So what is it that stops the R-Class going on the wish list? On the skidpad, the R500 carved around at 0. In fact, nifty as it sounds, the third-row seating is hardly suitable for adults and requires a nimble preteen to even land a butt back there. It boasts honest-to-six-foot-goodness seating for six adults that's as accessible as it is spacious. The seatbelt warning clanged with my purse on the passenger seat. Unusual, but certainly not unique.
Let's start with the stubby steering column-mounted gear shifter for the 7G-Tronic automatic. The third row of seats do fold neatly and without fuss into the floor to provide impressive luggage space if you are only transporting four people. Oh, it's not a minivan? Uh, I don't think my kids are in that big a hurry to get to the soccer game, Juerg. It astutely reads the tempo of your foot motions on the gas and acts accordingly, quickly hustling up a go gear when you give a punch or hanging onto the gear it's got when you lift abruptly as you approach a corner. Further, headrests always remain attached and flip up or down as needed. The Smiths can afford to drive past the minivan lot and into a premium-marque showroom. But the R-class is about first-class transit for six.
This Benz, on the other hand, is a charmer. Sure, big Econoline vans will pack more commuters off to the airport or more kids to the scout camp. The R-Class, leaving aside for the moment the choice of engine, is a cleverly packaged, six-seat, luxury people mover sitting on an all-wheel-drive platform derived from Mercedes' own M-Class off-roader. Parktronic's warnings are going off even in the carwash. The windshield gives a big view over the rather low cowl. The R-Class is not one of them.
A powerful loaf with a leather lining is a most agreeable mobile. Our staff is split on the efficacy of the R500's optional Airmatic suspension. That brings us to refinement. This is a case of the Smiths versus the Joneses. Inside, the seats fold flat, station-wagon style. The crunch always comes in trying to provide legroom and chair-like cushion height for passengers sitting over the rear suspension.
This particular all-wheel-drive system also allows plenty of tire slip over grades and loose surfaces. The rear passenger doors stretch way back, giving the R500 a long-in-the-loins look; they also open wide for easy boarding or loading. Sitting like a pretend indicator stalk, the thing spends its time in waiting for the unwary driver. The test car was noisy on idle and, when sitting in gear at the lights, there was an intrusive vibration resonating from the back of the dash panel. Narrow parking slots are a disaster for loading kids and child seats, report the parents among us. That aside, the ride on the optional 19-inch rims of the sports package is harsh, particularly over corrugations and lane markers.
There are plenty of the usual luxury suspects throughout the cabin, including one-touch windows, soft-touch indicators, heated seats and speedtronic cruise control. Such an interesting loaf to the eye, with a rakish hoodline sweeping up into the windshield that swoops over the top and trails off toward the tail, all in one continuous flourish. Make sure the second-row buckets are positioned just right on their tracks so the third-row backrests lock into the second-row cushions. Which just goes to prove once again that silhouette isn't everything when it comes to cars. We have driven examples with and without it, but it's still ideal to have the option.
If we skipped that topic here, we'd miss the essence of the R-class. The power tilting-and-telescoping column and seat adjuster let you tailor the driving position exactly to your liking. The weather seals on the leading edges of the middle-row fixed quarter-windows start chirping at about 30 mph same thing happens in the R350. In fact, maybe silhouette matters hardly at all to vehicular status when the package includes a sensuous shape, muscular handling, Ritz-class interior appointments, and room enough for triple dating on Saturday night, not to mention a half-acre of glass in the roof and all-wheel drive. It's a gem of a motor. You wanna sell me a minivan that'll go 135 miles an hour? It is not entirely surprising that sales are actually running at closer to 15 a month.
In fact, for the price of just one of the following V-8 crossovers, the Smiths could afford two minivans. The R500, in the usual German-car fashion, has lots of buttons, many of them flush or nearly so and hard to locate while keeping your eyes on the road. It's smooth enough in its gearchanges, and it skips directly to the ratio it wants at any given time, so there's never a sense of shuttling through a seven-pack of speeds. While climbing into the rearmost seats is nearly as difficult as in the , the reward is an adult-size perch replete with side-curtain airbags. No doubt aided by its multimode electronic seven-speed automatic, which seems to have the correct ratio for every occasion, it'll even skip over gears if conditions dictate an urgent downshift. Price--maybe even for a more affluent shopper. The turn-signal stalk on the wheel's other side works similarly.
That's a bunch of money to feel inconvenienced by the seating and shortchanged by the cargo and accelerative aspects. The five-liter V-8 outguns them, too, with 302 horsepower and 0-to-60 dashes of 6. The suspension has a deliberate, sure-footed feel, and the steering knows where straight-ahead is. Apparently, no one in Deutschland took a spin in a mule with all the windows down. Also based, if somewhat loosely, on a sedan, the gets stretched three ways, adds an all-wheel-drive system, a third row of seats, and hosts an engine not currently available in any other.