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Welcome arrow Articles arrow Car Reviews arrow Mercedes-Benz R-Class
Mercedes-Benz R-Class PDF Print E-mail
Mercedes-Benz established its new greenfield site at Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1995 after a lengthy search for the right location.  Situated just off Interstate 59/20 it is not far from Birmingham, which offered a considerable pool of labor, while Tuscaloosa itself is a university town which provided a number of graduate engineers.

Official announcement of the project came in April 1993 and the search began for a convenient and suitable location.  The fact that Mercedes-Benz AG – this was prior to the 1998 DaimlerChrysler merger – was prepared to commit around $300 million and provide employment for up to 1,500 people, caused a number of states to offer subsidies and tax breaks.    Altogether, 30 or the 48 contiguous states expressed interest in the new facility.  The list was quickly trimmed to 12 and then to six before finally the Mercedes’ team selected the site at Vance, close to Tuscaloosa.

Initially the factory was devoted to the luxury SUV, the M-Class, manufacturing everything but the engines and transmissions which still came from Germany.  The second-generation M-Class, launched in early 2005, is also built in Alabama but it has a companion now: the excellent R-Class minivan.
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Mercedes-Benz calls the vehicle a ‘Grand Sports Tourer’ but essentially the R-Class is a people-carrier. It does however have permanent all-wheel drive, a powerful 3.5 or five liter gasoline motor, or a 3.0 diesel, and a pretty sophisticated interior set-up.  All in all, it’s not a bad proposition, bearing in mind that it’s made in the States, home of this particular kind of vehicle.

Launched as a concept in 2002, it took less than three years to become a production reality.  Spacious – more than 60 percent of the vehicle’s overall length is devoted to the passenger compartment – and luxurious, the R-Class sets new standards for the run-of-the-mill MPV.  Seating up to six passengers, there is an optional DVD system for rear seat occupants with color screens and earphone connections in the back of the front seat headrests.

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The air conditioning system features separate rear controls, while there is an option of the advanced Thermotronic system which comes equipped with over a dozen sensors to optimize the pre-set temperature.

The four rear seats can be folded flat to create a cavernous cargo area, although if six passengers are carried the actual luggage space behind the seats is minimal.

In Thailand, unfortunately, only the 272 bhp (200 kW), 3.5 liter model is currently offered, which gives a 0-100 km/h time of around 8.4 seconds and a maximum of 230 km/h.  Elsewhere, the V6 diesel engine has proven to be the most popular (except in the US), with a huge torque output of 510 Newton meters, available from as low as 1,600 rpm, while there is also a 306 bhp five liter V8 on offer.

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Mated to an electronic 7-speed auto transmission, the shift lever is located on the steering column, freeing up the center of the cabin, while there are also shift buttons on the steering wheel itself.  Four-wheel drive is standard on all models, as is traction control and an electronic stability program (ESP) to ensure the vehicle remains under control in even the most treacherous conditions, such as freak storms and flash floods.

The R-Class has yet to be tested by the EuroNCAP authorities, but is expected to fare well in the stringent crash tests.  Adaptive front airbags, front sidebags and full-length air curtains are all standard on the R-Class, while belt pre-tensioners and belt force limiters are fitted to the front seat belts.

Launched earlier this year at the Bangkok auto show, the R-Class is a tad expensive, with prices starting at 7.69m baht, but it is superbly equipped and offers the unique Mercedes’ experience, but with the capability of transporting six in relaxed comfort.  For more information, go to www.mercedes-benz.com

 

 
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© 2018 Jeff Heselwood. All rights reserved.
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