America is this car’s spiritual home, but it is also available over here with a choice of three engines – the diesel tested here and two petrols in V6 and V8 guise, and two wheelbases – long and longer.
All versions come with seven-seat capacity and four-wheel drive so you can, depending on your mood, load it up with seven people and cruise in utter comfort or fold all the rear seats down and create the most exclusive van ever.
Unlike the rivals assembled here, off-road ability is severely limited, but for the majority of potential R-class owners there’s enough ground clearance and traction to negotiate the muddy track to the kids’ pony club.
Where the talent of the R-class really lies is in devouring miles with ease and with your passengers in total comfort.
Granted, the rearmost seats are only suitable for short hops, but fold them down and you’ve got a car which could, say, transport four men and all their camping equipment down to the Le Mans 24 Hour race in the middle of France.
Which, funnily enough, is exactly what I did during my week with the short-wheelbase R320 CDI and it was an immensely impressive way of getting there and back.
Over the course of 800 miles we cruised down deserted autoroutes at high speed with both sets of climate control (there are separate units front and rear) on full and still the 3.2-litre turbodiesel V6 wouldn’t drop much below 27mpg.
The engine also provided serious grunt, even with the car fully loaded. It can be noisy when on full throttle, but once the seven-speed automatic gearbox had slotted itself into the top ratio, the R320 CDI became a serene cruiser.
And after countless hours behind the wheel I didn’t feel remotely tired, which is testament to the comfortable seats and supple AirMATIC suspension – an £880 option. This offers two modes – Comfort which is ideal for cruising and Sport for the more twisty stuff, although in reality you’ll never select Sport as it makes the ride unbearably stiff.
The raised ride height also gives a great feeling of being above it all, although it’s not as tall and unwieldy as some of the SUVs featured right.
Mercedes-Benz refers to the R-class as a GST, or Grand Sports Tourer, and probably envisages pan-European travel as its forte. On the evidence of my trip, that’s a very fair claim.
We don’t like:
Three rivals to consider
THE BMW is the odd one out here as it doesn’t offer seven seats. However, all are four-wheel drive and powered by diesel engines. All four are also in top-spec trim. The Volvo is the cheapest, but it’s five-cylinder engine can’t match the big capacity sixes from Germany.
Emissions and taxes
THERE’S a huge spread of emission figures here, but all four cars fall into the maximum benefit-in-kind tax band. The Volvo is the least expensive, costing a 40% taxpayer £450 a month in company car tax. The BMW will cost £470, the Audi £472 and the R-class £480.
A CLEAR advantage for the BMW thanks to its five-year/60,000-mile servicing package which brings costs down to £2,100 over three years. The Volvo and Audi are closely matched, but the Mercedes-Benz is well off the pace thanks to high dealer labour rates.
X5 3.50 (ppm) £2,100 (60,000 mile total)
XC90 4.16 £2,496
Q7 4.41 £2,646
R320 5.33 £3,198
THE Volvo and BMW are the only models to return more than a claimed 30mpg on the combined cycle (34.0mpg and 30.1mpg respectively), dropping them below the 15ppm barrier. The Q7 is the most thirsty and will cost more than £10,000 in diesel over 60,000 miles.
XC90 14.31 (ppm) £8,586 (60,000 miles)
X5 14.93 £8,958
R320 15.13 £9,078
Q7 16.71 £10,026
THE Q7 has the best residual value forecast, with CAP estimating it will be worth 50% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles, leaving a cash lost figure of £20,000. The XC90 is close with an RV of 48% and a low front-end price. The X5 will retain 47% and the R320 44%.
Q7 33.46 (ppm) £20,076 (60,000 miles)
XC90 34.77 £20,862
X5 35.37 £21,222
R320 38.15 £22,890
A NARROW win for the Volvo from the BMW with just over £300 separating them on running costs over 60,000 miles. The Q7’s strong RV helps it to a solid third place, despite its thirst, while the Mercedes-Benz is more than 5ppm off the pace.
XC90 53.24 (ppm) £31,944 (60,000 miles)
X5 53.80 £32,280
Q7 54.58 £32,748
R320 58.61 £35,166
ALTHOUGH the Volvo wins on running costs and tax liability, it can’t match the others for performance and brand desirability. The R-class is more tricky to categorise – it sits in a sector all of its own and if drivers want one, they’ll have one, but in this comparison its higher costs let it down.
Which leaves the X5 and Q7. In such a fashion-conscious sector, the all-new Audi would be our choice, despite losing out slightly to the BMW in financial terms.