News Column

Auto Review: Mercedes-Benz R350

April 12, 2007

Ralph Gray


What do you call a low-roofed minivan with all-wheel drive on a car chassis? Is it a sports utility? Or is it a sport sedan? Or is it an estate wagon?

If you're Mercedes-Benz, it's the R350. And it's $43,775 base and $52,275 as tested, so whatever it is, it's luxurious.

Putting vehicles in categories used to be easy. Vehicles like this were a station wagon -- but no fake wood-sided behemoth was ever like this sporty luxury model.

The R350 is based on the sterling M-B E Class sedan platform, which accounts for the stately ride (in some settings).

There's four-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, stability control and big 17- to 19-inch tires.

It's as lengthy as the M-B flagship S Class, 203 inches, and sits on a long 126-inch wheelbase that irons out the bumps. The R350 weighs in at a hefty 5,000 plus pounds. This translates into a soft straight-ahead ride and a lot of lean on curves -- the minivan influence. Overall, the technical term for the ride is "roly poly."

So, it's best to be sporty straight ahead. The 268 horsepower 3.5L V-6 kicks the R350 to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. The 302-horsepower 5L V-8 does it in less than five seconds. That model is the R500.

MB R350 interior MERCEDES-BENZ R350

•Engines: 3.5L V-6, 5L V-8, 6.3LV-8 and 3L V-6 turbo-charged diesel

•Dimensions: 126.6" wheelbase, 203" length

•Base price: $47,350

•Fuel economy: 16/21 mpg

If the handling isn't Mercedes sedan-like, the mechanical goodies are. Those engines run through a seven -- count 'em, seven -- speed automatic transmission. That tranny is a smooth shifter.

It looks like there's no gearshift lever at first glance. There's a short stalk on the right side of the steering column. Push down for "drive" and up for "reverse." For "park" just push the stalk in. Paddles on the steering wheel allow manual gear changes.

The speed control is in the usual Mercedes position -- just above the turn signal lever and easily confused with it. The speedometer reading (to 160 mph) is repeated in a digital readout in the instrument panel. The radio/navigation screen confuses both operations.

There is a minivan-like expanse of upper dashboard and a minivan-like power tailgate.

The four-spoke steering wheel combines wood, leather and aluminum trim. The eight-way power front seats are heated and there's birds-eye maple trim.

Each leather seat in comes with individual reading lights, armrest, air vents and cupholders and two audio plugs. Seats are arranged in three rows of two each, for a total of six.

Safety stuff includes the traditional Mercedes crumple zones front and rear. They absorb and disperse crash energy. Two state adaptive airbags serve the driver and front seat. There are window curtain side airbags for all three rows of seats.

Topping it all off is the optional panoramic sunroof making the R350 a scenery cruiser. Or a minivan. Or a SUV. Or a sports wagon. Or a ...

Source: (c) Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.

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