Personal Finance > Autos
Live from the back of a $360,000 sedan
The inside of a pricey Maybach 62 is a mighty nice corner of the world.
April 21, 2003: 3:06 PM EDT
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - I'm writing this with my seatbelt fastened. Not that I'm actually going anywhere. The people in charge of the Maybach exhibit at the 2003 New York Auto Show agreed to let me use the back seat of their Maybach 62 as my private office for an hour or so. I want to get a sense of how comfortable this car really is.

The Maybach 62 is in a back room away from the main floor. They don't have it out front where the crowds can get their paws on it. They have a 57 out there and it's swarmed with reporters on this media preview day. At a sticker price of about $300,000, the 57's a foot and a half shorter and $60,000 cheaper than the 20-foot-and-change 62 I'm sitting in.

The 57's nice, of course, but it doesn't have these back seats. Excuse me while I adjust this one a bit. The headrest moves up and down as well as back and forth and I can't quite find the right spot.

OK. There we go. My feet are up and my head's resting. My fingers can comfortably reach the keys on my laptop which is perched atop a small table, finished in expensive wood, that folds out from the center console. Ahead of me there's so much legroom I'd have to take off my shoe and throw it to hit the back of the front seat.

There's an adjustable-angle liquid crystal display screen mounted on the back of the seat ahead of me. On it, I can watch broadcast TV (even in a $360,000 car, there's still nothing good on) or a DVD, and it functions as the control interface for the car's 6-CD entertainment system. I'm adjusting the volume on the Nancy Wilson CD I just put in. She's singing a Cole Porter tune.

"Is this the real turtle soup, or merely the mock?"

Each seat has its own set of individually adjustable speakers -- 21 speakers in all -- so I'm in a perfect stereo island back here.

After I dropped myself into this seat, the handle on the 62's very long back door was so far away that I would have to get back out just to reach it. The door opens to nearly a right angle with the car. I pulled a switch over the door frame and held it. The door swung gently shut and sealed itself.

Seating arrangements

The seat itself, forget the rest of the car for now, costs $15,000. There are entire automobiles you could get for the price of one of this car's back seats. It adjusts eight ways from Sunday. Back, forth, up, down, in, out.

I felt a little warm just now, and then I realized I'd accidentally turned on the seat's heater. I shut that off and turned on the fans. The leather on the seat is covered with tiny holes and fans underneath the seat gently breathe air through my khakis to keep me cool and dry while I'm writing.

I found the pulsing massage function a tad strange, so I turned that off. An air bladder just under my lower spine was following a computer-controlled rhythm, gently pushing against my lower back. I could have gotten used to it, but it felt too much like a small animal had gnawed its way into the seat cushions and was building a nest behind my coccyx.

Wayne Killen, Maybach's brand manager, told me that the car's designers had carefully reviewed every first-class airliner seat they could get to and found all of them wanting. The Maybach 62's back seat was their best shot at improving on the lot of them. If I flew first class, I'd be able to make a meaningful comparison. But this sure isn't coach.

It's almost too much to resist pressing every button I can find back here. The ceiling over my head is see-through. Now it's not. Nothing opened or closed. It just changed from clear to an opaque pearly white when I pressed a button. Over those panels, there's a huge sunroof I can close, as well. That blocks out the light altogether. When that's closed, the once-clear panel over my head glows gently. I can adjust the intensity of the light with a little dial.

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Poking around some more, I just found a cubby hiding a pair of what seem to be sterling silver high-ball glasses. I'd already been shown the silver champagne glasses and the specially designed champagne glass holders that keep the bubbly from spilling. When you put down the goblet, metal clips snap into place to hold it. When you lift up on the goblet, they release. There's a little refrigerator between the two back seats to keep your drinks chilled.

I'm drinking bubbly water out of a disposable cup and trying not to feel second rate.

Outside, Maybach sales staff and a few other reporters are milling about and looking at the car I'm in. The glass in these windows is teller-window thick. I hear nary a thing from outside until, every now and then, someone comes by and taps on the glass to gauge its thickness.

Sticking down out of the ceiling, just above those distant front seat backs, are three silver-clad gauges. Outside temperature, inside temperature and the car's speed. This is a European model, so the speed's in kilometers.

Heavy power

I had a look under the hood of the car before I got in. The Maybach's engine is big, which is just the kind of thing the Maybach brand was famous for before they started making cars for the super-rich in the '20s and '30s. They stopped building cars in cars in 1941. The company, founded by an engineer who helped create the first Mercedes cars, started out in the early 1900s building engines for Zeppelin airships. By the 1960s, Maybach had become a subsidiary of a company that made large marine engines. That company was bought by Mercedes-Benz, now part of DaimlerChrysler (DCX: Research, Estimates), which has decided to revive the Maybach brand name for these new ultra-luxury cars.

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Back in the day, the 1930s mostly, Maybachs were driven by the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Enrico Caruso and Haile Selassie. During World War II, Maybach's big V12 engines powered Germany's Tiger tanks.

A big V12 -- with two turbochargers -- is just what's under the hood of this machine. It puts out 543 horsepower. According to Maybach's spec sheet, it moves the car's heft of nearly three tons to up to 60 miles per hour in 5.4 seconds. (Each engine is hand-built in a process that takes about a day and a half.) The front disc brakes have two big calipers to bring all this mass to a stop.

I have to get back to my desk -- my real desk -- so I'm going to close this laptop for a couple minutes and just wonder whether this is really worth almost $150,000 more than the average American spends on a home. That's an unanswerable question of course. But, not even having gone anyplace, I'm feeling pretty good right now.

I wonder if I could afford to rent this seat?  Top of page

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