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The Mercedes R-Class is "a wholly new motoring experience" according to its maker. But is it?

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According to Mercedes, the R-Class is no less than “a wholly new motoring experience”.

In this business we are used to car manufacturers making lofty and usually unsustainable claims for their products, of which this must surely be one of the boldest yet. Question is, can the R-Class match the hype?

The R-Class sounds like a jack of all trades; it's certainly the master of none

The concept is simple enough. Based on the same platform as the Mercedes ML and GL 4x4s the R-Class aims to package the space of an MPV, the all-wheel-drive reassurance of a 4x4, the practicality of an estate and the class of a saloon all under the same extremely long roof.

If ever there was a jack-of-all-trades charter, this sounds like it, but in the event, this is not how it transpires.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Mercedes-Benz R-Class rear end

The car is currently available as either a 300 CDI or 350 CDI (long-wheelbase version) each with three rows of two seats. We can’t see much point in the standard-wheelbase car, however. The Mercedes R-Class is all about the provision of space and luxury, so the extra outlay is well placed.

Mercedes may have cleverly disguised the R-Class’s 4x4 underpinnings and is therefore likely to spare its town-bound owners the contempt of the growing anti-4x4 mob, but it’s still 4x4 heavy. Busting the scales at 2185kg and 2295kg respectively, it is heavier than the ML upon which it is based by over 100kg

We can’t see much point in the standard-wheelbase car

The R-Class works brilliantly as an estate; fold the middle and rear rows of seats flat and remove the central storage unit and it can hold 2385 litres, making the E-Class’s 1910 litres seem slightly pathetic by comparison

INTERIOR

Mercedes-Benz R-Class interior

The cabin of the R-Class is a masterpiece. It’s a full six-seater: even in the third row there’s room for six-footers, with only elbow space being rather limited. Even access to the Mercedes – the traditional bugbear of all three-row designs – could scarcely be easier. 

Up front, the main benefit of the 4x4 platform can be found in the imperious driving position, while visibility is great in all directions apart from right at the rear quarter of the car, where the thick D-pillars block your view. There is stowage space everywhere, including five central cubbyholes between the seats. As an MPV – and unless you need a seventh or eighth seat (in which case you’d likely be looking at the grim Viano) – the R-Class works fantastically.

The cabin is a masterpiece; it’s a full six-seater

The dashboard looks impressive and, by using a column shifter for the seven-speed automatic gearbox, innovative. But some of it works less well than you’d hope from such a ground-breaking car. The Comand combined navigation/information/entertainment system is the same that we’ve seen in many Mercs for years, and not the all-new system that has debuted in the new S-Class. It’s too fiddly and complicated and requires too much effort to learn.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Mercedes-Benz R-Class front quarter

Both diesel engines (300 CDI and 350 CDI) in the R-Class are as silent as in the Mercedes S-Class

Many prospective buyers will be choosing between an R-Class and a Land Rover Discovery diesel; the Merc’s performance is missile-like by comparison. It’s a very refined cruiser, keeping road and wind noise to a minimum, even at very high speeds.

Both diesel engines (300 CDI and 350 CDI) are as silent as in the Mercedes S-Class

Where the 300 CDI lumbers to 60mph in 9.5sec, the more powerful 350 CDI takes a hot hatch-rivalling 7.7sec. Top speed for both is 134 and 146mph respectively. 

RIDE & HANDLING

Mercedes-Benz R-Class side profile

The weight of the Mercedes R-Class certainly helps ride quality. Double wishbones at the front and a multi-link rear combine with that super-long wheelbase to give limo-like levels of ride comfort.

Despite a slightly vague feel to the steering, it heads fairly faithfully in your chosen direction. It’s not within a country mile of what you’d call fun, but compared with its off-roader competitors it’s more than good enough. 

It’s not within a country mile of what you’d call fun

The brakes feel pretty good and resist fade very well. With superb fit and finish and excellent interior materials (save a few hard plastics in the lower dash), the R-Class seems to be built to the standards you’d expect.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Mercedes-Benz R-Class 2006-2012

Even when driven sedately, the Mercedes R-Class won’t stretch a gallon of diesel to more than 35 miles and, if used at all enthusiastically or around town, it’ll knock 10mpg off that with ease. An 80-litre fuel tank does at least mean a range of over 400 miles.

Prices for the two-car range start from £43,755 for the entry-level, 187bhp R 300 CDI and rise to £47,910 for the stretched 350 CDI, which boasts an extra 74bhp at 261bhp.

The entry-level car will retain just 35 percent of its original value after three years and 36,000 miles

Depreciation is concerning. According to the WhatCar? depreciation calculator, the entry-level car will retain just 35 percent of its original value after three years and 36,000 miles, with three-year servicing costs coming in at £1777. The 350 CDI’s three-year retained value is slightly stronger at 38 percent.

Standard equipment across the board is extensive and includes climate and cruise control, full electrics, leather and parking sensors. Mercedes’ rear seat entertainment will set you back an eye-watering £1725, and if you want an electric sunroof, that’ll be another £915. 

VERDICT

4 star Mercedes-Benz R-Class

The Mercedes R-Class isn’t going to change the shape of luxury family motoring, but it is excellent both in concept and execution. It’s excellent not because it looks different on a show stand but because, out there in the real world, it really works. It isn’t great to drive but, so long as you have the space to park it, it will be fabulous to own.

Granted, it is not a car that appears to make great sense, but it grows on you the more you drive it, especially over longer distances. As always, though, it continues to have its limitations around town.

It doesn't appear to make great sense, but it grows on you the more you drive it

Mercedes-Benz R-Class 2006-2012 First drives