A family looking for a high end cruiser that seats 6 adults in comfort and commands the best parking spot at the country club.
Comparable models in this class:
Sport Tourer is spacious, practical
CARMEL, California The California coastline unfolded outside the windows of our Mercedes-Benz R350 as we cruised through Big Sur. With a panoramic sunroof, tight handling and great seats, the R350 was the ideal vehicle for soaking up the surroundings.
Mercedes-Benz brought auto writers to this location to drive its newest vehicle, an all-wheel-drive six-passenger sport-touring machine that blends the function of an SUV and a luxury wagon. It is close in concept to a crossover SUV, yet it looks like a smaller, streamlined minivan. Mercedes hopes it will define a new segment.
Ron Mueller, manager of the luxury sport utility and touring division of Mercedes-Benz North America, said the R-Class has an emotional rationality, and he expects it to appeal to affluent buyers between 40 and 54 years of age.
Looks are deceiving. The R-Class is nearly 5 inches longer than an S-Class and 4 inches longer than a Cadillac Escalade. The cabin is generous, with adequate room for all six seats. Normally, the third seat of a vehicle like this is pretty crowded for adults, but this one has enough legroom and headroom for a 6-foot adult to ride in reasonable comfort. The second-row seats tilt and slide forward, so getting in back doesnt require gymnast contortions.
Luggage space is somewhat limited with the third seat open, but Mercedes-Benz executives said accessory rooftop carriers would be available.
There are two R-Class models: the R350 with a V-6 and the R500 with a V-8. The R350 starts at $48,800 and the R500 starts at $55,500. Most popularly equipped V-6s will be priced in the mid-$50,000s and V-8s in the mid-$60,000s. A loaded V-8 tops out around $70,000. Mercedes expects about 75 percent of sales to be the V-6. The vehicle will be for sale Oct. 1.
The R-Class, built alongside the M-Class SUV at Mercedes plant in Alabama, shares its powertrain with the M-class. The unibody, however, is different.
As we rolled through the curves and twists of Californias Highway 1, it was clear that the R-Class has the road holding of a sedan. My driving partner and I took turns behind the wheel. The body didnt roll or lean excessively as we steered arcs through the hundreds of turns that define this world-renowned piece of roadway.
The front suspension is a double wishbone design, while the rear axle uses a four-link design that is mounted on a separate sub frame. Disc brakes are used front and rear. The R350 has 13-inch discs and the R500s are slightly larger. Anti-lock is standard, as is the ESP Electronic Stability Program and Brake Assist.
I drove an R500 equipped with the optional Airmatic suspension. The Sport setting produces a ride that is nicely firm, while the Comfort setting softens the ride without turning into a mushmobile.
Our day of driving included time in the V-6 and V-8. The 3.5-liter V-6 had no problem powering through the turns and up the hills with two people onboard. Six passengers would slow it some. This all-new engine, first used in the SLK350, has 268 horsepower, variable valve timing and a two-stage intake manifold that fattens the torque curve.
The 302-horsepower V-8 was a tad more fun mainly because it produced a bit more torque, so the R500 moved away from stops, pulled up hills and lunged out of corners more briskly.
Both engines drive through a seven-speed automatic transmission that is operated with a small lever on the steering column. It can also be shifted manually with buttons on the back of the steering wheel. When you need a quick downshift and extra power, the transmission can skip up to three gear ratios for quicker response.
The R-Class is loaded with creature comforts: leather seat inserts, wood trim, power windows, power seats, side-curtain airbags for all three rows of seats, tire-pressure monitoring, central locking and a AM/FM/CD audio system with 80 watts. An auxiliary jack enables an iPod to be plugged in and operated with the buttons on the steering wheel.
The panoramic sunroof has more than 5 feet of glass. The front section opens, while the rear remains closed. Sunscreens cover each when you dont want the light.
Optional equipment includes an AMG sport package with 19-inch wheels, DVD entertainment system with LCD screens in the back of each front seat headrest, satellite radio, power liftgate, heated seats, keyless ignition, xenon headlights that turn slightly in corners, three-zone air conditioning, and a Harman/Kardon audio system.