Originally introduced at the 2001 North American International Auto Show as the Vision Grand Sports Tourer, the Mercedes-Benz R-Class crossover will offer a spacious interior and three rows of seats. The R-Class will be available in the fall of 2005.
What it is
The 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a luxury crossover vehicle offered in two trims, the R350 and the R500. Originally debuted at the 2001 North American International Auto Show as the Vision GST (Grand Sports Tourer) concept vehicle, the R-Class will be built in Alabama on the same platform as the new M-Class, and will offer three rows of seats inside an interior designed to be spacious for six adults.
Why it matters
The 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is yet another luxury crossover option in a crowded field, one that will either go a long way toward improving Mercedes' fading reputation for quality (see: Consumer Reports) or fall by the wayside, just another forgettable crossover compromise. It matters because of its styling, Mercedes-Benz technology such as a seven-speed transmission, three rows of seats, and what officials tout as a spacious, well-designed interior.
When you can buy it
Dealerships should get delivery of the new 2006 Mercedes R-Class this fall. The United States will get the long-wheelbase version of the R-Class - hence the third-row - while European markets will get a shorter wheelbase. Mercedes-Benz officials expect US buyers to snap up around 60 percent of the R-Class volume, which unconfirmed reports set at around 60,000 units a year.
How much it costs
Though pricing was not available at press time, reports indicate that pricing will start in the $70,000 range and upward. The R350 will be the entry crossover, followed by the R500 and its more powerful, 5.0-liter V8 engine. Also expect AMG models to follow shortly, and a diesel model is also under consideration, equipped with a 224 horsepower engine.
How quick it is
Power for the 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class comes from two gasoline engines. The R350 offers a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 268 horsepower and 258 lb. ft. of torque at 2,400 rpm, thanks in part to variable valve timing. Mercedes officials claim that the R350 develops 87 percent of its maximum torque at 1,500 rpm for excellent off-the-line response. The R500 comes with a 5.0-liter V8 rated at approximately 302 horsepower. The AMG models that will follow, the R55 AMG and the R63 AMG, are likely to boost performance to 370hp and 500hp respectively. The 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class features a 7-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels through a standard 4Matic four-wheel-drive system. Another performance item on the R-Class is the four-wheel traction control system with three open differentials - front, rear and center. Mercedes achieves a smooth, cushy ride with an Airmatic four-wheel-independent air suspension that includes double wishbones up front and a four-link rear suspension setup. Variable ride height comes standard, and an available Adaptive Damping System can smooth the ride through two main settings - comfort and sport. Braking is handled by 13-inch disc brakes all around on the R350, and 13.8-inch discs on the front of the R500. As with most luxury crossover vehicles today, the R-Class offers ABS, stability control, and brake assist technology.
What it looks like
The 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class takes the GST concept and merges it with a traditional Mercedes-Benz style that prizes subtle cues and refinement over bold lines or striking stance. The R-Class follows along the design cues of the new CLS, with a sweeping hood line and dramatic front and rear curves. Of particular note is the front headlight and hood treatment, which has a certain CLS-modern-yet-retro look.
What we think
If you're going to build another luxury suv, you may as well build one like the R-Class - an intriguing vehicle that has a free flowing and spacious interior design. Combined with two very capable engines - the 268-horsepower V6 for the R350 and a 302-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 for the R500, Mercedes should have no trouble selling their allotment in the United States. Ultimately, the 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class will do what every luxury crossover is intended to do: make rich people feel comfortable AND powerful, on their way to the store, work, or the country club.
The following are among the standard and optional features offered in the R350 and R500.
Standard equipment, R350:
-- Full-time four-wheel-drive
-- 17-inch alloy wheels
-- Leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel
-- Bird's eye maple trim
-- Two 32-ounce front cupholders in the center console
-- Four-speaker, 80-watt audio system with AM/FM/Weatherband/CD and MP3 capability
Standard equipment, R500:
-- 18-inch alloy wheels
-- Silver and chrome grille
-- Burl walnut interior trim
-- Speed-sensitive power steering
-- Appearance packages
-- AMG sport package
-- Height-adjustable Airmatic suspension
-- Curve illuminating headlights
-- Power panoramic sunroof
-- Parktronic parking assist
-- Heated front and second-row seating
-- Wood/leather steering wheel
Photos by Erik Hanson