The Mercedes for Size Queens
by Donny Nordlicht
The R320 is wearing a mask. Beneath its gold-sized wrapper, lies one of the most proficient and versatile vehicles on the market today. Unlike other hard-to-define luxury crossovers out there today which look like Chelsea gym boys puffing out their chests – I’m looking at you BMW X6 – the R is less flash and more brain than it would seem at first glance.
I mean, how sexy can a car that, when dressed in black, closely resembles a funeral hearse? Although, maybe that’s OK, since no gay man under thirty besides myself would be caught dead driving the longest Mercedes sold in America. But for the crowd running upstate to Rhinebeck to go antiquing, the car is perfect. Its plush and hushed accommodations have room for five, seven in a pinch, and turn two-hour jaunts up the Taconic State Parkway into something akin to being shuttled up there in an S-Class by your personal driver. However, I don’t recommend giving your husband a chauffeur’s cap, unless you expect to ride home in the way back with a chest of drawers.
Speaking of the rear quarters, the third row is great for the few times you need it, but don’t expect to shuttle six of your closest pals cross-country. Not only is there about zero cargo space when those two extra chairs are up, leg-room becomes severely limited if those in the second row slide their seats back. A nice touch, though, is that Mercedes trimmed the way-back in the same material as the front five places; too bad the only seat surface available on the BlueTEC is MB-Tex, Mercedes’ code-name for leatherette. Another plus/minus with the R was the “Ash” (light grey) interior palette in the tester I spent time with. Paired with the panorama roof option, which turns almost the entire roof into a window (over a grand extra, but well worth it), it made the already large cabin seem especially roomy and airy. Downside to the grey? It got dirty, and fast. Every footprint, every dust mite, every thought of a stain showed up. Got kids or a messy boyfriend? Get the black interior; looks just as posh, and doesn’t show any questionable stains.
But as big as the car is on the inside, it’s what’s under the hood that counts. What the little BlueTEC badge on the flanks tells you, is that this car is equipped with Mercedes’ 3.2-liter turbocharged V6 clean diesel. Yea, it’s a diesel. And I’m almost sorry I didn’t have anything to tow, as my tester came with the towing package, because I so wanted to take advantage of the prodigious amount of torque: almost 400 pound-foot. Keep in mind, the V10-powered BMW M5 sedan only makes 383 pounds-feet. However, as is the case with diesels, with all that twisting power comes a low horsepower rating: the R is rated at 210 horsepower, peaking a little more than half-way through the rev range at 3400 rpm. It’s too bad it weighs over 5,000 pounds keeping it from feeling a little more sprightly. But then again, most of the time you feel like you’re driving a very smooth – thanks to Merc’s 7-speed 7G-Tronic automatic – and athletic tank. And I can deal with driving a trendy tank for 25 miles per gallon. Yes, you heard me correctly; with my lead foot, I got equal to or better mileage than I get in my Mazdaspeed3 compact hatch. It’s just too bad that you know the R320 is a diesel…when you hear it coming. There may not be black smoke pouring out the back, but boy is there diesel clatter. I find this strange, since I tested a GL320 with the exact same engine a year ago, and there was no audible difference between it and the gas version.
Maybe I’m just a nut, but I like the look of the R. Well, except from behind; the best way to explain it is to say that it has plump rump. The almond-shaped headlights allude to the new L-shaped lights on the CLS and SL, and is distinctly Mercedes-Benz. Seen in your rear-view, you know it’s a Merc, giant star on the grille or not. But for that three-pointed star you pay the price. My tester had a suggested retail price of just under $64,000. That’s real money we’re talking about, and fake leather we’re sitting on. Ouch. But then again, that 64 grand checks off pretty much every option box: seating for seven, dual DVD screens for the second row, adaptive air suspension, leave-the-key-in-your-man-purse Keyless-Go system, backup camera, and that wonderful roof. The only problem is that for around the same price, and two less seats, you can get the ML320 BlueTEC, which does everything the R does, but better, and with real leather too. But then again, the ML won’t give you bragging rights to having the biggest on the block.
Photos Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA
Mercedes-Benz is a gay-friendly company.