The car's size gives it a certain presence. Staring at the profile shows a wheelbase that spans two counties, necessitating a microphone and speaker setup simply so that the driver can converse with the passenger – and a Maybach will almost always have a passenger. No one buys a Maybach to drive. You buy a Maybach to be driven. No means of transport short of business-class airline seating offers this much space. Sit back, recline the seat, roll up the shades and enjoy your $167,125 cocoon.
But you know all of that already. What you really want to know is if $25,000 - the V12-powered S600 starts at $192,225 - is worth it to gain an extra four cylinders, 74 horsepower, and 96 lb-ft of torque. On paper, no, it's not. The two cars have identical performance numbers, and the S550 benefits from Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Even with all-wheel drive, the S550 weighs less than the nose-heavy S600. Fuel economy is, as expected, superior in the S550. It's rated at 16 city, 24 highway and 19 combined as opposed to 13 city, 21 highway, and 16 combined.
Visually, the two cars are identical save for a few badges. The V12 badge on the S600 is replaced with a 4Matic badge on the S550, and that's where things start to get murky. When you're spending six figures on a car, decisions become more emotional than practical. $25,000 is a lot of money, but there's a bigger difference between $25,000 and $50,000 than there is between $167,000 and $192,000.
As stated, you don't buy these cars to drive. Performance needs to be merely adequate. A smooth, torquey V12 is likely preferable to a hairy-chested V8, refined as it may be. These cars will never touch redline, lest the passengers spill their champagne. Plus, that V12 badge is worth its weight in country club memberships. Driving an S550 is fine until an owner shows up at an event behind an S600. If they have the cash for a Maybach, they're likely socializing with others who have the cash for their own.
Does fuel economy really matter here? How often is an owner going to be fueling the car themselves? Fueleconomy.gov estimates a S550 owner will save $400 a year in gas, a pittance at this league. The same goes for maintenance, which is likely to be more expensive for the V12 than the V8.
The only crux here is the addition of 4Matic all-wheel drive, which can't be had on the S600. Mercedes didn't see fit to adapt the system for the V12. If you live in an area where your driver really needs power at all four corners, get the S550.
Some may say that you can spend the $25,000 on options, but no one wants to explain that the S550 is a value. That's not bragging, that's justifying. You know what doesn't need an explanation? V12. Buy the S600. You're spending the money anyway.