Mercedes-Benz unveiled the R-Class from the 251 series at the New York International Auto Show in March 2005. The innovative vehicle concept combined the advantages of familiar vehicle categories such as sport saloons, estates, MPVs and SUVs into a new, independent vehicle - the Grand Sports Tourer. Dimensions, design and dynamic flair were the prominent features of this class of vehicle. The R-Class was introduced first to the North American market in the autumn of 2005; Mercedes-Benz customers in Europe could order the vehicle from September 2005 and expect to receive it at the beginning of 2006. The R-Class was made at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa (Alabama/USA). The M-Class had been made there since 1997, the new M-Class (W 164) since 2005, and the GL-Class (X 164) since 2006.
This vehicle concept enabled Mercedes-Benz to further strengthen its role as pioneer and trendsetter among the automotive brands because the series-produced R-Class provided an entirely new car experience. The basis for the 251 series was the innovative concept car, the Vision GST, that Mercedes-Benz introduced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 2002. Two more prototypes followed: The Vision GST 2 was on show at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2004. The Vision R followed in September 2004 at the International Motor Show in Paris - a few months later, Mercedes-Benz introduced the series-produced R-Class. In just three years, the engineers and designers had turned a prototype into a series-produced car.
The new Sports Tourer concept met the demands of modern people for a versatile and agile car. The new R-Class was not only spacious, exceptionally safe and extremely comfortable for up to six passengers, its aesthetics, imposing character and dynamic driving pleasure impressed. The body had a length of 5157 mm, making it the same size as a luxury saloon. Mercedes-Benz developed a shorter version of the R-Class for the European market, which it introduced at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt in September 2005. The body of this vehicle was 235 mm shorter (4922 mm instead of 5157 mm) than that of the longer Grand Sports Tourer, which meant that the car had a shorter wheelbase: 2980 mm instead of 3215 mm.
The passenger compartment was even more spacious than that of comparable luxury saloons. Around 64% of the body's length was available to passengers - a spaciousness that was not even available in conventional saloons. Spaciousness and comfort were unmatched. The distance between the first and second row of seats was 920 mm, and between the second and third rows 840 mm. In addition, the length of the second-row seats could be individually adjusted, creating a distance of up to 990 mm. The maximum distance between the second and third row of seats was 920 mm (based on the position of the seats).
In terms of headroom (back: up to 1027 mm) and shoulder room (front: 1530 mm; back: up to 1,514 mm), the R-Class set new standards in comfort dimensions. The six passengers each had their own seat and armrests in the second row. An optional centre console between the individual back seats provided additional storage space and included cup holders.
A separate optional DVD/CD player enabled passengers in the back to choose their own entertainment programme. Colour screens and headphone connections were integrated in the back of the front head restraints. The efficient air conditioning system made long journeys even more comfortable. In addition to the standard THERMATIC with dual-zone climate control and separate control panel for the rear, Mercedes-Benz offered the new multi-zone THERMOTRONIC system as an option. Over a dozen sensors and an auxiliary booster blower guaranteed that the temperature set by the driver, the front passenger and the back seat passengers remained constant. The new R-Class could be optionally equipped with a separate rear air-conditioning unit for the third row of seats. A new, optional panorama sunroof with glass panels that virtually extended over the entire roof provided additional fresh air and light.
The 251 series met the wishes of families keen on sport and recreational activities for a versatile car that was easy to adapt to the items that needed transporting: The four seats in the back folded individually, increasing the load capacity to a maximum of 2057 litres (based on the measurement method used by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)), which was a lot more than an estate. The flat 2.20 m load surface and the big EASY-PACK tailgate that could be opened and closed with the optional remote control, made it easy to load and unload the car.
The design reflected the sophisticated and dynamic character of the R-Class. The front was dominated by an imposing radiator grille with horizontally elongated louvres that symbolised its desire to move. The headlamps were also expressive: Turned outward, they made the body look much wider. The arched roof line provided a sweeping link between the A and D pillars, giving the car a sleek silhouette. The pronounced wedge shape and muscular shoulders of the body made the Grand Sports Tourer look even more dynamic.
