Spread Across this page, Mercedes-Benz’s R-class looks pretty normal. Nothing more than a regular MPV with attractive detailing and sharp lines, this car doesn’t immediately jump off the page as something different. However in the flesh, the R-class’ hulking XXXL dimensions shrink other cars around it, confusing the hell out of most hesitant admirers. So much so, in fact, that the first question people come and ask is “It’s great but
what is it – SUV, MPV or estate?”
Honestly, this is a very difficult, and almost impossible, question to answer. It’s certainly no shrinking violet, and possesses all the bulk and heft of a full fat SUV. Displacing a pavement-crumbling 2.2 tonnes, the R-class is almost as heavy as something like a Q7. And for a car that isn’t an SUV, it really stands tall at 1.65 metres. Then it’s considerably longer than a Q7 and has an absurdly long 3215mmm wheelbase — that’s longer than even a LWB Bentley Continental Flying Spur, and it’s impossibly wide as well.
Merc, however, has done a fantastic job of hiding all this bulk and has given this face-lifted R-class a set of clothes that makes it look much more compact than it is. Look closely and you can tell that many of the details and design features match those of the M-class. It has the same wide-slatted Mercedes grille, similar sharp-cut headlamps and the chin with its underbite looks similar as well. The super-long wheelbase gives it a graceful air and Merc’s coupé-like descending roofline also helps disguise the car’s bulk. Massive 18-inch wheels sit in sufficiently bulging wheel arches, the beltline leans forward for a touch of dynamism and the blacked-out pillars lend the R-class a sophisticated air as well. However, from the rear, this Merc looks a bit too rounded and soft, the lines of the pre-face-lifted car poking through. Still, rectangular chrome tailpipes, LED tail-lamps and a chrome load protector give the rear enough bling to impress the jet set.
The R-class is a car designed inside out, with passenger space and comfort given top priority. This car shares its platform with the M and GL-class, four-wheel-drive system and more. These siblings share engines and transmissions as well. ◊ ∆ The reason the R-class exists in the first place is something that is close to the hearts of many Indian car buyers. Designed to transport seven passengers in the utmost luxury and comfort possible, the R-class is an SUV for people who don’t want an off-roader, if you get what I mean.
So what’s this built-for-the-US seven-seat luxury car like on the inside? Simply fabulous is the short answer, and built to Mercedes-Benz’s finest touchy feely quality standards. As on many Mercs, what gets you first is a hush that descends when you ‘thump’ the doors shut. The drop in decibels inside the cabin is particularly effective and closing the door chops noise levels mercilessly.
Those of you familiar with Merc’s M and GL-class will recognise many of the fixtures on the inside. The beautifully finished steering wheel, sunken dials, pod-like central console and many other parts as well. Merc has used metallic highlights to brighten up many bits on the inside and you can see them, for example, on the steering wheel and door handles. Plenty of wooden highlights, acres of padded leather, massive seats and enough entertainment options to keep even fidgety teenagers occupied lift the ambience of the cabin. A pair of flat screens and wireless headphones can be used by rear seat passengers, iPods can be attached inside the glovebox and a Harman Kardon ProLogic 7 system provides you audiophile quality amplification
and sound quality.
The rear seats are fantastic as well. They can be adjusted forward or back, there’s massive legroom and plenty of thigh support, and the centre seat can be folded to make a massive armrest. The best part about this car is that the third row seats are very useable as well. No, you are not as comfortable as you would be when seated on either the first or second row, but these seats are a far cry from the solitary confinement chambers regular SUVs dish up. Sure, you sit lower than you would like to and there is only sufficient legroom, but these seats can be used by full-sized adults. And they are sufficiently comfortable for long drives as well. Access to the third row is pretty easy too, no serious contortions or yoga manoeuvres mandated here. The R-class is so long, there’s even some amount of luggage space in the rear, even with all three rows of seats up. Of course, should you need more space, both the second and third rows fold down flat as well. And then the next best thing is a full-sized truck. Merc only sells this long-wheelbase version of the R-class in India, and quite rightly so.
The big Merc is quite comfortable on the move as well. The heavy chassis, massive 255 tyres and Airmatic air suspension pummel the roads into submission, and only very few shocks are transmitted through to the cabin. The super-long wheelbase means there is almost no pitching and you often marvel at how beautifully the R-class glides over some very difficult patches our roads regularly chuck at you. However, the presence of air springs means that at low speeds you do feel some small sharp movements but these are not uncomfortable, only mildly irritating.
What the R-class is not is fun to drive. This car’s gargantuan dimensions, battle-tank specifications and sheer bulk are at complete odds with agility, athleticism and responsiveness, and the R-class feels slow to respond and heavy. Yes, the four-wheel-drive system gives it good grip, and it can hold on to a given line pretty well. But ask for anything more and your requests are likely to go unanswered. To put it in perspective, it drives better than the M-class, displaying marginally superior stability, but not by much.
What’s more impressive is Merc’s petrol motor. A car of this weight should feel like a slug pushed by just 272bhp, but this just isn’t the case. There’s plenty of torque from 2400rpm, and with Merc’s 7G-Tronic chopping up power effectively, the R-class accelerates with a satisfying surge from almost any speed. The motor is super-smooth, refinement is good and the throttle is easy to modulate it in traffic as well. It’s a very nice engine but we get the feeling that most customers would have preferred a big diesel under the hood of the R-class. Fuel consumption here isn’t likely to be wallet-friendly, that’s for sure.
It’s clear from the outset that the R-class is not a car for everyone. There are a few reasons for this. We tend to look down on estate cars in India, this car lacks the appeal of a tall SUV and there is no diesel version available either. Still, there are customers who will see a lot of appeal in the R-class. This is a great family car, and there is little doubt that few vehicles can transport seven passengers in as much comfort, refinement or luxury. It has that indestructible build all Mercs are famous for, there is a genuine quality vibe and only an S-class has more safety systems. The R-class may not be an ideal first choice for India’s rich and famous, but look at it as a second car and suddenly this car makes more sense.
Sure, it’s not cheap at Rs 65.27 lakh (ex-showroom Mumbai) for this fully loaded version. But coughing up the money is likely to pose less of a problem than choosing the right colour. Some guys have all the luck.