Luxurious Carpooling

Most of the time I test-drive whatever vehicles are sent to me, like a good little automotive journalist. But occasionally, there's a car or two out there worth my time to actually hunt down and pursue. The Mercedes R Class is one of these: a luxury crossover with plenty of room for carpooling? Send me one now, please!

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!

Roomy Enough for Carpooling and Easy to Maneuver

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 is supposed to be), and doors that open wide enough to easily breeze the car seat through the door's opening. The third row is spacious enough for adults, 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 grown-ups 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 in the seat crevice where they would normally be found. This feature proves to be husband-proof. I enjoy watching my husband squirm as he tries to figure it out before I swoop in and save the day.

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 gets stuck on the head restraint. I remedy the problem by moving my seat farther back than is comfortable for me.

With the exception of the sun visor, driving the 2006 Mercedes R350 for two weeks was fabulous. After months of trying to squeeze the carpool into test vehicles that really aren't meant for it, it's plainly luxurious to have enough room for everybody. With seatbelts that even children can use, a turning radius small enough to allow me to park easily at the grocery store, and for confirming the sometimes debatable fact that I am actually derived from my mother's gene pool, the R350 makes my daily life more pleasurable.

* The full archive of "Car Mom" Kristin Varela's Mother-Proof reviews can be found at www.MotherProof.com.

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