The following engines with outputs ranging from 165 kW (224 hp) to 225 kW (306 hp) were available: The R 320 CDI diesel was powered by a 165 kW (224 hp) V6 engine; the R 350 was driven by a V6 petrol engine with an output of 200 kW (272 hp), and the top-of-range R 500 was equipped with a V8 petrol engine with 225 kW (306 hp) and a maximum torque of 460 Nm. The powerful V8 engine accelerated the R 500 from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.9 seconds and reached a top speed of 245 km/h. The R 350 accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.3 seconds and reached a top speed of 230 km/h.
The R 320 CDI was equipped with a brand new V6 diesel engine with third-generation common rail direct fuel injection, which reduced fuel consumption and exhaust emissions and audibly improved running smoothness. From 1600 rpm, the engine generated a maximum torque of 510 Nm, achieving the highest torque in its engine capacity class. The R 320 CDI consumed 8.9 litres of fuel per 100 km (combined consumption).
All of the engines were equipped with the 7-gear automatic transmission 7G-TRONIC with DIRECT SELECT. This electronic gear selector made it possible to do away with the standard automatic selector lever in the centre console and use a lever on the steering column instead. Additional shift paddles on the steering wheel enabled the seven gears to be selected manually just like in a modern race car. The driver could use the performance of the 6 or 8-cylinder engine optimally in every situation.
The full-time all-wheel drive, the electronically controlled traction system 4ETS and the Electronic Stability Program ESP® guaranteed outstanding safety and kept the new R-Class on track even on the worst roads. These systems were part of the standard equipment, as was the air suspension on the rear axle. Mercedes-Benz customers could optionally order the all-wheel air suspension AIRMATIC, which was combined with the adaptive damping system ADS and enabled the driver to raise the car on bad roads by 50 mm at the press of a button. Starting at 120 km/h, the AIRMATIC automatically lowered the body by 20 mm to reduce air resistance. The transfer case in the permanent all-wheel drive system was directly flanged to the 7G-TRONIC. Torque distribution was 50:50. Drive shafts transferred power to the front and rear axle transmission while a bevel-gear differential balanced the torque between the axles.
The latest Mercedes-Benz inventions contributed to safety: PRE-SAFE®, the multi-award winning, optional, preventative protection system, recognised critical situations and immediately prepared the passengers and the car for a potential collision. The driver and front passenger seat belts were pre-tensioned, the front passenger seat was brought into the best possible position and the sliding sunroof automatically closed. These preventative measures brought the passengers into the best possible position before a collision so that the seat belts and airbags could do their job as effectively as possible.
The R-Class was equipped with adaptive front airbags as well as front sidebags and windowbags. All seats were fitted with belt pre-tensioners and belt load limiters. Another of the Mercedes-Benz passenger safety innovations consisted of the optional NECK-PRO head restraints, which self-activated in the event of a collision.
Mercedes-Benz offered attractive accessories for the R-Class as equipment packages, which enabled customers to equip the Grand Sports Tourer in line with personal requirements. In addition to the AIRMATIC Package, customers could choose from a Chrome Package for the exterior, a Sport Package with special instrument cluster, sport pedals, 19 inch sport wheels and electrically adjustable sport seats with Alcantara/leather ARTICO upholstery, and an Interior Package with leather upholstery, electrically adjustable front seats and wood trim.
Readers of the German magazine "Auto Zeitung" nominated the R-Class shortly after its introduction as best German MPV and awarded it the "Auto Trophy 2005".
In September 2005, Mercedes-Benz introduced the "Vision R 63 AMG", a production-oriented outlook on a particularly dynamic interpretation of the R-Class, at the IAA together with the shorter version of the R-Class. Powered by a brand new, independently developed AMG 6.2 litre V8 engine with an output of 375 kW (510 hp) and a maximum torque of 630 Nm, the prototype promised unparalleled, unadulterated driving pleasure, spaciousness and premium comfort for up to six passengers in previously unknown combinations. On the outside, the muscular show car had many features that distinguished it from the series-produced R-Class, such as the dark titanium grey paint, matching trim in matt titanium grey, the redesigned front and rear aprons in typical AMG look, bi-xenon headlamps with titanium-plated reflectors, an AMG sport exhaust system with two chrome-finish twin tailpipes, and titanium-matt AMG 21 inch, 5-spoke alloy wheels with 265/40 R21 wide-base tyres. The generously dimensioned AMG high-performance brake system, which enabled very short braking distances, was behind the spokes of the AMG alloy wheels.
