Mercedes Once Offered a 500-HP Minivan
Mercedes is no stranger to oddball ideas. This is the automaker that grafted an extra axle and pickup bed onto a G-Class, after all. There’s also been E-Class pickups, G-Wagon pickups, and a luxury Unimog. But for although the German company can do luxury well, there’s one type of vehicle that doesn’t appear in its lineup: a minivan. At least, it doesn’t appear anymore. For a brief period of time, there was indeed a Mercedes minivan. And you could have one with more than 500 hp under the hood.
The R-Class: a Mercedes minivan
You can be forgiven for forgetting that a Mercedes minivan existed. As Autotrader explains, Mercedes itself didn’t want to call the R-Class a minivan. Instead, when it debuted for the 2006 model year, the Mercedes R-Class was called a ‘Grand Sports Tourer.’
True, the Mercedes R-Class didn’t have sliding doors. But, then again, the first Honda Odyssey didn’t, either, as Autotrader pointed out. And in overall design, both on the outside and inside, the R-Class did marry Mercedes luxury with minivan practicality.
The first-gen R-Class had leather seating for 6, and Car and Driver claimed the front seats wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary S-Class. Even the 3rd-row was big enough for 6-foot adults, something that some SUVs still don’t provide. The 2nd and 3rd-row seats could also fold flat, as in any other minivan. It came with all-wheel drive as standard, with 3 open differentials and four-wheel discs, according to Motor Trend. The R-Class also offered optional air suspension.
The refreshed 2011 R-Class brought more refinements. Motor Trend reported the Mercedes minivan could now store 7-foot surfboards, and the 2nd row was now available either as a 3-person bench or 2-person captain’s chairs. The R-Class also received some tech improvements, such as LED running lights and optional panoramic glass roof.
It was also a fairly safe vehicle, awarded an IIHS Top Safety Pick in 2009. The 2011 refresh brought in more standard safety features, on top of the standard traction and stability control.
However, before the 2011 refresh, Mercedes thought the R-Class needed something extra.
The Mercedes R63 AMG
Initially, the R-Class was only available with 268-hp 3.5-liter V6 or 302-hp 5.0-liter V8, according to MT. Top speed was only 130 mph, but considering it weighed roughly 4700 pounds, a 6.5-second 0-60 time for the V8 version was fairly respectable. It also handled very well, with little body roll, according to Car and Driver. But clearly, Mercedes wanted more.
Thus, for the 2007 model year, Mercedes created the R63 AMG, with a hand-built AMG 6.2-liter V8. Exact power output varied—MT quoted 503 hp, Road & Track, and Car and Driver claimed 507—but, as Doug Demuro explained, the power was only the beginning of the insanity.
MT reported that Mercedes upgraded the R-Class’ cooling system and 7-speed automatic. Air suspension was standard, albeit with stiffer springs and a larger front anti-roll bar. This was a minivan that came with vented and cross-drilled brake rotors and a shift indicator. Top speed was electronically limited to 155 mph, which could be increased to 171 mph with the AMG Driver’s Package. And with 500-plus hp coupled to AWD, the Mercedes R63 AMG minivan could go 0-60 in 4.6 seconds.
But even more ridiculous than all these features is just how limited-production the R63 AMG was. It lasted for a single model year, and Mercedes never really advertised it. By all accounts, less than 200 of these AMG minivans were ever sold, with only 100 or so coming to the US. Which means, the R63 AMG is a Mercedes minivan that’s rarer than the Ferrari F40, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 Spyder.
Mercedes minivan known issues
If you’re interested in tracking down an R-Class, there are some issues that can crop up.
According to CarComplaints, as with many new vehicle designs, the early R-Classes tend to be the most problematic. The 2006 and 2007 models have had issues with engine failure, especially the 3.5-liter V6 R350 models. According to CarComplaints and Mercedes Medic, this engine was known to have balance shaft issues, and the R-Class was just one of the vehicles affected by it.
This appears to be the biggest issue the non-AMG R-Class faces, though there are some other minor ones. Breakeryard reports that the R-Class’ front springs tend to break, which may explain one complaint of leaning reported on CarComplaints. The mass air-flow sensor can also fail, causing loss of power and a strange odor, something else also reported on CarComplaints. In both cases, it’s just a matter of replacing the part.
R63 AMG-specific issues
The R63 AMG model has its own specific issues, most of which center around its engine. Some, according to FCP Euro, are age- and wear-related problems, such as failing seals and gaskets, as well as worn-down camshafts and hydraulic lifters. These are problems many older cars face. The intake manifold can also be problematic. Not because it itself fails—it’s made of cast magnesium alloy—but because its mounting plate can deteriorate. FCP Euro does note there is a stronger aftermarket replacement available.
However, the most troubling problem, according to Autotrader and Renn Haus, has to do with the 6.2-liter V8’s head bolts. These bolts, Glaser explains, are what keep the cylinder heads, head gasket, and engine block together. If they break completely, and it’s not caught in time, you’re out an engine. R&T reports one R63 AMG owner received an estimated service bill of $57,000 for replacing the engine. The bill was so high, it was cheaper for the owner to install a car lift in their garage, buy a bunch of tools, and perform the repair at home.
To be fair, this is an issue that affected every AMG Mercedes with that engine. And the repair includes installing newer, stronger head bolts. There are also some clear symptoms of head bolt failure: misfires, loss of coolant, and a check engine light. However, even if you catch these symptoms immediately, it could be too late.
Pricing and availability
Although the Mercedes minivan isn’t particularly common, prices are relatively affordable. As of this writing, Autotrader lists the most expensive R-Class available at $22,300. And even though the R63 AMG is hyper-rare, prices also aren’t unreasonable. One 87,000-mile example sold in 2019 on Bring a Trailer for $35,750. And as of this writing, BaT has another one with 197,000 miles on the clock available.
As with any used car—especially one as rare as an R-Class—a pre-purchase inspection is highly recommended. But it might be worth the cost to be able to say, “I’ve got a Mercedes minivan that’s rarer than a Ferrari.”
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