We heard about this thing at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, but now all of the details have emerged. The first SUV bearing the Maybach name is here. This should probably be illegal on principle, but Maybach now joins Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari, and basically every other spendy marque in the world in succumbing to the SUV boom.
The engine is a V8 that makes 550 horsepower—actually less than the 577 HP the AMG GLS makes—but this isn’t about power. It’s about the details, like the fact that the vehicle lowers itself slightly to make egress easier, a feature that we have here in New York on city buses.
The paint is two-tone, which you may or may not like, but is certainly distinctive. The running boards retract in “around one second” when a door is opened, ostensibly needed, according to Mercedes, because the drive height is so high. There is an optional center console that can be transformed into a working space, or a fridge that can fit three champagne bottles, enough to get your average human reasonably drunk.
You will have the option of 22- or 23-inch wheels, which are too big. But let’s get back to those running boards, which look like this:
And here are the most words I’ve ever seen in a press release devoted to running boards. Mercedes seems to know that its audience for this car might need all the help it can get merely getting in and out of the thing:
The running boards painted in high-gloss black are each 6.8 feet (2.06 meters) long, and have a maximum width of 21 centimeters in the rear door areas – they are slightly narrower below the front doors. They occupy the entire length of the side sill panels. Black rubber strips are inset into their surfaces of anodized aluminum, with their contours echoing the oar-blade pattern from the radiator grille at the rear end. At the rear end of each running board there is also a chrome-look Mercedes-Maybach emblem.
When in the retracted position, the running board is almost invisibly concealed within the side sill panel. In this position it is inclined towards the center of the vehicle by around 45°, and closely follows the side sill. This means that ground clearance is not compromised. When a side door is opened, the running board on the side concerned is first moved downwards silently and smoothly by two electrically powered arms of die-cast aluminum each with four articulation joints, and then moves outwards to a horizontal position. The time taken between operating the door handle and deployment of the running board is roughly only one second. In the dark, as an addition to the ambient illumination provided by the open doors, the running board surface in the rear door area is illuminated by an LED strip in the side sill panel, including projection of the Maybach emblem.
When the car is lowered by 25 mm by AIRMATIC when the door is opened, the distance between the road surface and the vehicle’s underfloor is further reduced by the running board, making access and egress even easier. The anti-slip rubber strips ensure a secure foothold. The support structure of each running board is designed for a maximum load of 441 lbs (200 kg).
If a rear door is opened, the running board on the side concerned automatically swings outwards. This default setting can be changed at any time, using a special menu in the media display. For example, it is also possible to keep the running boards permanently retracted or only activated on manual instruction. In manual mode, the running boards can also be deployed when the doors are closed. If the vehicle is moving at more than 10 mph, the running boards are automatically retracted. In the Off-Road drive program, the automatic function is always deactivated to avoid collisions with uneven surfaces. After the side door is closed, the running board retracts in around 1.5 seconds.
The kinematics and installed position of the running board ensure that on level surfaces, deployment and retraction of the running board is possible without constraint even in the low-level position of the AIRMATIC. For safety reasons the automatic function has sensors similar to those used in the anti-pinch protection systems of power windows or sliding sunroofs. The procedure is therefore automatically stopped if a collision occurs with an obstacle.
All right, now that Mercedes has convinced you they would never cheap out on the running boards, here is altogether too many words about the wood veneer.
The carefully selected wood veneer has been aged for at least ten years, and a great deal of craftsmanship goes into cutting, reinforcing and stabilizing it before it is sanded particularly thinly to take shape. It is then mounted on a carrier which gives it shape, and dyed black. The actual application of the “flowing lines” now follows. A specially developed CNC milling cutter is used to define the fine lines in the layer of veneer, only a few tenths of a millimeter wide. These extremely precisely milled striations are also only just under one millimeter in depth. In the process the veneer layer is completely cut through, exposing the light carrier material. The difficulty of this operation is that the veneer can tear. To prevent this, the direction of milling must for example be adapted to the course of the wood fibers.
After milling, all of the milling dust must be removed from the components, right down into the fine striations. Microscopic checks are performed to ensure that the lines are cleanly milled and that all residue has been removed. The tiniest of dirt particles would make the part unusable. Only if it gets this far unblemished does it receive a full coating by machine.
This car also has various suspension, HVAC, and infotainment systems that you would expect to extract maximum comfort, including an air-conditioning system exclusive to the rear seats, because if you can afford a Maybach, surely you can also afford a driver.
And yet! I drove the 2020 GLS in a different life. I recommend driving it if you can. It’s a lot more agile than you might think, and I bet the Maybach is the same.