CARMEL VALLEY, Calif. – One hundred years ago, Mercedes-Benz made its first production automobile designed for America. Today, with a modern-day fleet totaling a dozen different model lines, this German automaker calls its all-new 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class “the next American Mercedes.” Based on the Grand Sports Tourer concept car that’s been making rounds on the auto show circuit for a couple of years, the R-Class is grafted from the Mercedes-Benz M-Class platform, which has been retooled and significantly upgraded for 2006. But, as with Christian Dior, another upscale brand that’s been around for a century, there’s fashion and there’s haute couture. And, while we might take issue with claims by Mercedes-Benz officials that call it a “brand new class of vehicle,” we would agree that the all-new R-Class provides affluent consumers with a “brand new way for six adults to travel.”
This latest shining star in the Mercedes-Benz stable is built at the same Alabama assembly plant that produces the five-passenger M-Class sport utility, and though the R-Class only accommodates one more rider, it stretches the M-Class’s frame by more than a foot to accomplish a very different mission. Mercedes engineers have attempted to sew the performance attributes of a sport sedan, the adaptability of a luxury wagon, and the all-weather security of a SUV into the R-Class. Indeed, this new luxury crossover vehicle has a voluminous, well-appointed cabin; a Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system; and, with its second- and third-row seats folded flat, the R-Class accommodates 85 cubic feet of cargo.
Although pricing ranges from $48,000 to $55,000, the attractive R is styled and sized similar to its less expensive six-passenger cousin, the Chrysler Pacifica, which retails at close to half the R-Class’s average price. Additionally, the R-Class overlaps with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon, which seats up to seven passengers and has also been upgraded for 2006 with some of the same impressive technology contained in the R-Class. But, the newest Mercedes model is designed for a different red carpet and its main competitor is the Cadillac SRX, along with others coming soon from Audi, BMW, Lexus, and Lincoln.