On Ocean Avenue in Carmel-By-The-Sea - that exclusive
seaside enclave on California's Monterey Peninsula
where the super-rich denizens drive mega-bucks cars
with labels like Bentley, Aston Martin and Ferrari
- we notice that more than a few of the sidewalk shoppers
pay unusual attention to our vehicle with their heads
turning and fingers pointing as we roll by.
What these spectators observe is a new kind of Mercedes
that resembles no other vehicle in extensive Benz
large - stretching longer than the biggest full-size
sedan and equally wide. It's bold in style, with a
windswept face where the prow and windshield forge
a raked plane sweeping up from front fascia and over
a roll-top roofline. It has lots of doors. There's
a pair of portals on each flank below what looks like
one extremely long and narrow window stretching from
the windshield clear back to the tail. Also, a top-hinged
liftgate at the rear swings high for cargo bay access.
The profile vaguely resembles one of those big American
mid-century station wagons, although the stance of
this contemporary car seems to hunker on the pavement
like a sports car and the beltline atop side doors
rises like the raked face from a low point at the
windshield to a high point in the rear corner.
Inside, there are three tiers of seats with a pair
of individual buckets set in rows one and two and
three. This is a first-class cabin, as appropriate
for a Mercedes, with leather covering seats and appointments
of the quality and caliber of a deluxe full-size luxury
car. And overhead there's the optional panoramic sunroof
with two large glass panels consuming most of the
ceiling space stretching front to rear above the cabin.
The overriding concept behind this design seems to
merge attributes of the station wagon, a minivan and
SUV with a luxury-lined limousine. Germany's Mercedes-Benz
constructs this new vehicle at its American assembly
plant in Vance, Ala., as a 2006 model under the R
Consider it a new crossover vehicle - the platform
comes from the mid-size M Class of sport-utility vehicles
and the body resembles a low-slammed station wagon
or an elongated SUV but the function combines traits
of the wagon, sport-ute and limo-like sedan.
Mercedes even coined a new category for R Class cars
-- Sport Tourer. The sport end of the title stems
from performance characteristics and the driving manners
of a tautly-tuned sports sedan. The tourer title comes
from the European tradition of calling a wagon-type
vehicle the touring model.
End result becomes a vehicle with practical attributes
of a wagon but the fun-to-drive nature of a sports
sedan and the refined cabin of a Mercedes big-class
These two 2006 wagons -- R350 and R500 -- drive and
ride like plush luxury Mercedes sedans and they feel
as comfortable. Yet they also provide a surprising
amount of cargo space in the back bay and can carry
up to six people in first-class comfort in a vehicle
with the sticky tire traction of a pavement-hugging
all-wheel-drive (AWD) SUV.
Nomenclature for all Mercedes vehicles consists of
alphanumeric designations, with the class size defined
by alphabetical letters and the engine volume expressed
in liters and translated into three digits. Thus,
for these new wagons the R350 takes its name from
the R Class of six-seat stretched wagons and its 3.5-liter
V6 engine turns into the numbers 350. Likewise with
R500, which packs a 5.0-liter V8.
The V6 - a new-generation engine with twin cams on top
and variable valve timing - produces 268 hp at 6000
rpm plus 258 lb-ft of torque peaking between 2400 and
5000 rpm. The V8 runs up to 302 hp at 5600 rpm with
339 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission employed with either plant is the impressive
Mercedes 7G-tronic TouchShift automatic -- first seven-speed
automatic transmission for production cars that pops
up this year in many different Mercedes classes.
The 7G-tronic operates with a stubby stalk protruding
from the right side of the steering column. To select
a gear, you raise the stalk one notch for reverse,
lower it one click down for drive or depress a button
on the stalk's cap to park.
While driving, you may leave the stalk in full automatic
mode or play the TouchShift buttons -- positioned
on the back side of the steering wheel's cross bar
-- to switch gears. To-and-fro movements of the TouchShift
buttons step up or down the gear ladder one notch
at a time with the control of a manual stick.
The full-time AWD device for both R Class cars uses
three open differentials -- front, rear and center.
The center differential controls wheel speed up front
and enables the forward rollers to turn at a faster
rate than the rear ones during turning maneuvers.
Likewise, the fore and aft differentials allow outboard
wheels to spin faster than inboard wheels in a curve.
Then Mercedes adds a four-wheel adaptation of the
electronic traction control system dubbed 4ETS. Wheel
sensors determine when a single wheel may slip on
a slick surface and the device then brakes the slipping
wheel and transfers engine torque to the other wheels
to maintain forward progress.
Also aboard is the alphabet soup of computerized vehicle
controls -- anti-lock brake system (ABS) with brake
assist (BA), and electronic stability control (ESP).
And Mercedes provides roll-over sensors, curtain-style
air bags for all tiers of seats, and a tire pressure
monitoring system (TPMS).
A height-adjustable Airmatic air suspension system
with active damping system (ADS) is on the list of
optional equipment, which also shows a rear seat video
entertainment system, Harman/Kardon Logic 7 audio
system with six-disc CD changer, triple-zone interior
climate controls, the panorama glass sunroof with
pop-out rear-quarter windows, a power liftgate, Keyless
Go entry device, Parktronic distance sensors, bi-xenon
curve-illuminating headlamps, and a DVD-based navigation
system plus satellite radio service via the Sirius
And the bottom line: It begins at $48,775 for the
R350 and $56,275 for R500.
|For more information visit the Mercedes-benz website here.
Mercedes-Benz R Class
|Large-size sport tourer wagon
DOHC 3.5-L V6
SOHC 5.0-L V8
|Power rack and pinion
(front) 2 (side)
V6: 17/23 mpg
V8: 15/20 mpg
R350: $ 48,775
R500: $ 56,275