The Mercedes R-Class was never the best looking, best-built or best-engineered Mercedes. The market responded accordingly with sales that were far below expectations in America, so low in fact that Mercedes retired the R-Class in 2013 for the U.S market and later in other markets. Today the only market that gets the R-class is rear-legroom crazy China, where the elongated wheelbase model gets enough sales to justify its existence. That makes it rare for the wrong reasons. Our featured model may be the rarest and, curiously, the most desirable. Can you imagine finding one sitting curbside?
America may be the best at making blue-collar muscle cars, but the Germans have us beaten when it comes to making upmarket ones. They’ve simply taken the idea of taking their large engines and putting them in small cars that brought us cars like the Chevelle SS and the GTO and run with it. It’s no secret that the Autobahns have a lot to do with it. And while Audi’s S and RS model’s and BMW’s M-lineup are all well and good, it’s Mercedes and their AMG-insanity range that have been ruling the imaginations of many. And it’s mostly been thanks to a very special engine.
What you see above is the Mercedes M156 engine, up until a few months ago the crowning jewel in their engine roster. 503 horsepower and 464 pound-feet of torque from a naturally-aspirated 6.2-liter V8 (that, because of the wonderful world of marketing, where everything is made up and the facts matter about as much as the Zimbawean currency, is branded as a 6.3). The V12 was smoother and could be made more powerful, not to mention that old adage “A true gentleman never travels behind less than twelve cylinders”, but you couldn’t get it in anything else than the top-tier G, S, SL or CL. In stark contrast, the M156 was much more of an equal-opportunities engine because you could find it in pretty much any Mercedes worth mentioning.
This video should also expose one of the best characteristics of the engine and our featured vehicle, the magnificent sound it makes. Wouldn’t sound out of place in Woodward Avenue on a Friday night circa 1971 would it?
The C63 AMG coupe is hands-down the most hot-rod like of them all, as well as the cheapest way of experiencing the full-on AMG experience. But there were so many other variations; for instance, if you wanted to make sure that the kids made it on time to ballet and soccer practice you could have it on the 7-seater GL crossover or the smaller ML.
If you wanted to win in the mid-exec car wars you could have the E63 in either a sedan or a wagon. Or the most beautiful of all, the CLS63 wagon (Mercedes insists that it’s a shooting brake but…not even slightly. See my comment about marketing above)
And if you wanted the best possible experience with the engine you had to go to the SLS AMG, which was reworked to provide 563 horsepower, becoming the most powerful un-turbocharged V8 for a while. The record would later be re-claimed by Ferrari with their 597 horsepower 458 Italia Speciale.
With such a lineup it was only natural that it would eventually find its way into the R-class which in 2007, it did. And it was a brilliant idea. Think about it: for years minivans have been doomed to be the most uncool vehicle segment in the land. Practical, yes, but no image-conscious person would be seen dead in on one. And here we have a minivan (well, in the same way the first-gen Honda Odyssey was a minivan) that could carry the kids and the gear but also top out at 155 miles per hour and do a pretty good impression of a drift car in the corners. That is, of course if you didn’t get the 4-MATIC all-wheel drive system.
The R63 was never really intended to find many homes,but it seems even by their estimates they had overshoot the market for a 500-horsepower minivan so badly that the R63 became a one-year-only special. By the funny way that building cars works the only place R-Classes are built and assembled is in the United States, the first market it left. If you drive through the AM General plant in South Bend, Indiana you’ll be able to see rows upon rows of R-Classes ready to be sent overseas. Separated from the American streets by a little drive and a lot of bureaucracy. The M156 engine was killed by regulation and in its place now stands a smaller 4.0-liter engine reaping the benefits of advancing technologies in forced induction thanks to two turbochargers. It’s unlikely it’ll see duty in the R-Class.