2006 Mercedes-Benz R-ClassPosted on August 10th, 2005
“Sports Tourer” with seating for six
By Nina Russin
The newest Mercedes-Benz model offers seating for up to six adults, a load floor up to seven feet in length, two available engines, and permanent all-wheel drive.
First came the sport-utility vehicle, then the cross-utility vehicle, and most recently, the sports-tourer. What’s the difference between the three?
A sport-utility vehicle is the most like a truck, both in terms of ride height and construction. It is taller than a passenger car, and is often built using a body-on-frame design, which has certain advantages for off-roading and towing.
A cross-utility vehicle combines the cargo and passenger configuration of a sport-utility vehicle with the performance of a passenger car, often by using a passenger car chassis. That implies unibody construction, for a smoother more comfortable ride, and in some cases, a lower step-in height. Some manufacturers consider their five-door hatchback models to be cross-utility vehicles, because of the enhanced cargo capacity.
A sports tourer looks like a station wagon, but with edgier styling, a hot engine, and all-wheel drive. It has the fuel economy of a passenger car, the style and performance of a sports coupe, plus enhanced passenger and cargo capability.
The 2005 Dodge Magnum was the first sports tourer, combining an available HEMI engine, all-wheel drive, and exterior styling that would make Ward Cleaver blush. The new Mercedes-Benz R-Class that goes on sale this October follows in that tradition, but with a luxury bent.
Available with either a V6 or V8 engine, the R-Class rides on a chassis that is about an inch longer than the S-Class sedan. It features individual seating for up to six adults.
When the second and third-row seats are folded flat, the R-Class has a seven-foot long flat load floor that will hold bicycles, wetsuits, camping equipment, and food coolers. It is easily long enough to sleep on. Purchase the optional panoramic sunroof, and you can literally sleep under the stars without worrying about mosquitoes.
The Ride and Handling of a Passenger Sedan
The R-Class comes in two models: the R350, powered by a 268-horsepower V6 engine, and the R500, with a 302-horsepower V8. Both models feature Mercedes’ new seven-speed automatic transmission, and permanent all-wheel drive.
The unit-body chassis has four-wheel independent suspension for silky on-road performance, rack-and-pinion steering, and standard safety features including antilock brakes, and electronic stability program that includes all-wheel traction control.
An adjustable air suspension is optional on both models. It allows the driver to vary suspension damping and ride height, adding up to three inches of ground clearance for off-road driving.
While the five-liter V8 engine has significantly more power than the six, buyers should consider the smaller engine, both for its fuel economy and lower base price: $48,000 as opposed to $55,000.
Mercedes-Benz engineers did a good job of producing a block that is both durable and peppy. It is the first V6 to incorporate double-overhead camshafts and variable valve timing for better acceleration and fuel economy.
The engine reaches peak torque (258 foot-pounds) at 2,400 rpm., and holds it up to 5,000 rpm. The lightweight aluminum block has a forged steel crankshaft with four main bearings. Translated, that means that it’s built to be ridden hard and put away wet.
It accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 7.8 seconds. Merging into high-speed traffic and passing on two-lane roads are a non-issue.
In a test drive down the coast of northern California, the six cylinder engine had enough torque to safely pass slower vehicles on winding two-lane roads.
While the R-Class has the low stance of a passenger sedan, it is much longer and wider than the standard issue, and this becomes obvious on narrow roads.
However visibility is good all the way around the vehicle. The mirrors do a good job of minimizing blind spots, including those created by the relatively wide rear pillars.
An optional bi-xenon lighting system with fog lamps interfaces with the steering system. The headlamps swivel to light the corners: a handy feature on dark, rural roads.
The seven-speed automatic transmission utilizes the same type of shift lever as the new M-Class. Unlike the traditional, manual shift stalks, the lever electronically engages drive, reverse and park with the flick of a finger. Drivers can use controls on the back of the steering wheel to manually select forward gears.
Full-time all-wheel drive incorporates three electronic differentials to send power to the wheel or wheels with the most traction. It provides sure-footed performance on rain, snow or ice-covered roads and unimproved roads.
Because the R-Class has less than six inches of ground clearance, drivers who will be traveling through deep snow or on rutted roads should seriously consider the air suspension for its adjustable height feature.
Comfortable Seating for up to Six Adults
All three rows in the R-Class have individual seats with separate adjustments, audio plugs, reading lights, armrests and cupholders. Leather trim is standard on all models.
Dual-zone climate control is standard. An optional three-zone system adds a set of controls for the second-row passengers. Specially coated glass on the front and side windows comes with that system, to shield passengers from the sun’s infrared rays.
An optional DVD system has dual inputs so that second-row passengers can watch different programs on two screens.
In between the front seats, two large cupholders hold 32-ounce cups. A fitting in between comes out and works as a bottle opener. There is also a two-bin storage compartment with spaces for cellular telephones, PDAs and compact disks.
All seats have ample hip, leg and shoulder room, and are well designed for lower back support. A walk-through between the second-row seats provides easier access to the third row.
There is an optional center console for the second-row passengers with more cupholders and storage bins. The map pockets in the doors also have bottle holders.
A Cargo Area Large Enough To Sleep In
It takes about five minutes to fold the second and third-row seats flat, created a load floor seven feet in length. The cargo area can easily hold a mountain bike or two road bikes, plus coolers, luggage and camping equipment. For most adults, it is also long enough to sleep in.
The optional panoramic sunroof is 5’7” in length. It has roller blinds to shade passengers from harsh overhead light. At night, it opens up for a great view of the stars. The cargo area comes with a standard first aid kit.
The undersized spare tire and pump is located under the cargo floor. Roof rails and racks are available as options.
Standard Safety Features
All models come with standard front, side and side-curtain airbags that protect all three rows of passengers. A rollover sensor will deploy the curtain airbags automatically when needed. Antilock braking and electronic stability program with all-wheel traction control is standard on all models, as is a low tire pressure warning system.
Coming To a Dealership Near You
The R-Class models roll into dealerships this October. An AMG performance version comes during the 2007 model year. Pricing begins at $48,00 for the R350 and $55,500 for the R500. There is a $775 destination charge on both models.
Base price: $48,000*
Price as tested:
Horsepower: 268 @ 6,000 r.p.m.
Torque: 258 lbs.-ft @ 5,000 r.p.m.
0 to 60: 7.8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Yes
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: Not available at the time of the test drive.
Comments: *Base price does not include a $775 destination fee.
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