All-new for 2006, the R-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s upscale people mover, with room for six adults and plenty of cargo. It’s available as the V6-powered R350 or the V8-powered R500, both with all-wheel-drive that splits the torque 50/50 front to rear and includes downhill speed regulation and hill-start assist. It’s styled like a crossover vehicle, but with the functionality of a minivan.
The R350 uses a 3.5-litre V6 with a seven-speed automatic transmission and includes power front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seating inserts, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, integrated garage door opener, anti-theft alarm system, privacy glass, CD/MP3 player with eight speakers, automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, cargo cover, birds-eye wood trim, six cupholders and four bottle holders. The transmission comes with Touch Shift manual mode that is controlled via buttons on the steering wheel.
The R500 uses a 5.0-litre V8 and adds 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, power-adjustable front seats with memory, Burl Walnut wood trim, and three-position front-seat memory.
Both models come standard with numerous safety features, including all-speed traction control, electronic stability program, adaptive dual-stage front airbags, side impact airbags, and a curtain airbag that stretches from the windshield to the very back pillar.
Available options include a cargo net, Parktronic parking assist, wood and leather steering wheel, integrated sunshades, tire pressure monitoring system, electrically-folding mirrors, navigation system, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, second-row centre console, three-zone automatic climate control, active bi-Xenon headlamps, premium stereo, power third-row pop-out windows, power liftgate and a panorama sunroof that reaches almost back to the third row, which does a great deal to alleviate any last-row claustrophobia.
The R-Class is a beautifully-styled vehicle; although it’s huge, its clever sloped styling makes it look smaller, and it doesn’t seem bulky. The rear doors open conventionally, rather than sliding like a minivan. Despite its low-slung appearance, there’s a great deal of room inside, and unusual for the crossover segment, the third row of seats is comfortable enough for adults, with plenty of legroom. The second and third rows of seats fold flat for extra cargo space.
Despite the R-Class’ size, even the V6 provides powerful acceleration, and while handling isn’t in the sportscar category, it’s still a class leader for this type of vehicle. It’s not going to unseat traditional minivans, but expect it to find a market with existing Mercedes-Benz owners who need something to take the children to soccer practice, but who want all their vehicles to wear the three-pointed star.