'Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Mercedes Flight R 500. Please bring all seat backs to the upright and locked position and turn off all electronic devices. We’ll be airborne shortly.’
The R-class is all about flying first class. There’s seating for six in three rows of leather armchairs. There’s more space than in most private jets. And, as Mercedes likes to point out, everyone gets a window seat. The difficulty, however, is, categ-orising the ML-based R-class. It’s not an MPV; it’s too low and sleek. Even with four-wheel drive it’s not an off-roader because it’s not intended to venture off-road. It’s not an estate car because it’s too tall.
Mercedes calls it a ‘sports tourer’ – a people mover that creates a new niche. Like Mercedes’ other recent niche player, the CLS coupé, there’s nothing quite like it.
What also sets it apart is its size. At 5157mm nose to tail, it’s 25mm longer than Merc’s already XL-sized S-class. The wheelbase is so long – 3215mm – that the rear wheels could be in a different postcode to those up front, and it weighs 2227kg. Even the short-wheelbase version, which will be more suited to European parking spots, is 4922mm long. While the R-class will be sold in Europe, it has essentially been created for the space-friendly US market. All production will come from Mercedes’ plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with the first long-wheelbaseversions going on sale Stateside in October.
Left-hand-drive long- and short-wheelbase European models arrive in early spring next year, with right-hand-drive versions shortly afterwards. There’s no word on pricing yet, but expect the short-wheelbase R350 entry model to kick off at around £40k with a loaded long-wheelbase R500 costing upwards of £60k.
Initially, three engine options will be on offer. The R 350 comes with the latest 268bhp 3.5-litre V6, while the R 500 features the 302bhp 5.0-litre V8. There’ll also be a R 320 CDI with a 221bhp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel. All come with Mercedes’ terrific seven-speed automatic as standard. And there’s an AMG R63 version due in 2007, powered by Mercedes’ 502bhp 6.3-litre normally-aspirated V8.