Made in Alabama.
Short-wheelbase version for Europe.
"Big sister" of B-Class?
On the road
The new Mercedes R-Class: an automobile of the 3rd kind
This will be one of the big events of the next Frankfurt Motor Show. Big and
beautiful, you can't miss it: the R-Class. To prepare yourself for the
shock, here is a foretaste of Mercedes' new 6-seater concept.
Despite its imposing dimensions, the R-Class is sleek and elegant.
A new concept?
In a supply-saturated automobile market, it is difficult to find a place in
the sun. Mercedes knows this and is once again striking a decisive blow with
an innovative and unconventional concept: the Grand Sports Tourer... more
simply baptised the "R-Class". Following the CLS, the flamboyant
"coupé-saloon" [see our article], the R-Class also breaks with convention,
blithely combining different vehicle types. Growth now takes place on the
fringes by attracting a rather unconventional clientele which expresses new
needs and does not see itself in the social profile conveyed by certain
models: the family man who wants a "real car" and refuses to drive a people
carrier, the senior executive seeking a spacious vehicle to transport his
colleagues during the week and leisure equipment at weekends, or lastly all
those who like sporty cars but want more space.
Although other manufacturers have been able to scent the opportunity to
devise a different car, Mercedes has the merit of being the first to clearly
formalise the concept and make it a reality. BMW is working on a project for
a sporty 6-seater estate car/people carrier hybrid (nicknamed V5), but it is
not due to be marketed before 2008. Credit also goes to Renault, the other
innovative big car manufacturer, for having sensed this need and come up
with the Vel Satis: a powerful car with the comfort of a saloon and the
dimensions of a people carrier... However, it lacks the versatility of the
estate and, above all, a sixth seat, not to mention its somewhat
This is, of course, the important aspect of any would-be family car.
In addition to 6 airbags ESP comes as standard, with a tyre pressure loss
warning system and a system which deactivates the passenger airbag when a
rear-facing child seat is installed in the front. Options include the
Neck-Pro system which, in the event of a rear-end collision, brings the head
restraint forward by 40 mm (1.5 in), reducing the risk of whiplash, and the
Pre-Safe system which combines passive and active safety by detecting
critical situations and taking preventive protection measures: the seat
belts are pulled taut, the seat position adjusted, and the sunroof closed...
An athletic mutant
The swept-back windscreen and arched roofline make for a coupé-like
Of more universal appeal, the R-Class is surprising but not unsettling. We
tried it out in Switzerland, around Zurich, and the initial contact was
rather impressive. The big sister of the B-Class surprises first of all by
its size: 5.15 m (16.9 ft) long, 1.92 m (6.3 ft) wide and 1.65 m (5.4 ft)
high. It is also hard to determine whether it is a very large estate or a
sporty people carrier... you may be tempted to agree with those who speak of
a people-carrier-styled estate car. According to Mercedes, the Grand Sports
Tourer was designed to meet the following requirements: the dynamism and
comfort of a luxury saloon, the versatility of an estate, the spaciousness
of a people carrier and the performance of a SUV. A difficult undertaking,
but the aesthetics of this mutant, the result of improbable crossbreeding,
are quite convincing. So much so that you almost forget its imposing
As with the CLS, the Stuttgart designers have performed a real stylistic
feat. The sleek and dynamic lines give it a resolutely sporty look. The
striking radiator grille is imposing. Lastly, the pronounced bonnet makes it
a grand touring car in its own right, not just another people carrier.
Enter the new dimension
2,385 litres for bulky leisure equipment.
The first impression is of an incredible feeling of space, further enhanced
on the model we tested by a panoramic sunroof (optional), which covers the
entire surface of the roof. A volume that makes it possible to have 6 proper
seats. Judge for yourself: the distance between the front seats and second
row seats (individually adjustable) can be as much as 990 millimetres (3.2
ft), and the second and third rows are 840 millimetres (2.7 ft) apart. The
seats are all individual, the second row benefiting from a central armrest,
unlike the third row situated on the wheel arches which is nonetheless very
comfortable. It is therefore ideal for families with 4 children, but those
with 5 will have to stick with the good old people carrier, because the
addition of a 7th seat does not appear to be on Mercedes' agenda on account
of the small percentage that this target represents on the European market.
With six people, the boot is still a decent size (around 314 litres),
sufficient for luggage for a weekend away but certainly not for a lengthy
trip. With four people, the load volume is from 600 to 1,000 litres. Lastly,
the four seats in the rear fold flat individually increasing the load
capacity to 2,385 litres: ideal for bicycles or surfboards.
