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 For good measure, the rear portion of the standard fixed roof has been replaced by a power-operated fabric top (last available nearly four years ago).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.



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