REVIEW DATE: 09 Nov 2007
The First Question That Will Cross Many Minds Regarding The Mercedes R500 Is 'Who Is This Car Aimed At?' Andy Enright Casts Some Light On The Matter
Here's a serious question you may want to ponder. Who in their right minds is going to buy a Mercedes R Class? Market research has proved that hatchback cars run out of legs at a certain price point, yet here is a hatch costing in excess of £50,000 and which doesn't sit comfortably in any given niche. The R500 we take a look at here needs to be very impressive straight off the bat if it's going to persuade customers to put pen to paper.
But then this is no ordinary hatchback. Mercedes dubs the R500 a 'Grand Sports Tourer' and it's easy to see where they're coming from. With four-wheel drive, a 302bhp V8 engine and space for six occupants, this could be one car that does what some customers currently use two for. Why buy a luxury saloon and a big SUV when the R500 does the job of both? In theory at least, it's a valid question but in reality the sort of customer who can afford to splash out on a car like this can likely afford both cars and would rather have two specialist vehicles than one jack of all trades. So where does that leave the R Class? Who is going to buy it?
This range-topping R-Class comes only in long wheelbase guise. This is a vehicle that can genuinely seat six adults in comfort instead of relegating the final row of seats for children only. Yes, you'll need to pay the £53,370 that Mercedes demand for the R500 SE or Sport but it's well worth it.
The engine that powers this variant will be familiar to many Mercedes customers, having seen service in the E, the S, the CLK, the CLS, the SL, the CL and M Class models. It's got a huge slug of torque - some 530Nm - and will jet the R500 to 60mph in 6.3 seconds on the way to a top speed of 155mph. Thanks to that all-wheel-drive system, the acceleration will feel even more impressive in the wet and it's hard to think of a car that would be better suited to taking a family off on a winter sports holiday. Courchevel, Ischgl, St Moritz and Zurs may well be heaving with these things before too long.
"The Mercedes R500 is a curiosity but it's no less endearing for that fact"
One of the most encouraging things about riding in an R-Class is that the interior is now up to the standards of quality that Mercedes-Benz built its reputation on. There are no cheap hinges, exposed screw heads, iffy plastics or unfinished edges. The dashboard architecture is nothing radical to existing Mercedes customers but it feels a cut above even what Audi and BMW are producing. In short, there's a genuine feel-good factor about this car that even the rather frightening 21mpg combined fuel economy figure can do little to dispel.
The target market probably won't be so frightened. After all, it's estimated that at least 60 per cent of all R-Class sales will come from the US, a motoring culture that has traditionally seen anything without a boot as being only good for shopping, picking up kids or rock hopping. This culture is slowly changing with the advent of high end SUV sports utility vehicles but the R-Class boldly teases this development in a new direction. Wealthy private customers with growing families have found their needs unmet by saloon cars or rather frumpy MPVs.
A number of enticing options are offered, such as the remote control open and close function for the tailgate, the Luxury Climate Control with over a dozen sensors and a separate air-conditioning unit for the third row of seats. A separate DVD/CD player for the rear and a panoramic sunroof will also make you very popular with the offspring. The R-Class isn't all about the expensive options, however, and all models feature a very extensive standard equipment list.
All engine models are partnered as standard by the 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission, which itself comes with an interesting feature in the form of Direct Select. This electronic transmission control system has allowed Mercedes engineers to dispense with the conventional automatic selector lever in the centre console and to replace it instead with a lever on the steering column. Additional gearshift buttons on the steering wheel enable drivers to manually pre-select the seven forward gears, just like in a Formula One racing car. This allows the power reserves of the eight-cylinder engine to be harnessed to optimum effect in any driving situation.
Permanent all-wheel drive, the electronically controlled 4ETS traction system and ESP team up to offer peerless driving safety and keep the new R-Class safely on course, even in very bad road conditions. These systems all make up part of the vehicle's standard specification, as does air suspension at the rear axle.
The R500 is a very unusual car and one that's not going to have the broadest appeal. Building a car that offers versatility to people who can afford to satisfy their vehicular requirements in a number of arguably more alluring ways would seem to be a dead-ender but the R-Class does have a charm all of its own that takes a little time to shine through. If having one car that can do virtually everything without fuss and with genuine elegance sounds appealing, then the R500 could be just the ticket. Yes it does have a hatchback, but for some, the best part of this car is that it offers much of the capability of a luxury 4x4 without carrying the same social stigma.
|For R-CLASS R500|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|