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Mercedes R-Class 2006 Review

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After a week spent in the company of the 320 CDi (diesel) there has been no major shift in opinion. There is nothing inherently bad about the R-Class. There is plenty that is annoying and enough that falls short of the expectations of a $100,000 car ... but nothing really bad.

Mercedes claims the car, which it refers to as a Grand Sport Tourer, is a revolutionary breakthrough in automotive packaging. It's not.

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. Unusual, but certainly not unique.

At over 5m long, the R-Class has the space to comfortably package its six occupants, a task it achieves with some distinction in a 2-2-2 configuration. The R-Class has a sedan's four doors rather than the more usual people mover's sliding doors, a sleek sloping roofline similar to Honda's Odyssey and sedan-like drive qualities in common with many of the modern MPV-style cars.

The test car, which in base form is a recommended $85,900, had been tweaked up with metallic paint ($2500), electric sunroof ($3500), third row electric vent windows ($625) and the $8500 sports package.

This adds an impressive list of bling, including 19-inch alloys, blue tint glass, special interior lighting pack, full electric seats, sports seats and a sports instrument cluster.

Interior space for the front two rows is impressive — not so much for the third row which is for short-term and short-statured travellers only.

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. With the seats deployed, luggage carrying for six is just a pipe dream.

Six airbags — front, side and curtain — come standard, as do traction and stability programs, force-limited and pretensioned seatbelts and automatic climate control. The R-Class also comes standard with the Mercedes pre-safe system, which anticipates an accident through a bank of sensors and pretensions the seat-belts and prepares the airbag system.

There are plenty of the usual luxury suspects throughout the cabin, including one-touch windows, soft-touch indicators, heated seats and speedtronic cruise control.

Doesn't sound like a problem so far — as long as you don't consider the sticker price an issue.

So what is it that stops the R-Class going on the wish list?

Let's start with the stubby steering column-mounted gear shifter for the 7G-Tronic automatic. Sitting like a pretend indicator stalk, the thing spends its time in waiting for the unwary driver.

The perplexing thing is that nobody, during development, saw any need to have some form of lockout on a shifter that has been positioned to be knocked unintentionally. That aside, the ride on the optional 19-inch rims of the sports package is harsh, particularly over corrugations and lane markers.

Absolutely no complaints with the performance of the 3.0-litre diesel. Its 165kW of power and thumping 510Nm of torque launch the 2.2-tonne R-Class with unexpected verve, leaving plenty of more sporty models sucking blue smoke.

That brings us to refinement. The diesel is not actually coarse but it is more noticeable than should be the case in a car from a company with such a long history of diesel development. 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. Another minor, but annoying, trait was the tyre-pressure warning light activating randomly and regularly — an issue Mercedes is apparently aware of and relates to the ESP software.

At launch, Mercedes-Benz Australia was predicting annual sales of around 500, or 40-odd a month. It is not entirely surprising that sales are actually running at closer to 15 a month.

Mercedes-Benz make some exceptional and highly desirable cars. The R-Class is not one of them.

Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

R350 (AWD) 3.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $8,000 – 12,430 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class 2006 R350 (AWD) Pricing and Specs
R320 CDI (awd) 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $8,300 – 12,870 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class 2006 R320 CDI (awd) Pricing and Specs
R320 CDI L (awd) 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $8,800 – 13,310 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class 2006 R320 CDI L (awd) Pricing and Specs
R350 L (awd) 3.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $8,300 – 12,870 2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class 2006 R350 L (awd) Pricing and Specs