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Rating 7 7

Mercedes R-class

29th May 2011 7:00 am

The R-class’s strengths are its middle-row space and fully usable third row, but that’s about it


  • Make : Mercedes-Benz
  • Model : R-class

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 uninspired 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, Merc-speak for a full-time, 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. The car can be raised on its suspension to clear obstacles which is very useful when tackling speedbreakers. Enclosing all this is the massive body. At 5.1 metres, it is longer than the GL and quite a bit broader than an S-class. This substantial length and width adds a lot of weight and the
R-class weighs a pavement-crumbling 2230 kilos.

Surprisingly, the R-class doesn’t have the rigidity we expect from a Merc. Sure, the doors shut with a solid ‘thunk’ but over bad bits of road, the whole cabin shudders in a very un-German way.

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 sheer number of oversize storage spaces. 

If there is a compelling reason to buy an R-class, it’s the middle row of seats. They are so good that the R-class makes a strong case for itself as a chauffeur-driven car. Hugely accommodating and with acres of legroom, you could fool yourself into thinking you are in a business class seat. Thigh support isn’t great thanks to the high floor, but the immense legroom allows you to stretch out and negae this. The sheer width also lends to that feeling of space and sitting three abreast is no problem here.

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 entertainment pack’s screens 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. Even the options list is rather short, with only the rear seat entertainment package on offer.

With those oversize dimensions and a large turning circle, city driving is not where it excels. Finding a parking space large enough to accommodate its exceptional width can prove difficult and begs the question as to why Mercedes-Benz hasn’t seen fit to equip it with 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. Sharp edges like manhole covers or expansion joints thump through and resonate in the cabin, even with the dampers in the ‘comfort’ setting – it certainly is no luxury saloon in this respect. 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 and shape, you’re fooled into thinking 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.

Mercedes R-class
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