Mercedes-Benz introduced the series-produced R 63 AMG at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2006, and introduced it to the US market in the autumn of 2006. The engine and performance data were the same as those in the prototype that was on display in the spring. The R 63 AMG had also taken over some of the high-tech features, the avant-garde appearance and the extravagant interior of the show car. The R 63 AMG with short wheelbase accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 5 seconds (R 63 AMG with long wheelbase: 5.1 seconds). The maximum speed was 250 km/h (electronically limited). The transmission was handled by the AMG SPEEDSHIFT 7G-TRONIC with shift paddles on the steering wheel, DIRECT SELECT selector lever and three driving modes. The combination of all-wheel drive with a force distribution of 40:60 between the front and rear axles, AMG sport suspension with AIRMATIC air suspension with automatic levelling system and adaptive damping provided outstanding safety and a dynamic or comfortable driving style depending on the driver's requirements.
The redesign of the top-of-range model included the front and rear aprons in typical AMG look, AMG sport exhaust system with chromed exhaust tailpipes, and smoked sport tail lights. Ś.3 AMG" lettering on the front wings was a clear indication of the R 63 AMG's dynamic qualities. From the side, the 20 inch AMG 5-spoke alloy wheels with 265/45 R20 wide-base tyres added a striking note. The R 63 AMG was the first car by Mercedes-Benz to be optionally equipped with 21 inch AMG alloy wheels. Inside, the AMG was equipped in the front with sport seats, nappa leather upholstery with Alcantara inserts in all of the seats, trim in black aluminium, AMG ergonomic sport steering wheel with shift paddles, and AMG instrument cluster with AMG main menu and RACETIMER.
From February 2006, the other models in the R-Class were optionally available in the AMG look: From November, the R-Class was available in dynamic AMG styling with electrifying 19 inch AMG alloy wheels with 255/50 wide-base tyres. The AMG components were suitable for the Grand Sports Tourer's three engine and two body versions. AMG styling consisted of front and rear skirts in the same colour as the car and AMG-typical style elements: In the front, a redesigned bumper with larger air intakes enhanced the car's muscular look. The two slanted struts and two horizontal louvres in the front apron made the R-Class look even wider and lower. In conjunction with bi-xenon projection-beam headlamps, the AMG front apron had integrated round fog lamps set in chrome rings. The rear skirt continued the masculine line and emphasised the car's independent character with its black inlay and chrome-plated scratch protection made of brushed stainless steel, which not only protected the rear skirt during loading and unloading, but was also an attractive design element. The AMG styling was based on the Vision R 63 AMG show car.
The AMG 8.5 x 19 inch alloy wheels with embossed AMG lettering on one spoke per wheel were the perfect match for AMG styling. The AMG wheels had a classic 5-spoke design and sterling-silver finish and were all fitted with 255/50 R19 tyres. The wide base not only meant that they perfectly fit the wheel arches, giving the car a distinctly sporty tone when viewed from the side, they also enhanced the new R-Class handling.
In tandem with the R 63 AMG 4MATIC, which was available in Europe from 2006, Mercedes-Benz introduced the fifth R version, the R 280 CDI 4MATIC. This car reached a top speed of 210 km/h and accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.8 seconds thanks to the engine's 440 Nm of torque (from 1400 to 2800 rpm). The combined fuel consumption was 9.3 litres per 100 km. With its high-pressure pump (1600 bar), piezo injectors and VNT turbocharger, the new CDI diesel engine was characterised by low exhaust emissions and excellent running smoothness. Two oxidation catalysts and a maintenance-free particulate filter were part of the standard equipment.
