The Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a vehicle that is difficult to pigeon-hole. On sale in Australia since April, Mercedes call the R-Class a 'Grand Sports Tourer'. I can assure them that it isn't. Notwithstanding that, the R Class is a prestige people mover - of sorts - with an interesting set of attributes that places it outside the square of conventional people mover thinking. Mercedes has actually hedged its bets three ways, suggesting the R-Class is part sporty estate, part MPV and part SUV. While it arguably falls short of those labels, the R-Class easily slots into the prestige category, a tag not normally associated with a people mover. Whilst its definition may be broad, its market is quite specific. According to Mercedes, the R-Class is attractive to well-heeled women buyers, whereas the other Mercedes-Benz people mover - the M-Class off road wagon - is more attractive to similarly well-to-do males. Labels and markets aside, the R-Class is in a class of its own and, as a sleek six seater, is an indulgent offering. Inside, the wagon is spacious - although not as roomy as the 300C - with a host of versatile features.
Seating is in three rows of two, with second row seats akin to business class seats in an airliner. Plush, roomy, with centre armrest and beverage holder, this has to be one of the most over-the-top luxury family wagons available. The R-Class offers a host of multiple seating/load options and a low loading flat floor. The third row seats - strictly for children - fold cleverly into the floor to provide an impressive load space. Curiously, the R-Class is equipped with permanent single range all-wheel drive, derived from the the M-Class that splits torque 50:50 front to rear. Furthermore it uses 4ETS traction control to direct drive to the wheels with most grip. Just the thing on the way to the ski fields or traipsing around your favourite winery. The R-Class cannot be everything to all drivers, as while delivering the on-road benefits of all-wheel drive, its low profile and moderate ground clearance exclude the vehicle from enjoying anything but the most modest off-road adventures. However, what it does gain is the dynamics of a sports sedan without the downsides of a four-wheel drive.
The R-Class is a large wagon stretching to over 5 metres in LWB form and weighing in at over 2 tonnes. It is bigger in all dimensions than the E-Class Estate wagon, yet lower, wider and heavier than an M-Class. The three model R-Class range is offered with a choice of V6 petrol (R350 at $82,900), V6 diesel (R320 CDI at $85,900) and V8 petrol (R500 at $119,900). Inside, the R-Class is pure luxury with electric leather seats, generously spread through the long body. It is equipped with automatic air conditioning, cruise control, CD player, full electric seats, automatic rain-sensing wipers, seven-speed automatic transmission, rear air suspension, alloy wheels and a host of extras. Optional additions include metallic paint, electric sunroof, third row electric vent windows and the $8,500 sports package. There are six airbags - front, side and curtain - traction and stability control programs and Mercedes-Benz Pre-safe system, which detects critical handling situations and provides remedial action. Our test vehicle was the R320 CDI, which delivers 165kW of power and a huge 510 Nm of torque. This is an excellent engine and the most economic of the trio on offer.
Linked to Mercedes' seven speed transmission, it was surprisingly lively, with effortless overtaking and acceleration. The gear selector is to the right of the steering column, and it can be mistaken for the indicator. Alternative gear selection is by rocker switches on the steering wheel. Front bucket seating is excellent and as already noted, second row seats are absolutely superb. The R-Class wagon offers exceptional comfort as a luxury people mover, while striving to be a crossover wagon. It belongs in a niche of its own, yet I cannot believe it isn't an exercise in pure indulgence! After four years, Mercedes-Benz has introduced a significantly revamped E-Class range that includes 2000 new or redeveloped parts. The new range runs to 11 models - six sedans, five wagons - and includes the introduction of a new E280 CDI wagon. Diesel models were once the poor relation of luxury car portfolios, but Mercedes-Benz has been quick to capitalise on the fuel's growing acceptance and, of course, dramatically improved fuel economy. Other significant changes to the E-Class family include a new V8 and a high performance 6.2-litre V8 AMG version.
All vehicles feature subtle new body styling and, according to Mercedes-Benz Australia managing director Horst von Sanden, "a number of quality flaws identified by customers have been addressed." Five wagons are included in the model mix, from the entry level E280 CDI, through to the impressive E63 AMG Estate. The E500 Estate is a particularly impressive vehicle, powered by a 285kW/530Nm V8 engine. It boasts a 0-100km/h time of just 5.4 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h. While these figures are academic to regular drivers, it is a measure of the performance and exhilaration available in the E500. This engine is adopted from the S-Class and makes the E500 the most powerful eight-cylinder model in its displacement class. Developing 285 kW from 5.5-litres, this represents an increase of more than 26 percent over the previous V8. The key to the brilliant performance can be attributed to the 530Nm of torque, which is up some 15 percent over the previous engine. Contributing to mid-range performance is the fact that maximum torque is available from 2800rpm through to 4800rpm. This can be illustrated by the E500's 60-120km/h sprint time of just 5.3 seconds.
The E500 shares improvements across the E-Class range , including subtle visual changes, accentuated by a pronounced V-shaped bumper and radiator grille. The twin headlight face remains the dominant feature of the front end. These are supplemented with smaller oval shaped parking lights. Mercedes designers have also restyled the lower cladding and the fog lights to enhance the eye-catching effect. There are modifications to tail lights and the wagon receives a high-mounted stop light. Mercedes have also delivered engineering changes to the braking and steering systems. The E-Class now uses the adaptive brake system from the S-Class, featuring electronic control of the hydraulic dual-circuit brakes. Steering has been improved and is more direct and the steering ratio is 10 percent quicker. Suspension has also been modified, with slightly firmer settings that deliver sharper ride and handling. Handling is a little more sporty, with Elegance and Avant-Garde versions having less body roll and understeer. The interior has also been upgraded, with a CLS-derived four spoke steering wheel, new automatic dimming rear view mirror and digital display for the climate control system, and new seat trim.
The E500 wagon delivers a luxury interior headlined with leather upholstery, command cockpit that incorporates DVD navigation and DVD player, AM/FM radio, telephone capacities and optional TV. Driver and front passenger seats are electrically adjustable with 3 memory settings. Exterior mirrors electronically fold and the Elegance version has a glass electric sunroof, Harmon Kardon Logic7 surround sound system and 4 zone thermatic climate control. The E-Class has enhanced safety credentials with the Pre-Safe system now standard in all models. This system can detect an imminent collision and then activates protection measures such as adjusting seats, safety belts and head rests and air bags. The E-Class also has Neck-Pro head restraints, which move forward in the event of a collision to protect the heads of the driver and front passenger. The E500 uses Mercedes' superb seven speed transmission and has 17-inch alloy wheels as standard. The E500 Estate is priced at $166,300 and for your money you receive an impeccable vehicle that remains in a class of its own. Of course there is always something better, and the top of the range E63 AMG Estate is the ultimate E-Class wagon!