In January 2002 Mercedes-Benz presented their new concept car, the Vision Grand Sports Tourer (GST) to the public at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (NAIAS). The car was an interesting mix of a station wagon, SUV and a powerful luxury sedan also known as a "hybrid" in basic form. Although the German car maker did not give any certainty about a production version, speculation abound that the car would make its way into production considering Mercedes-Benz latest "brave" strategy in adding bold new models to their line-up. So it was no big surprise when Mercedes-Benz announced two years later at the NAIAS in January 2004 their plan to produce the car with the showing of a second smaller GST concept (GST II) which they dubbed the "New Interpretation". This GST II revealed a more humble design coupled with some technological possibilities such as a diesel/electric hybrid propulsion system.

The Grand Sports Tourer or R-Class as it will be known in its production form will debut at next years NAIAS. Project W251 will be available in 2 lengths: 4.8m and 5.0m. The shorter wheelbase model with 5 seats will be marketed towards the European market whereas the longer wheelbase model with 7 seats will be primarily focused on the SUV hungry American market.

The front design will not differ much from the GST II concept. The bumper fascia will be slightly modified for production purposes. The real mystery will be the front lighting design. The first GST concept had two air vents between the head lights and the grill while the GST II did not. The spy shots of the disguised test prototypes do not give a clear answer however there is a good chance that the car will actually have both types of headlight design. The additional headlight could be either offered as an optional extra (i.e. fog light) or it could be a styling cue to differentiate the standard models from the performance models.

The engine lineup is comprised of two gasoline engines, a diesel and two performance engines. The two gasoline engines will be the 3.5-litre V6 with 245hp and the 5.0-litre V8 with around 305hp. As the only diesel the 4.0-litre CDI will come with 255hp and 560Nm of torque. The two performance engines are the R 55 AMG with 370hp and the R 63 AMG with an estimated 500hp.

The R-Class is based off the W164 (the next ML-Class) and will feature a 7-speed automatic gearbox, AIRMATIC suspension system with air springs and variable ride height. The R-Class will come standard with 4MATIC four-wheel-drive, but instead of off road intentions, the R-Class will be geared more towards a comfortable and smooth ride.

While Lexus adds the RX400h (although currently delayed) to its lineup and boasts the amazing fuel economy and performance, Mercedes-Benz is possibly considering adding its own hybrid car. The GST II concept was displayed with a hybrid engine: 250hp bi-turbo 4.0-litre V8 common-rail diesel along with a 50kw electric motor. But, as of yet Mercedes-Benz has made no decision on a hybrid R-Class model. Mercedes-Benz may announce news of a hybrid option at Detroit. Some rumors say that the next S-class (W221) will be the first model to use this new engine.

The new R-Class will be built along side the new ML SUV in Alabama at the Tuscaloosa plant. The extra money invested in the plant should hike capacity to around 160,000 cars per year from the current 80,000. Prices are expected to start in the 70,000 Euro mark for the R350 and 85,000 Euros for the R500. In the US the R350 is expected to begin around the $72,000 US and around $80,000 US for the R500.

Mercedes-Benz R-Class Coming Soon