Mercedes-Benz R-class is a luxury MPV that can seat seven in comfort
Mercedes-Benz's R-class, claims the German company, is the quintessential jack of all trades — a MPV, 4x4, estate and luxury car rolled into one under a rather extended roofline. But can the R-class live up to its wide range of duties and is this monstrous, van-like car really what people want? Costing Rs. 60 lakh, it comes with seats for seven, an all wheel drive system powered by a 3.5 litre V6 petrol.
This face-lifted R-class is a more cohesive looking design that benefits from new headlamps, grille, bonnet and bumper — all reflecting the latest Mercedes-Benz lineage. But no matter how sophisticated the looks are, you still can't get away from the fact that this does look like a shapely, low-slung van. This is true especially when you look at the rear three-quarters — the sheer length between the axles and the rear styling do nothing to hide the fact that this is essentially a people-mover.
It is based on the same platform as the Mercedes ML and GL 4x4s, which means the R-class is a monocoque and comes with 4MATIC, a four-wheel-drive system. Suspension is by way of double wishbones up front and a multi-link setup at the rear and Merc's AIRMATIC adaptive dampers.
Enclosing all this is the massive body. At 5.1 metres, it is longer than the GL and broader than the S-class. This substantial length and width adds a lot of weight and the R-class weighs a massive 2230 kilos.
Getting into the R-class is easy. Because it is low slung, you slide into the seats rather than climb into them. Once inside, you'll find yourself in familiar Merc territory. In fact, if it wasn't for the steeply raked A-pillar, you could fool yourself into thinking you are in an ML or a GL. Still, we can't help but think it looks a bit too familiar and unexciting. You sit at a good height and the electric adjust seat is comfortable. People looking for goodies may be disappointed though. Merc's COMAND system controls only the audio system via a small (by today's standards) screen. The system is also quite complicated and fiddly to use.
Nonetheless, fit and finish inside are faultless as usual and you can tell this car was built with the American market in mind by the size of the cubbyhole between the front seats and the oversize storage spaces.
If there is a compelling reason to buy an R-class, it's the middle row of seats. Hugely accommodating and with acres of legroom, you could fool yourself into thinking you are in a business class seat.
Even the centre seat, which doubles up as a broad armrest when flipped forward, is quite a comfortable place to sit. If there was one complaint, the screens for the Rs 1.4 lakh rear seat are a tad small.
The big surprise comes when you slide the middle row forward (via a rather clever mechanism) and climb into the third row. The two seats in the back are entirely usable with good head-and-legroom — full-grown adults can easily use these seats for moderate distances without cramping up.
With all rows up, the R-class still has the boot space for a decent-sized suitcase, but fold all rows and there's almost a football field in there! The R-class comes with all the equipment you need — electric mirrors, seat adjust, steering adjust, sunroof and a nice audio system — but nothing extra.
Under the hood lies Merc's familiar 3498cc, 272bhp petrol V6 that's also in the E-class and S-class. It's a twin-cam unit that breathes through four valves per cylinder and makes its peak torque of 35kgm all the way from 2400rpm to 5000rpm. Because this motor doesn't have the instant torque of a diesel or even the new direct-injection petrol motors, it doesn't feel quick or exciting when you put your foot down. The Merc GL 350 CDI is slightly slower to 100kph, but feels more lively because it makes so much more torque at lower revs. The thing is, the engine has to haul over two tonnes of metal and occupants and so, straight-line performance is more stately than sprightly, which actually is fine for this kind of car.
With those oversize dimensions and a large turning circle, city driving is not where it excels. Finding a parking space large enough to accommodate can prove difficult and you wonder the absence of a reverse camera, or a proper convex mirror on the left door. It is at steady cruising speeds where the luxury MPV finds itself most at home. It devours distances with ease and its refinement is always impressive.
If there's one thing we didn't like, it's the low-speed ride quality. It transfers too many small bumps and imperfections to the cabin. The ride does improve considerably when you hit highway speeds and stability is impressive, thanks to that long wheelbase.
It's a lot easier to drive on a twisty road than you would imagine. Yes, the steering isn't very quick or direct but set the suspension in ‘sport' and you'll find it controls its body movements well and has plenty of grip.
We found the R-class scraping its belly on large speedbreakers. Because of its size, you may think it will clear a bump, but its long wheelbase and resultant ramp-over angle means you have to raise the car even for medium-sized speedbreakers.
We didn't expect brilliant economy from the big petrol engine. Not surprisingly, it guzzles a fair bit of fuel returning 5.4kpl in the city and 8.7kpl on the highway. It could have been worse if it weren't for the R-class's fast-shifting seven-speed gearbox.