The new versions were introduced with the prospect of further developing the series: Although all of the versions in the R-Class were equipped with all-wheel drive, 4MATIC was added to each of the model names because they had to be distinguished from the entry models, which would only be available in future with rear-wheel drive. The R-Class now boasted a total of five model versions. The output of the 6 and 8-cylinder engines ranged from 140 kW (190 hp) in the R 280 CDI 4MATIC to 375 kW (510 hp) in the R 63 AMG 4MATIC.
Mercedes-Benz enhanced ride comfort by equipping the R-Class with additional assistance systems, such as the innovative, radar-based adaptive cruise control DISTRONIC, comfort-ventilated front seats, the voice control system LINGUATRONIC and a rear-view camera for safe and easy parking. Scientific research conducted by the Mercedes-Benz research department documented the high comfort of the R-Class during long journeys. It contributed significantly to driver-fitness safety. Driver stress levels in the R-Class, which were determined by measuring the heart rate, was significantly lower than the values measured in comparable cars.
New features for the R-Class introduced in 2006 included brake lights that flashed rapidly when the brakes were pressed hard. Research had shown that the braking response of motorists was 0.2 seconds shorter on average when they saw a red flashing light ahead of them instead of conventional brake lights. To make the ride even more comfortable, Mercedes-Benz equipped the R-Class with assistance systems from the luxury range that effectively assisted the driver, such as the adaptive cruise control DISTRONIC. The voice control system LINGUATRONIC, which enabled the driver to control the car phone, stereo and navigation system with voice commands, was optionally available for the R-Class. A new rear-view camera made parking and reversing easier and safer. The camera was installed in the tailgate handle and activated automatically as soon as the driver shifted into reverse. The picture was displayed in the COMAND display. Also new in the Grand Sports Tourer were the comfort-ventilated seats for driver and front passenger (optional). A remote-controlled auxiliary heater and electrical steering wheel heating were new accessories for the R-Class.
The Sport Package was also available for the interior or exterior. The Sport Package for the interior included electrically adjustable sport seats in the front with Alcantara/ARTICO (imitation leather) upholstery, sport instrument cluster, sport pedals and aluminium trim. For the first time, anthracite-coloured poplar trim was optionally available in combination with this package. For the exterior, Mercedes-Benz put together a Sport Package that included chrome trim, a silver-chrome radiator grille, smoked sport tail lights, blue-tinted heat insulated glass in all windows and 19 inch sport wheels with 255/50 R19 tyres.
The ongoing commitment of designers and engineers paid off for the R-Class again in 2006: Readers of the German magazine "Auto Zeitung" chose the R-Class as best German MPV and awarded it the "Auto Trophy 2006". This was the Grand Sports Tourer's second trophy in a row.
The R-Class offered even more versatility from May 2007: In addition to the familiar configurations with up to six individual seats, a five and seven-seat version were welcomed into the family. The R-Class was equipped for the first time with a second row of seats for three people. The car had room for five passengers and had an unbelievably big and versatile boot: The models with a short wheelbase had a capacity of 939 litres when loaded to the roof, and the models with a long wheelbase had a load capacity of 1118 litres. The R-Class with a short wheelbase had a maximum load capacity of 2001 litres (longest load surface 1982 mm), the long wheelbase had a capacity of 2436 litres (longest load surface 2217 mm). Both versions also boasted practical storage compartments below the load surface, with capacities of 51 and 52 litres respectively. The R-Class was the most spacious vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz product range. When the centre back seat wasn't needed, it could be quickly converted into a comfortable centre armrest. The second row provided space for three child seats or child restraint systems. The outer back seats were equipped with ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, and optional side bags enhanced the passive safety system. All seats were equipped with three-point belts. Optionally, two individual seats in the back converted the R-Class into a 5+2 seater. A new, distinctive front and rear design gave the Grand Sports Tourer added appeal.
