Mercedes-Benz R500

Mercedes-Benz R500 Mercedes-Benz R500
Road Test

Just because this loaf-shaped five-door defies easy pigeonholing in the car world circa 2006 -"Zat a minivan or an SUV overcrosser?"-doesn't mean it'll be a tweener forever. Could this be the passenger-car shape of 2016? "Loafing along" would be a new pleasure.

Yeah, we like the R500, and the womenfolk we hang out with don't mind wearing it, either, never mind the similarity of its loaf shape to that of a minivan. Which just goes to prove once again that silhouette isn't everything when it comes to cars. Having all the loaf's space available all the time for people, or stuff, or your combination du jour of people and stuff, beats the typical notchback's combination of two people rows and a separate trunk out back.

In fact, maybe silhouette matters hardly at all to vehicular status when the package includes a sensuous shape, muscular handling, Ritz-class interior appointments, and room enough for triple dating on Saturday night, not to mention a half-acre of glass in the roof and all-wheel drive. That adds up to an easy mobile to like, until you learn the as-tested price is $71,030.


If you have to ask the price, may we show you something in a Chrysler Pacifica, which is the same idea without the sensuous shape and the muscle and the Ritz and the standard-equipment all-wheel drive, at about half the dollars? The Pacifica sells well, 92,363 last year, but nobody raves.

This Benz, on the other hand, is a charmer. Such an interesting loaf to the eye, with a rakish hoodline sweeping up into the windshield that swoops over the top and trails off toward the tail, all in one continuous flourish. In profile, the beltline playfully rises toward the rear as the roofline falls and the rounded wheel openings romp below. Has there ever been a Mercedes this good-humored in its appearance?

As loaves go, this is a whopper, with length and width dimensions up there with the largest of the minivans, give or take a fraction. Weight outwhops them all at 5225 pounds for our loaded sample. The five-liter V-8 outguns them, too, with 302 horsepower and 0-to-60 dashes of 6.5 seconds (buyers on a low-thrills diet may find the 268-hp V-6 of the less-pricey-by-$7500 R350 more to their cadence). We held the pedal down and let the V-8 moan its lusty song to a top speed of 135 mph, at which point the governor said, "Enough!"

At low speeds, the Benz has a liquid response to the throttle, liquid more like pancake syrup than water, so that it gathers itself up and moves deliberately to the command of your foot. You needn't worry about unintended lurches from a hyped-up accelerator as you try to fit the considerable bulk into a parallel slot.

On the skidpad, the R500 carved around at 0.75 g with moderate understeer on its 255/55R-18 all-season tires. Braking from 70 mph required 181 feet, within the expected range for a car of this weight.

But what, specifically, can this loaf do for you that other vehicle shapes can't? Passengers get priority here. This is the people-mover concept taken to a luxo level, with serious seats for three rows of two. Sure, big Econoline vans will pack more commuters off to the airport or more kids to the scout camp. But the R-class is about first-class transit for six. The front and second rows are perfect enough, with fore-and-aft sliding tracks and deeply sculpted seating. It's the rear that always raises objections, and this one's third-row comfort can't match that of the front two. The crunch always comes in trying to provide legroom and chair-like cushion height for passengers sitting over the rear suspension. SUVs take the kick-up-the-roof approach, sometimes to grotesque heights. Have you seen a long-wheelbase TrailBlazer? Usually, the good-enough-for-kids standard applies. But this Benz tries for adult accommodations, and it'll get the coach and the starting five to the game with fewer complaints than any truck.

Although the Alabama-built R500's underpinnings are shared with M-B's new M-class SUV, the driving experience is not at all trucky. The seating is high, placing your eye about where it would be in a minivan. The windshield gives a big view over the rather low cowl. The power tilting-and-telescoping column and seat adjuster let you tailor the driving position exactly to your liking. The suspension has a deliberate, sure-footed feel, and the steering knows where straight-ahead is.