Time for the last auto show of the season - New York!
It's more fun to drive than fly to New York, given the sorry state of its crappy airports. Also, you can pack everything you own when you drive. So, it was a no-brainer to commandeer the Mercedes-Benz R320 CDI in our test fleet, for the lengthy road trip.
Michigan-to-New York can be knocked off in a long 12-hour day, but we split the drive in two hops because we had a special reason to arrive early and fresh on Monday. It was Saint Patrick's Day, one of the most important holidays in the Big Apple, given that it spawns the largest and most famous parade in town. New York's Saint Patrick's day parade is so huge that it begins forming up - clan by clan, police units and bagpipe bands, beneficial and fraternal societies - at 44th and Fifth Avenue around 9:30 in the morning and can still be fond marching down Fifth Avenue as late as seven at night. Thanks to the somewhat Irish head of Mazda North America, Jim O'Sullivan (in town with his totally Irish wife Annie Dooley for the New York Auto Show), we were invited by O'Sullivan's retired NYPD driver, George Carrig, to march with the esteemed New York Emerald Society (a social society of Irish-American members of the NYPD formed in 1953) in the 247th consecutive Saint Patrick's Day parade.
But...back to the M-B R320 CDI. We will cut through the marketing crap and tell you that the R-class is a minivan. A luxurious, unbelievably loaded Mercedes-Benz minivan, yes. But a minivan nonetheless. That's a good thing, you knuckleheads! They are easy to get into, easy to drive, and can accommodate adult-sized people in the back seats. This R-class has a 24-valve 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engine that produces 215 horsepower and a righteous thwack of torque (398 pounds-feet from 1600 to 2400 rpm!) that was astonishing to behold in the mountains of Pennsylvania. If you've driven a diesel-engined vehicle, you know that wonderful feeling of power you get the instant you step on the throttle.
Power and torque delivery is super smooth and immensely satisfying in the R-class CDI, especially apparent with the cruise control on, because IT NEVER KICKS DOWN! I would have noticed; I was riding in the back for hours watching Errol Morris's "First Person" DVDs on the headrest-mounted screen, eating bonbons (okay, baby carrots) while the old man drove. Pushing the front passenger seat forward all the way and reclining my second row chair back into the luggage gave me room to wallow. You should think of it as a serious second-row test by a professional automotive journalist, if you don't mind. The third row was folded down so we could bring the afore-mentioned "everything we owned" with us. Continuing on the subject of the modern M-B diesel engine, I'd add that it's whisper quiet and doesn't smell. We did have a couple of moments when it was hard to find a diesel pump without sharing with the big rigs, but that did nothing to dampen my ardor for diesels. Nor did the $4.19 per gallon we paid for the privilege of pumping diesel; our big, plush minivan returned 29 miles of Interstate driving pleasure per gallon, one more reason to love it. We know of a secret hideaway at exit 236 on the south side of Interstate 80 that makes it a pleasure to break the long drive into two nice chunks. The Inn at Turkey Hill not only has a couple dozen clean, cozy rooms for well under $200, but it has a restaurant that offers gourmet cuisine and a respectable wine list at night, and a superb breakfast spread in the morning. Take that, Motel 6.
We arrived ready to march at the appointed hour. Carrig, a friendly giant who seemed to know approximately every third policeman we encountered during our lovely stroll down 5th Avenue, had us right at the front of the parade and continued our honorary membership in the NYPD by ushering us into the big after-party at the Pier 92 where the cruise ships dock. NYPD helicopters buzzed the party, dropping low enough to churn the river below in a circle. We chatted with nattily dressed police men and women - the Garda - from Dublin, Ireland, some with shamrocks tucked in hatbands.
Six of us (four six-footers, and Carrig a cheeseburger under 300 pounds) crammed into a Mazda CX9 for the ride back to the hotel, with the perennially jovial O'Sullivan insisting on riding in the third row to prove there was plenty of room. Not wanting to seem churlish after a great day with New York's finest, I never mentioned the R-class. Just one more eventful day, or as O'Sullivan called it, "one for the book of life." Indeed. And Erin Go Bragh! While we're at it. Bring on the car show.