New Mercedes goes back to steering-column shifter

May 5, 2005
Don't bother looking for a shift lever on the console of Mercedes' new R-Class luxury vehicle: Thanks to the latest in technology, a small stalk on the side of the steering column does the job.

Mercedes' new R-Class combines the versatility of a SUV, the performance of a sports sedan, and the comfort of a luxury wagon.


Shifting the seven-speed automatic will be simpler than ever, the company says, just lift the stalk up for reverse, push down for drive, and push a button on the end for park. And pushing one of the shift buttons on either side of the steering wheel lets the driver change gears manually.

The new Mercedes-Benz RE class from DaimlerChrysler is touted as combining the surefootedness of a four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle, the performance and comfort of a fine sports sedan, and the versatility of a luxury wagon. When the R-Class goes on sale in the U.S. later this year, pricing will start at under $50,000. The R350 is powered by a 3.5-liter 268-hp V6, and the R500 comes with a 5.0-liter V8 producing 302 hp.

All models come with a seven-speed automatic transmission and full-time 4Matic fourwheel drive. Among the options is a panoramic sunroof with nearly 5 ft of glass. The R-Class has space for six adults — three pairs of single seats — and is about 5 in. longer than the Cadillac Escalade. The platform makes use of power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel independent suspension with double control arms in the front and four-link suspension in back. Braking is provided by large four-wheel disc brakes with vented discs and double-piston calipers up front. The R350 has 17-in. seven-spoke light-alloy wheels and the R500 comes with 18-in. wheels.

Standard features include: two-stage adaptive air bags for the driver and front passenger, window-curtain side air bags that span all three rows of seats, and belt tensioners and force limiters for all six seats. Other safety features are: ABS antilock brakes, ESP stability control, four-wheel traction control, and Brake Assist, which reduces stopping distances by sensing emergency braking and automatically applying full-power brake force.

In 2004, there were 221,610 new Mercedes-Benz sold, the highest sales volume in its history.

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