15,000 songs in your glove box
Since comfort guarantees serenity when travelling especially with
children the R-Class has a multitude of equipment: dual-zone air
conditioning as standard, including for 2nd row passengers (optional for the
3rd row), a DVD and CD player just for rear-seat passengers (parents and
children rarely like the same music), with earphones and colour screens
integrated in the seat backs (optional).
Mercedes also offers an integrated audio system for your iPod. You can
connect very easily to the iPod, concealed in the glove box, by a simple
button on the radio. You can then navigate through the menu using controls
on the steering wheel, which give you access to almost 15,000 music tracks
and 875 hours of listening time.
A German car made in America
The R-Class is made in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the factory where the M-Class
is assembled. An important detail, since the two models have an estimated 30
to 40% of parts in common, mainly with regard to the engine, gearbox and
control systems. A guarantee of reliability that is appreciable on a new
The American touch is noticeable in a few details such as the automatic
selector lever behind the steering wheel (already on the ML) or the cup
holders of a size uncommon in Europe, for a large Coke or a self-heating
soup (Americans are known to often have lunch in their cars). As for the
size of the vehicle itself, it seems better adapted to the wide-open spaces
of America than to a city centre on the old continent.
All-wheel drive and ESP® guarantee good road-holding in this large
vehicle, whose body is automatically lowered at speeds over 120 kph (75
The R-Class will be launched this autumn in the United States with a choice
of two engines: a 306 hp V8 on the R 500, which reaches 100 kph (62 mph) in
7 seconds, and a new 272 hp V6 petrol engine on the R 350, which accelerates
to 100 kph in 8.3 seconds. In Switzerland, where we took them for a test
run, it was hardly possible to assess the full potential of these two
engines, since speeds are limited to 120 kph (75 mph) on motorways and 80
kph (50 mph) on roads, but we were able to appreciate their speed on the
little mountain roads. Although, of course, the V8 (inherited from the ML)
offers incomparable driving comfort, carrying the 2.2 tonnes of the R-Class
like a wisp of straw, the V6 seemed to us to be more than enough and, above
all, more economical. Admittedly, the famous 7-speed 7G-Tronic gearbox
enables the engine to consume less fuel, but although the manufacturer gives
a combined fuel consumption of 13.3 litres / 100 km for the V8, we noticed
that the needle on the gauge went down at breakneck speed. Here again, this
engine seems better suited to the American market. The more sober V6 has a
fuel consumption of 11.5 litres /
100 km, while waiting for the new V6
diesel engine with common rail direct injection that Mercedes is promising
for the launch of the R-Class in Europe early 2006.
The 7G-Tronic gearbox, now fitted as standard on all of the marque's new
models, proved very impressive, particularly when operated manually using
steering-wheel-based controls, which are very handy for mountain driving. As
for road-holding, we did not notice the slight tendency to lurch in bends
encountered on the ML, no doubt on account of a lower centre of gravity, the
R-Class being nearly 15 cm (6 in) lower. That is all the more noteworthy
since the R-Class models distributed in Europe will be given a more rigid
chassis and sharper steering than on the model tested, intended for the
American market. Also of note: the Airmatic system (optional) automatically
lowers the vehicle's ground clearance at speeds above 120 kph (75 mph).
With a long or short wheelbase, the R-Class still offers 6 seats with
There remains the delicate question of price. The manufacturer has not been
very forthcoming on the subject, hinting that it would be close to that of
an ML. We are in a top-of-the-range market with a new car that is one of a
kind. So we should probably reckon on between 50 and 60,000 euros (approx.
£34,000-£41,000). We will find out more in Frankfurt.
Another surprise lies in store in Frankfurt: a short version of the R-Class
for the European market. It should be around 25 cm (10 in) shorter than the
long version but will still have 6 seats, without this impinging too much on
the level of comfort, since the reduction in space is to be spread between
all the rows of seats as well as the boot. It will be 60 kg lighter,
equipped with a V6 diesel engine, and already seems to have won the approval
of the European consumers sounded out by Mercedes, to the detriment of the
long version Watch this space!
a.. Engine: V6 petrol
b.. Capacity: 3,498 cc
c.. Output: 272 hp
d.. Torque: 350 Nm between 2,400 and 5,000 rpm
e.. Transmission: 7-speed automatic
f.. Combined fuel consumption: 11.5 litres / 100 km
a.. Engine: V8
b.. Capacity: 4,966 cc
c.. Output: 306 hp
d.. Torque: 460 Nm between 2,700 and 4,750 rpm
e.. Transmission: 7-speed automatic
f.. Combined fuel consumption: 13.3 litres / 100km
Mercedes web site: www.mercedes-benz.com
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