Full 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class Review
What's New for 2006
The all-new R-Class -- a premium wagon with more than a trace of minivan and SUV in its DNA -- joins the Mercedes-Benz lineup for 2006.
Mercedes-Benz labels its new R-Class a premium sports tourer. Though it bears elements of a car, minivan and SUV, the R has the kind of layout and looks -- three rows of two seats, an elongated profile -- that'll likely have you labeling it a very upscale, rather attractive wagon. The R-Class is based on the concept Vision GST, or "Grand Sports Tourer," that debuted at the North American International Auto Show in 2002, and the production vehicle has remained mostly true to the concept.
The Mercedes-Benz R-Class' styling -- accentuated by a thick horizontal crease that angles forward and down from the top of the taillight -- does little to make the very long vehicle seem, well, less long. Rear doors are enormous. Somehow it all kind of works, especially in lighter colors. The R's two trims share their powertrains with the M-Class; Mercedes' newish 3.5-liter, 263-horsepower V6 motivates the R350, while the R500 is powered by the manufacturer's veteran 5.0-liter, 302-horse V8. An AMG-tuned model is set to join the lineup in 2007. Both engines get the superb seven-speed automatic that is working its way across the Mercedes lineup. All-wheel drive is standard on both trims, but it's clearly intended to help on-road -- no R-Class will be spotted at the end of the Rubicon Trail. Coupled with electronic traction control, stability control, BrakeAssist and four-wheel discs with antilock, safety features are nicely integrated.
For a short while, the 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class will have the "premium sports tourer" category all to itself. On some level, the V6-powered R350 might compete with the still cheaper Pacifica, but the R500, which has a base price of over $56,000, is in a class by itself. That is until the Audi Q7 and other competitors from BMW, Lexus and Lincoln come to market over the next two years. Until then, the only premium sports tourer choice is an excellent one.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Mercedes-Benz R-Class six-passenger wagon comes in two trims: base R350 and high-end R500. Standard equipment on the R350 includes 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control full power accessories, bird's eye maple wood trim and CD player with an auxiliary MP3 jack. The R500 offers all this plus 18-inch wheels, driver seat memory, heated front seats, burl walnut wood trim, TeleAid and a glovebox-mounted six-CD changer. Options include HID headlights with corner-adaptive lighting, two different sunroof designs, heated rear seats, satellite radio, a rear-seat entertainment system, a power liftgate, a navigation system, Keyless Go and Airmatic air suspension.
Powertrains and Performance
The R350 gets its juice from a 3.5-liter V6 that boasts 263 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. Powering the R500 is a 5.0-liter V6 that commands 302 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to Mercedes' outstanding seven-speed automatic transmission. All Mercedes-Benz R-Class models are equipped with an all-wheel-drive system that in normal driving situations applies power in a 50-percent front/50-percent rear distribution.
Standard safety features include ABS, a tire-pressure monitoring system, stability and traction control, three-row side curtain airbags, front-passenger detection for airbag deployment and a rollover sensor that can activate the seatbelt tensioners and side curtain airbags. Rear side airbags are available as an option.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Mercedes-Benz R-Class offers an interior that's plush and nicely executed. Gauges are well placed and controls are mostly intuitive. The vehicle comfortably seats six; even the two rearmost seats are pretty comfortable for adults. Mercedes has made third-row access easy by expanding the length of the rear doors and putting both second-row seats on spring-loaded hinges. They jump out of the way with the flick of a lever, and snap back into place just as easily. With the second- and third-row seats lowered, the R-Class can hold 85 cubic feet of cargo.
With the standard suspension, body motion is well controlled. Optional on both R-Class models, Mercedes' Airmatic air suspension system ensures just the right damping for all situations. This is no sports car, but for what it is, Mercedes engineers did themselves proud. The seven-speed transmission has a lot to do with the vehicle's impressive performance; although we think it could downshift a little quicker, it's geared perfectly and clicks off swift upshifts when the driver has his foot down. Though the 3.5-liter V6 lacks a bit of the punch of the venerable V8, both engines offer pleasing amounts of power and torque. Steering is a little slow, but braking is pleasantly uneventful.
Read our Mercedes-Benz R500 Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test