In 2007, Mercedes-Benz offered an R-Class entry model with rear-wheel drive instead of all-wheel drive. The R 280 CDI, R 280 and R 350 with V6 engines were optionally available with a long or short wheelbase. Because it weighed less and the drivetrain lost less friction by design, this engine consumed even less fuel than the 4MATIC models. The most fuel efficient of the R-Class models was the R 280 CDI, which was quite happy with an NEDC consumption of 8.9 litres per 100 km. New to the range of engines was the V6 petrol engine in the R 280. The engine had an output of 170 kW (231 hp), accelerated the R-Class from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.6 seconds and had an NEDC total consumption of 10.9 litres of premium unleaded petrol. The R 280 CDI 4MATIC with a 140 kW (190 hp) latest generation common-rail diesel engine was even more fuel efficient: The V6 engine consumed just 9.3 litres of diesel per 100 km. The R 500 4MATIC also had a new engine: Its 5.5 litre V8 powertrain with an output of 285 kW (388 hp) and a maximum torque of 530 Nm had an output of 60 kW (82 hp) more than its predecessor. At the same time, fuel consumption was lower by 7% (all data NEDC totals).
All five and 4+2 seaters were given a steel-spring suspension. The air suspension with automatic levelling system on the rear axle was optionally available. All 5+2 seaters and the R 500 4MATIC were fitted with air suspension with automatic levelling system on the rear axle. The air suspension AIRMATIC with adaptive damping system ADS was optional for all versions.
BlueTEC, Mercedes-Benz technology to reduce diesel emissions, was used in the R-Class for the first time in 2008: The R 320 BlueTEC for the US market was one of the first three diesel SUVs in the world to meet the strict requirements of the American Bin 5 standard and had the potential to meet the strict Euro 6 emissions standard and undercut all globally applicable emissions standards for diesel cars. Unlike the E 320 BlueTEC and E 300 BlueTEC saloons with oxidation catalyst and particulate filter with an especially durable NOx storage catalyst and additional SCR catalyst, the second BlueTEC version with AdBlue injection was used in the SUV. AdBlue injection consisted of injecting a harmless aqueous urea solution into the exhaust gas flow. This released ammonia, which converted up to 80% of the nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water in the "downstream" SCR catalyst. The powerful V6 diesel engine installed in the new BlueTEC models in the R-Class and the GL and M-Class demonstrated that even large SUVs could achieve lower fuel consumption and emissions. The engine had an output of 155 kW (211 hp) and a torque of 540 Nm. Specific aspects of the 6-cylinder diesel engine had to be modified for AdBlue injection. For example, the geometry of the piston bowl was changed to improve the fuel mixture and reduce the compression ratio from 1:17.7 to 1:16.5. The VNT turbocharger and powertrain control module were redesigned and enhanced. Whether an NOx storage catalyst or AdBlue injection was used to effectively reduce nitrogen oxides was determined by the individual vehicle concept and respective market conditions. Mercedes-Benz AdBlue technology had advantages for the luxury saloons, pickups and SUVs because the engine no longer had to be run from time to time with a rich air/fuel mixture to clean the NOx storage catalyst.
The R-Class with BlueTEC was available in Europe from the autumn of 2009. Together with the GL 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC and the ML 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC, the R 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC was among the world's cleanest high-end SUVs: The R 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC and its sister models already met the Euro 6 emissions standard scheduled for 2014. The engine had an output of 155 kW (211 hp) and a torque of 540 Nm. It accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.9 seconds, reached a top speed of 216 km/h, and consumed 8.7 litres of diesel per 100 km.
In 2009, the R-Class was available in all engine and wheelbase versions - including the BlueTEC version - as the spectacular "Grand Edition". This model was equipped with exclusive 20 inch AMG bi-colour alloy wheels and blue heat-insulating glass in all of the windows. Bi-xenon headlamps with dynamic cornering/light functions, the front bumper with integrated LED daytime driving lamps set in chrome, and smoked tail lights were part of the special outfit. The passenger compartment was furnished with anthracite poplar trim with chrome elements and a "Grand Edition" insignia, ergonomic sport steering wheel with shift paddles, and sport pedals in brushed stainless steel with rubber studs.
On 31 March 2010, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the facelifted R-Class from the 251 series at the New York International Auto Show with a new-design front section and new engines.