And they of the three-pointed star are not finished yet. Those wanting a slightly less-compact MPV will be ushered gently in the direction of the brand new R-class. Sorry, did I say MPV? I meant, of course, Grand Sports Tourer. The Tourer part seats six and boasts 2,366 litres of load space with the rear four seats folded down, while the Sports tag comes from the performance.
Take a look at the R-class and it certainly doesn’t look sporty. It looks big. Really big. This is mainly because the car is designed (and built) with America in mind, where huge cars mix well with long, wide open roads.
The family face and some flowing lines can’t disguise the fact that it’s nearly five metres long in short wheelbase mode, while the long wheelbase is 235mm longer. It’s large and it’s heavy – a glance down the spec sheet shows that even the lightest model hefts a kerb weight of nearly 2.2 tonnes.
Thankfully there’s a range of ways to shift that ample bulk.
There will be three engine choices when the R-class hits showrooms on April 6, all of which feature permanent four-wheel drive (4MATIC, in Mercedes-speak) and a seven-speed automatic gearbox, known as 7G-Tronic.
The first powerplant, and the expected best-seller, will be the R320 CDI, a 224bhp, 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel that promises 62mph in 8.8 seconds from standing and a top speed of 134mph as well as economy of just over the 30mpg mark.
Two petrol engines join the line-up. The first is a 3.5-litre V6 producing 272bhp and propelling the R350 to 62mph in 8.3 seconds. Keep the pedal pressed and it will carry on to 143mph.
The monster of the line-up is the R500, which sports a 5.0-litre V8 and 306bhp. It takes the 0-62mph time down to 6.9 seconds and will take the R-class on to 149mph. A 6.3-litre V8 with 503bhp will form the heart of an R63 AMG model due later this year, alongside a smaller diesel unit – the R280 CDI.
Equipment-wise, Mercedes-Benz has included cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, 17-inch alloys and part-electric seats as standard, while long wheelbase versions get parking sensors, too.
Upgrade to SE and you’ll also get metallic paint, uprated interior lights and full electric seats, as well as burr walnut trim and leather seats.
On the Sport, 19-inch alloys are bolted on and sports seats and aluminium pedals added.
The R320 CDI and the R350 are offered in standard, SE and Sport trims, while the R500 is only available in SE and Sport.
Mercedes-Benz expects 60% of R-classes sold to be the diesel version, with the R350 and R500 making up equal parts of the remainder.
Sales projections for the UK are modest, with Mercedes-Benz estimating full year sales of 1,800 units. Around a quarter of these are expected to go to corporate buyers, largely to user-choosers. The majority will be either management or self-employed business people looking to move from off-roaders and SUVs. The R-class could also appeal to those looking for an alternative to a limousine.
Behind the wheel
I DROVE the R320 CDI in Sport trim to start with. The upgraded front seats are excellent and very supportive, but head backwards and things aren’t so good.
The middle seats are far from embracing – you perch on them rather than sink into the leather. Legroom is also minimal, but better on the long wheelbase version, although the seats can slide backwards to create more room. As for the back seats, when I climbed in I struggled for headroom and found my head brushing the roof.
With all the seats up, you can forget about boot space. The aperture at the back is barely big enough for a putter, let alone a golf bag. Put the rear seats down and things are better, if not as good as some estates, but you can only fit three passengers.
Mercedes-Benz is making a big play that all the back seats can fold flat. Well, that’s kind of true, but it’s a hell of a mission. Even the technical staff on the launch had problems figuring out how to remove the centre armrest, flip down the middle seats and connect the back seats into them. It’s certainly not intuitive, and on the short wheelbase version the centre armrest is left to float around with nowhere to go.
On the move, the diesel engine seems to strain at low revs even with only two people in the car, and resorts to dropping down a gear way too easily.
The R500 is certainly a blast, but the V8 only really reaches its potential in the upper rev range and driving like that will result in disastrous fuel bills.
My pick would be the R350 – the V6 has plenty of grunt across the range and pulls smoothly with none of the bellowing of the R500. However, it can’t match the fuel economy of the diesel version.
THE R-class can transport six people in some semblance of luxury, as long as they have no luggage. If you want bags in the back you’ll have to shed some friends. For those that need this sort of carrying capability, the R-class is a good car. However, for the majority of the time an E-class estate is just as good.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||224/3,800||272/6,000||306/5,600|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||376/1,600||258/2,400||339/2,700|
|Max speed (mph):||134||143||149|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||30.4||24.8||21.2|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||246||271||317|
|On sale:||April 6.|