This is a ‘Grand Sports Tourer’ says Mercedes. We say it’s a very posh MPV with four-wheel drive… and it’s enormous. Simon Heptinstall reports
It’s much bigger than a Range Rover, positively dwarfs a Touareg, and even makes the enormous Audi Q7 look compact in comparison. Meet the mega-MPV from Mercedes: the R-Class multi-purpose vehicle. This is a beautifully-built technological wonder, a people-carrier of sumptuous luxury, and a refined four-wheel drive minibus… but the most important thing about it is its sheer size.
At 5,157mm (almost 17ft or 5.6 yards) long in its L guise (long wheelbase), the R-Class is probably too long for your drive, let alone your garage. This simple dimensional dilemma dominates every moment in the R’s company. It wouldn’t fit down my drive, and when I parked in the road outside, it was a bit of an obstruction. Turning it round requires some forward planning and a decent amount of room. Parking at the supermarket takes up two spaces. Apart from that though, the Alabama-built R320 I’ve just tested for What Diesel Car? is an interesting machine with a superb diesel engine, refined ride, stunning sound system, and hefty price tag. In some ways it’s the ultimate MPV; in others it’s a daft dinosaur that makes you think all those green anti-SUV protesters have got a point. The R-Class comes in two body-styles: standard; and long wheelbase, which adds 235mm to the length. In either style you get a six-seater people carrier with permanent four-wheel drive. The 320 badge is a bit confusing, as power actually comes from a 3-litre 24-valve V6.
This is a lovely unit producing 376 lb ft of torque from just 1,600rpm. Its third-generation commonrail injection features multiple 1,600 bar injections via eight-hole piezo-ceramic injectors. The result is power, smoothness, and efficiency.
The beast weighs 2,270kgs: that’s about two-anda- half Citroën C1s. But this engine glides it from 0-62 in just 8.8 seconds – roughly half the time the Citroën takes. The R320 does the mid-range 37-75mph surge in about eight seconds too. Official combined consumption is 30.4mpg. We didn’t get close to that, but the test figure of 24.5mpg isn’t disastrous for a vehicle like this. Your passengers’ serenity is helped by the world’s first seven-speed automatic transmission. The spread of ratios is so good, and the noise/vibration so low, that you rarely notice any shifts taking place. It’s an amazingly refined engine and transmission package.
Pity then, that there’s no conventional auto lever. A small stalk from the overloaded steering column handles basic P, N, D, and R, while buttons hidden on the back of the steering wheel spokes deal with more detailed shifting patterns. There’s also a footoperated parking brake with a hand release catch.
Amazingly, the R320 L drives wonderfully. With double wishbones at the front, and air suspension at the back plus active shock absorbers all round, it irons out any road imperfections without a bounce or a wobble. The speed-sensitive power-steering is light, and always well-weighted. It feels securely planted, and stops with composure. The suspension is good, but handling is helped by the arsenal of gizmos including permanent four-wheel drive, ABS, Electronic Traction Control, Brake Assist, Stability Program and Skid Control.
Unlike rivals from Audi, Volvo, and Land Rover, this Mercedes is primarily a people carrier. It’s not meant to climb mountains. The R is more designed for towing a horse-box across the show-jumping field or escaping from the muddy car-park after the shoot.
Its off-road performance isn’t bad, but it’s hampered by normal road tyres and low ground clearance. It may have the same basic platform as Merc’s M-Class off-roader, but rides much lower. I took it through a long stretch of fordable river, and the mammoth Merc coped perfectly. There’s a neat switch that raises the body an extra 50mm as you drive into something that requires a bit of extra clearance – and even that works so smoothly a passenger wouldn’t notice. It’s comfortable in other ways too. The seats are individual black leather ‘executive’ style. The driving position can be fine-tuned with motorised steering column and seat adjustments, and then remembered with the optional memory pack. The steering column rises when you turn off the ignition to allow portly folk an easy exit – it doesn’t make much different to me of course! The cab feels very well built: it’s the first completely squeak and wobble-free car we’ve tested for a while.
The seats get less exotic as you get demoted backwards through the vehicle. The middle rank have enough leg room for a basketball team, but adjust by hand. The rear doors are so big they make you feel like Royalty stepping in and out. Seats in this row fold quickly and easily, but it stills feel a bit of a hassle clambering into the final row of seats. This rear pair have good head, leg, and width room, but are too upright, short cushioned, and non-adjustable. Neither of my children’s car seats would fit in them, so they had to sit in the middle row, which is rather weird for a family-oriented people carrier.
And there’s not much boot space with all the seats in place. The rear two seats flop flat very easily to make a decent-sized boot, but suddenly it struck me that I’d just created the exact passenger configuration and luggage space available in any normal estate car – except the R-Class is antisocially enormous and walletemptyingly expensive.
Nevertheless, I’m going to give Big R high marks here. It does exactly what it set out to do. The mega-Merc is a magnificent thing, and it’s just right for someone, somewhere. Not me, admittedly, but probably an Arab prince, film star, or luxury hotel will drool for one of these. Ordinary families may dismiss it out-of-hand because of the price and size. And that’s a shame, because Mercedes has probably just built the world’s greatest MPV. No
On sale: Now // Price from: £43,067 //
Main rivals: Range Rover,VW Touareg,Audi Q7,Volvo XC90
- Price: £43,067 (£49,627 as tested)
- Engine: 2,987cc V6, 24v turbodiesel
- Max Power: 224bhp at 3,800rpm
- Max Torque: 376lb ft at 1,600-2,800rpm
- Combined Consumption:30.4mpg (24.5mpg on test)
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 246 (F)
- 0-62mph: 8.8secs
- Max speed: 138mph
Permanent four-wheel drive
Seven-speed automatic transmission
Traction control, stability program,skid control
First aid kit
Electrically-adjustable front executive seats
Heated washer nozzles
Radio/CD with eight speakers
Leather-trimmed steering wheel
Parking sensors all round
Steering column two-way adjust
17-inch alloy wheels (space-saver steel spare wheel)
Walnut and chrome trim
Tyre pressure warning
Two 12v sockets
Driver, passenger, front side, and window airbags
Remote central locking with alarm/immobiliser
Electricaly-adjusted/heated/folding wing mirrors with ground lighting
Four electric windows (and two electric rear vents)
Options fitted to test car:
Side window roller blinds £280
Middle row console £320
Phone pre-wiring £430
Active Xenon headlamps £1,100
12-speaker surround sound system £510
Six-disc CD changer in glovebox £360
Heated front seats £260
Memory pack (for driver’s seat, steering column and mirrors) £660
Mercedes status, luxurious interior, superb engine, smooth seven speed auto, great sound system
Expensive, embarrassingly huge in the extended L version, child seats won’t fit back row