffled and refined for this Maybach application, but it’s still clearly audible. It serves as an appropriate indicator of the performance capabilities: The G650 Landaulet will charge to 60 mph in well under six seconds by Mercedes’ reckoning, and the company says it could top 150 mph if it weren’t governed at 112 mph (good idea, that). Speed is not the primary goal of this G-wagen, but if the order arrives from the rear seat, the chauffeur can hurl it forward with gusto.
The G650 Landaulet forward cabin is relatively unchanged from that of a regular and fully optioned G-wagen; the instruments and switches have been taken from various Mercedes vehicles, and the surroundings are charmingly old-fashioned, elemental, and a far cry from any other modern SUV.
The rear compartment tells an entirely different story. Those “first-class” Maybach seats can recline nearly flat, they feature a vigorous massage system, and they’re accompanied by fold-out tray tables, as well as silver champagne flutes, supplied by Robbe & Berking, hidden in a separate compartment. To underscore the flair of the G650—and the Landaulet nomenclature—the rear also contains a near copy of the G’s front center console and two glove compartments with covers identical to the ones up front. There are eight grab handles, and the electrically operated partition goes from clear to opaque with a flip of a switch. Two cuddly Maybach pillows complete the most lavish passenger compartment we’ve experienced since, well, ever.
The amply padded fabric top can be lowered electrically in about 20 seconds and only by command from the rear seat. One of the great appeals of this vehicle is doing precisely that, the better to stand up and survey the surroundings, to enjoy a breath of fresh air, or simply to be seen by adoring throngs.
The G650 Landaulet won’t be sold in the United States, officially, although we’re sure that those with the right plutocratic tendencies and the right connections could find a way to get one here through semiofficial channels. What good is money or power if it doesn’t alleviate such problems with a wave of your wrist? The price remains a secret, but we’re guessing a G650 Landaulet could be yours for around half a million euros, or about $550,000 at today’s exchange rates. And while it is very convincing as a Maybach, it sure made us feel like one of the WaBenzi.
source: caranddriver.com BY JENS MEINERS