Mercedes launched the R-Class last summer, underpinning its luxurious six-seat appeal with a four-wheel-drive system. Testing the long-wheelbase R320CDI L, we found the punchy 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine slipping seamlessly through its seven gears, thanks to its great reserves of bottom-end muscle, most of which is available from just 1,600rpm. It delivers power in a relaxed manner and with such lack of drama that you’ll need to keep an eye on the speedometer to avoid a run-in with the boys in blue.
On the road, the R-Class is long and low and, as a result, it can prove pretty daunting in tight city streets, not helped by the sloping bonnet that disappears out of sight and thick rear pillars that restrict over-the-shoulder vision. Beyond the urban confines, however, you never give its dimensions a second thought.
Our car came with full air suspension, which can be adjusted to favour sports or comfort settings, but it gives a superb combination of ride and control in its automatic mode. This is backed up by smooth, progressive steering and great comfort, all of which makes the car ‘shrink’ around you the faster you go.
For the most part, the engine is quiet, betraying its diesel roots only when revved.
In the cabin, the most commonly used functions, such as adjusting cabin temperature, can be done simply by twisting a dial. However, the myriad switches for other functions are fiddly and difficult to navigate.
Leg room is good and there are plenty of cubbies and cupholders. It can be specified with a large, removable storage bin between the middle-row seats, but it isn’t cheap at £320. The middle-row seats fold flat to create a good impression of a removal van.
Although the R-Class’s dashboard is soft to touch, its shiny finish lessens its appeal and the action of the heater control dials feels cheap and unsophisticated. The coarsely textured sun visor and flimsy cupholder arm are especially disappointing for a car in this price bracket.
The R-Class’s luxury car manners and extremely slick power source are hard to ignore, but equipment levels and running costs are not the best in this price range.
Originally published in What Car? July 2006
GP drive: comfort and space
In the market for a big car, I was delighted to try out an R280 CDI automatic.
We drove from rural Cambridgeshire to London, my three-year-old son loving the third row all to himself. We liked that we could fold down the middle seats to settle him in. Our daughter had the middle row and the boot took a fold-away pushchair and all of our coats. Fold away the third row of seats and you have enough space for a big dog or bicycle.
We enjoyed the smooth and quiet ride to London, but hit a problem when parking. Berating the poor rear view, we wished for parking sensors, especially with a car this size. Though no bigger than an average estate, its height makes it more imposing on the road.
Where it came into its own was ferrying medical students — they loved the comfort — and as a family car. Additionally, it does not look like a 4x4, and we averaged 30mpg, so it should not call much attention from green protesters.
Would I buy one? Not for work, but for family use, though I might try for a nearly new one.
Dr Sri Subramaniam is a GP in Cambridge