The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder
Larger than life, and too large for most lives. Dated too.
Pros
Space and more space
A fine venue for sybarites
Not as thirsty as you'd think
Cons
Sociable inside, antisocial outside
It's just massive
And that makes it ugly

Mercedes-Benz R-class review (2006-2012)

It's big and it's ugly, but inside it you can live like a king

More Info

What is the Mercedes-Benz R-class?

It’s a supersize MPV. Or is it a vast 4×4? Or a luxury estate car on steroids? Mercedes-Benz describes the R-class as a “grand sports tourer”, and with the long-wheelbase one stretching almost to 17ft in old money it won’t take many to occupy a school’s entire frontage as each waits for its six potential passengers to join their driver for the run home. This is essentially a ridiculous car for European roads. It’s intended mainly for the US, where it’s made in Alabama alongside the M-class SUV, some of whose components it shares. With its enormous wheels that are in proportion with its gigantic body, it looks like a relatively normal estate car that has been inflated,  but this massive truth isn’t immediately apparent if you’re standing far enough from it.

Two versions are available, the slightly shorter (but no less broad) R300 CDI (£44,575) with 190bhp from its 3.0-litre turbodiesel, and the R350 CDI L (surprisingly little extra at £48,730) with 265bhp and extra torque to help haul its 2.3-tonne mass. The obvious rival is the Audi Q7, another behemoth, but a Land Rover Discovery does a similar job without annoying so many other road users.

The drive

R-class tracking

Did we say it’s big? You get used to the size quite quickly, as minibus drivers do, and being a big Benz the R-class rides very smoothly while feeling rather more agile than it looks. You just have to remember its bulk when trying to thread it through a width restrictor or squeezing it into a parking space. Country lanes are best avoided.

The engines have lots of pulling power so the R-class can move along quite briskly, the seven-speed automatic gearbox taking care of business and letting the engine give its best. This car’s natural habitat is motorways and other fast, open roads along which it wafts with easy authority. Slightly surprisingly, the bigger R touches 62mph in 7.7 seconds and will reach 146mph, while at 223g/km its CO2 score just scrapes under the gas-guzzler level. The smaller is slower but more people will buy it.

 

The interior

Here lies this car’s main point: the feeling of being moved in an executive jet rather than a mere car. The panoramic roof adds to the connection with the sky, especially for the rearmost passengers who sit higher than the others and have a terrific view of everything. Two six-footers can sit back there in comfort, with three more directly ahead of them. In the shorter R-class, the rearmost seats are more child-sized but still luxurious. There are cupholders and storage boxes all over.

Less impressive is the luggage space, so if all the seats are occupied on your transcontinental cruise you’d better have your man send the baggage on ahead.

What to look out for

On paper at least, the R-Class has been subjected to more than its fair share of vehicle recalls. But close inspection reveals that at least half of the six recalls relate to a mere handful of cars, and the other three appear to have been particularly well managed by the Mercedes. These have included misrouted starter wiring that can cause  electrical short-circuits, a problem with seatbelt buckle nuts, incorrect software calibration leading to faulty fuel and speedometer readings, and diesel engines stalling due to faulty crankshaft sensors.

A quick call to a dealer, quoting the car’s chassis number will allay any fears. Owner feedback seems to cite potential issues with air-conditioning, self-levelling suspension and electrical gremlins as the most common faults, and all of these seem to be quite easily resolved by dealers. Tyre wear can be high if wheels are misaligned by ‘kerbing’, which is something that is quite easily done when parking such a large vehicle. Ever more examples of the R-class are emerging from the protection afforded by the original manufacturer warranty, so good, additional aftermarket cover may be a wise investment.

The one to buy

Mercedes-Benz R 300 CDI BlueEfficiency

Specifications

Engine:
2987cc V6 diesel
Power:
190bhp @ 3800rpm
Torque:
324 lb ft@1400rpm
Transmission:
7-speed automatic
Acceleration:
0-62mph in 9.5sec
Top Speed:
134mph
Fuel
37.2mpg combined
CO2:
201g/km
Road Tax Band:
K
Dimensions:
L 4922mm, W 1922mm, H 1674mm

Mercedes-Benz R-class rivals