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June 20, 2006 > 2007 Mercedes-Benz R350

2007 Mercedes-Benz R350

by Dick Ryan

What is this vehicle? Mercedes says, "The R-Class exhibits the grace of a fine sports sedan, the proportions of a luxury wagon, and the go-anywhere presence and seating position of a four-wheel-drive SUV." It sure looks like a minivan to me. The R-Class is definitely very nice luxury transportation for six people and their luggage.

Each person gets his or her own individual "captain's chair" seat that is very comfortable. (The four rear seats can be folded down to increase the cargo carrying capacity.) In fact, the R-Class has two different heating and air conditioning systems to keep all rows of people comfortable.

The R-Class continues the Mercedes-Benz tradition of being a driver's car. Our test car, an R350 and the 268 HP, 3.5 liter V-6, had plenty of power. (I hear the R500 with a 302 HP V-8 is a real barnburner with a 155 mph speed potential.)

The R-Class gets the world's first production seven-speed automatic transmission. It is a jewel with very smooth shifts. At first it's a little confusing to use. It is controlled by a small stalk on the right side of the steering column. You lift it up for reverse, and push it down for drive. It also has buttons on the back of the steering wheel to allow manual selection of the gears.

Like the M-Class, the R-Class features a very sophisticated all wheel drive system. In slippery conditions, the traction control system automatically flows power from a wheel that is slipping to one that has traction to keep the car going.

Mercedes uses an independent front and rear wheel suspension design to make the R-Class handle more like a sports car. Also, like many sports cars, it utilizes rack and pinion steering.

It also has a four-wheel electronic air suspension that can be "tuned" for a sports car like ride, for a luxury wagon ride, or anywhere in between. It "reads" how the vehicle's body is moving and makes adjustments every 0.05 seconds. Over 77 mph, this system automatically lowers the ride height one-half inch to reduce the aerodynamic drag by 3 percent to save fuel. When the speed falls below 25 mph, the suspension raises to the normal ride height. When going off road, the driver can flip a switch and raise the R-Class by three inches to clear obstacles while moving at slow speeds. When moving over 25 mph, the suspension lowers to the normal ride height.

The R-Class also has many other electronic safety systems like ABS, vehicle stability control, and multiple airbags for each passenger.

The R-Class vehicles are built in the Mercedes factory in Alabama. There is a diesel version that will be sold in Europe but not in the USA. Also, European buyers can get a shorter wheel base version.

The Dodge Caravan and the Ford Freestar do not have to worry about competing with the R350. For the R350's MSRP of $48,000 you could just about buy two of these American minivans. The R500 starts at $55,500.

Is the R-Class a minivan? Maybe yes, maybe no. But if it is, it is by far the best minivan ever produced. It is a great vehicle to move a crowd around.

 
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