Even more rare than cars worth hunting down are vehicles with styling that actually crosses generational boundaries -appealing to my children, me and even my mother who, in her mid-60s is still "too young to be a grandma" and insists on being called Mimi.
So imagine my surprise when I pick my mother up for Sunday brunch in the 2006 Mercedes R350 and she exclaims, "Wow, what a beauty!" referring to the car of course. I think this is one of the few things we've agreed upon in the past 29 years. However, my baby brother (barely 20 years old) said, "That's a Mercedes? It looks more like a Pontiac." Ouch! I won't tell Mercedes he said that.
The R350 is amazingly spacious and roomy inside, without making me feel like I'm driving around an apartment complex. Three rows of seats accommodate a total of six people. The second row has enough legroom for a rear-facing infant seat (even with the handle in the down position, as it's supposed to be), and doors that open wide enough to easily breeze the car seat through the opening. The third row is spacious enough for adults (or even gangly teenagers), and by folding one of the third-row seats there's plenty of room to tote my kids' wagon or bikes around.
Add to that the incredible panoramic roof that extends from the front seats all the way to the third row (don't worry -it's reinforced and shatterproof), and grownups forced to sit in the "way back" enjoy the scenic ride, watching the treetops and sky above. Unlike other vehicles with three rows of seats, the R-Class is smooth enough to keep third-row passengers from feeling like children in an inflatable bouncy castle.
Installing child safety seats is incredibly easy for those who know where to look. I'll let you in on it: The trick is that the Latch connectors are hidden in a slit in the bottom seat cushion, as opposed to the seat crevasse where they would normally be found. This feature proves to be hubby-proof. I enjoy watching my husband squirm as he's unable to figure it out before I swoop in and save the day.
Although the driver and front-passenger seats have eight-way power-adjustable bucket seats, my test vehicle does not have a memory feature. This is fine for families who have a car for every driver, but for families who share vehicles, the driver will have to readjust the settings every time (unless, of course, you make the upgrade).
Small drivers beware: My main gripe about the 2006 Mercedes R350 has to do with the sun visors. When the driver's seat is pulled forward, the sun visor won't swivel to block sun from the side window without first taking out my nose, then getting stuck on the head restraint. I remedy the problem by moving my seat further back than is comfortable for me.
With the exception of the sun visor, driving the 2006 Mercedes R350 for two weeks straight is fabulous. After months of trying to squeeze carpool into test vehicles that really aren't meant for it, it's plainly luxurious to have enough room for everybody. With seat belts that are useable even by children and a turning radius small enough to allow me to park easily at the grocery store -and for its ability to confirm the sometimes debatable fact that I am actually derived from my mother's gene pool -the R350 makes my daily life more pleasurable.
*For more information on the Mercedes E350 and its safety features, visit www.cars.com. For questions or comments regarding this review, write to MotherProof@msn.com.
LET'S TALK NUMBERS
LATCH Connectors: 2
Seating Capacity (includes driver): 6
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample -Galore
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On):Groove-On