REVIEW DATE: 07 Nov 2007
Is Mercedes 'R' Rising? Andy Enright Checks Out The Clever New R320 CDI To Find Out..
Most of us love order. Being able to place things in neat, convenient taxonomies makes the world an easier place to understand. It's the same when it comes to cars. Mercedes-Benz seem intent on disrupting our cosy cocoon of organisation. Their R-Class 'Grand Sports Tourer' is one of those crossover vehicles that's neither saloon, estate, MPV nor 4x4 sports utility and as such, it's the sort of vehicle that gives motoring journalists apoplexies. Fortunately cars like this weren't built with motor noters in mind and establishing a new niche is exactly what Mercedes are aiming for.
It's a market that's already gaining a following in the US, with vehicles like the Cadillac SRX establishing a toehold. Audi's Q7, whilst featuring the smokescreen of all-wheel drive, is nevertheless a vehicle of this ilk, designed with on-road practicality squarely in mind. The Mercedes R-Class also opts for four-wheel drive running gear but rather than claim any off-road prowess, this is largely a legacy of using the same platform as the latest Mercedes M-class 4x4. Instead, think of it as having the practicality of a sports utility for people who can't stand the image combined with the styling of a supersized estate car and the driving manners of a luxury saloon.
They'll have some work to do, convincing the public to hand over serious money for a rather fuzzy concept, especially if comparisons start to be drawn to luxury 4x4s or top-line MPVs. The R-Class runs the very real risk as being viewed as an expensive oddity, a jack of all trades that crucially lacks the sort of cachet buyers in this bracket crave. Unless you're selling a 4x4 sports utility vehicle, buyers seem rather resistant to handing over big money for something with a tailgate. Mercedes seem quietly confident that the R-Class can fend for itself, predicting UK sales in the region of 1,800 units per year - small beer compared with M and S-Class figures but more than enough to make the imports worthwhile.
"The R-Class is imposing in a typically Mercedes manner.."
The R-Class is imposing in a typically Mercedes manner. The curving hips and voluptuously swaged flanks are redolent of the CLS model, topped with a gently tapered glasshouse. It's no shrinking violet, measuring fully 5,157mm from tip to tail although the wheel at each corner stance does much from preventing a bulky appearance.
As with the M-Class there's a wide array of engine choices available but here we're focusing on the most popular and perhaps the most impressive unit in the entire line - the 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel R320 CDI variant, priced at around the £39,000 mark or £1,500 more for a long-wheelbase model. This features third-generation common-rail direct-injection which results in better fuel economy, lower emissions and vastly superior refinement. This V6 engine is able to generate a huge 510Nm of torque from as little as 1600 rpm yet still manages a combined fuel consumption figure of 30.4 mpg and offers a range of some 535miles. Sixty is 8.8s away from rest on the way to a top speed of around 138mph.
All R-Class engines are mated as standard to the excellent 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission, equipped with DIRECT SELECT. A column mounted shifter is backed up wheel-mounted shift buttons that allow the driver to change gears 'manually.' Although not as sharp as a proper sequential manual box, it's a very good substitute and far superior to any SMG when left to its own devices in 'drive' mode. Permanent all-wheel drive, the electronically controlled 4ETS traction system and ESP stability control combine to ensure the R-Class stays on the straight and narrow, even under severe weather and road conditions. These systems all make up part of the vehicle's standard specification, as does air suspension for the rear wheels. AIRMATIC all-round air suspension is an option.
Both the front and rear suspension apes the M-Class, with a double wishbone front and a multi-link rear arrangement. For those that really want the ultimate in ride quality, Mercedes also offers an Airmatic air suspension system option that teams up with an Adaptive Damping System that adjusts the responses of the shock absorbers according to the situation in hand. Mercedes also offer PRE-SAFE, a safety function that won the Prince Michael International Road safety Technology Award. This system can detect critical driving situations that indicate an imminent or potential collision before it occurs, and goes into action to provide enhanced passenger protection. If a potential impact is imminent the seatbelts are tensioned, the sunroof and windows are closed to avoid intrusion and the seats are moved into an optimal position. In combination, injuries to the driver and passengers have been shown to be drastically reduced.
With three rows of two seats as standard and myriad combinations of luggage and passenger space priority, the R-Class is one of the most civilised ways of transporting a big family. Whether or not the well-heeled public will warm to it remains to be seen. Maybe the Late-Forming Affluent Families and Socialite Empty-Nesters that Mercedes has identified as R-Class target customers will welcome a product designed specifically for them. If so, then it's the R320 CDI variant that will have most appeal.
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|