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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - R-class - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Spacious interior, practicality, strong diesel engine, improved front end design, comfortable seats, smooth automatic transmission
Room for improvement
Ride and handling, noticeable bulk, dated interior, noisy engine at idle

29 Nov 2010

WHEN the R-Class luxury people-mover was launched in 2006, GoAuto asked, “Who will buy it?” The answer turned out to be very few people.

Mercedes has consequently chopped the R-Class range back to just one model and that is a good reflection of its niche status. The R-Class may suit some customers very well, but so few it hardly seems worth it.

Jacking up the vehicle to accommodate an all-wheel drive system means the R-Class has compromised handling and a floaty ride, but there is seemingly little upside to this high ride height other than the increased visibility that many female customers often tell market researchers they appreciate.

Despite being classified as an SUV by Mercedes, it just isn’t – it is a people-mover for people who don’t want to be seen dropping the kiddies off in a Honda Odyssey. The Japanese people movers (and even the Chrysler Voyager) handle better, but are far less luxurious and don’t wear a Mercedes badge.

Positives for the R-Class are high safety levels, good interior space, comfortable seats and improved exterior styling – especially the corrective surgery to the front end. That said, the new design is not perfect as the hard masculine lines of the front do not match the roundish rear end shape.

The untouched interior design looks a bit dated, especially the centre console and dashboard. While the instruments look classy, the chunky display in between clashes with the high-res sound system display and the plastic texture doesn’t look or feel high-end.

The optional (real) leather of the seats and doors feels nice and the seats are supportive, even those in the second row, but the third row is a kids-only affair.

There is limited luggage room when all seats are being used, but that’s to be expected and the R-Class uses its interior space quite well. As you can imagine from the design, there is more than enough headroom and a fair bit of legroom, too.

The standard power tailgate is a nice touch and is likely to make shopping or dropping off kids just a little bit easier as you can simply press the button to shut the tailgate rather than reaching up and dragging it down.

The diesel engine is well suited to the car it is not exciting, but neither is the vehicle. It benefits from a healthy supply of torque, which is required because the R300 weighs in at more than 2100kg. It has ample punch from low revs through to about 3800rpm and works well with the classy seven-speed automatic transmission.

However, the engine was far noisier at idle that you would expect from a vehicle that costs this much, with more diesel rattle than I recall from other Mercedes models with the same engine.

Our R-class on the launch test had the optional three-mode AMG damper system and was not great for ride or handling. The standard mode is quite soft and there is a fair amount of body roll, the comfort setting is ridiculously floaty and likely to induce car-sickness, and the sport setting passes through a lot of road imperfections without fixing the issues with body movement.

You really notice the weight and bulk of the R-Class, especially when you turn into a corner.

There is a reasonable amount of standard gear and the presence of eight airbags is reassuring, as are the various electronic aids and the Mercedes crumple zone and body structure technology you know will help in the event of a crash.

All-wheel drive may also help, if you ever travel on dirt roads or go to the snow.

The R-Class is not for everyone in fact, it will suit very few people. If you want a seven-seater with a luxury badge without going for a huge SUV and don’t mind a wallowy ride, you may be one of those few.

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