Driving ImpressionsDriving Impressions The new 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class drives like a vehicle much smaller than its lengthy wheelbase, and manages to maneuver even the tightest corners in a sprightly fashion, although it never feels light on its feet. The R350’s V6 is amply powered, negating the need for the R500’s V8.
We drove the 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class over a course of 250 miles, starting on the famed Highway 1 coastal route from Carmel to Cambria, California. Beyond simply majestic in its beauty, this route brings perils, as the tarmac dances a tango with sea cliffs that loom high above the Pacific. It was along this stretch that we began our dance with the R500, appreciating the low-slung swath it cuts through the air, making it a steady partner, even in the wind.
More than amply powered, the R500 brings state-of-the-art logic for motoring in automatic mode, upshifting and downshifting almost seamlessly, magically providing the appropriate torque to assist with engine braking when called for, as well as being at the ready for passing no matter the cruising speed when we put our foot deep into the throttle.
Our afternoon drive in the R350 found us heading inland and northward on California’s bustling Highway 101, and ending the drive on one of the finest tight-and-twisty roads in America – the G15 – sealing the deal on the R-Class for us. Navigating the G15 in the R350, we used the steering wheel buttons to access crisp manual shifting, pleased by the V6 engine’s responsive throttle and throaty exhaust sound, the latter normally quelled when motoring in automatic mode. One complaint for us, however, was the placement of the manual shift controls, which are located on the backside of the steering wheel at the 9 and 3 positions. They are not easy to reach for the short-fingered and when the steering wheel is turned at hard angles they can be difficult to find.
Overall, however, the new 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class drives like a vehicle much smaller than its lengthy wheelbase, and manages to maneuver even the tightest corners easily, although it never feels light on its feet. The R350’s V6 is amply powered for us, and both models show the highest level of engineering savvy, in part through standard antilock brakes with Brake Assist that are well modulated and responsive whether you ease onto them or stomp on them.
The optional Airmatic suspension strikes a perfect blend between compliance and stiffness, airing up or down when called to action to reduce ride height on the highway or increase height up to three inches for rutted roads or over deep snow. Our favorite of the available settings was Sport mode, the stiffest and best controlled mix of damper and spring rates.
Heavily-weighted and twirled using a thick steering wheel, the rack-and-pinion steering is a delight to use for carving turns, and our preference was the hydraulically assisted speed-sensitive setup. The available Parameter electronic drive-by-wire steering system that promises full power assist for low-speed parking and turning, and higher effort for high-speed driving, was a tad lighter than we prefer, although it tightens appreciably at faster speeds.