What is it?
Niche marketing gone mad. In Mercedes-Benz’s quest to steamroller a model into every possible gap it conceived the R-Class. An odd amalgam of SUV, MPV and limo, it’s never been a huge seller here. AMG did a version – seriously – but today there are mercifully only two choices. The L of the 350 CDI L denotes long-wheelbase, and it also features four-wheel drive. It fits into a niche, though we’re really not quite sure what that is.
It feels very much like a car that’s been designed for US soccer moms who want Euro-prestige credibility in their mini-van purchase. The L is huge, its 5,157mm length meaning all three rows of seats get decent room. There’s no real appreciable difference to the long or short version’s driving experience, except the lower output diesel only features rear-wheel drive. That doesn’t mean you’ll be drifting it around wet roundabouts on the school run, though, merely that traction’s not as good as the four-wheel- drive 4Matic 350 CDI.
The air-sprung suspension doesn’t like ripples, and there’s very little reward for pressing on, but the R-Class does at least get about its job of transporting people quietly and in good comfort. The greater punch of the 350CDI is useful, but you’ll pay for it at the pumps, and the 300 CDI isn’t overwhelmed by the bulk of the R-Class even fully loaded. Easy, rather than enjoyable, there’s pitch and roll in bends, but that’s to the benefit of comfort when winding on big miles on the interstate, sorry, motorway.
On the inside
Masses of space for up to seven. There’s a choice of seating configurations, and the boot is either massive, or gargantuan, if you go for that LWB model – its maximum volume being a van-like (funny that) 2,385 litres. The interior is all Benz, though the R isn’t in the first flourish of youth and despite a refresh lacks newer Merc features. Its key selling point is comfort and space. Which is fine if you value that over everything, as really there’s very little else to get excited about here. Quality is fine and equipment levels decent.
If you want something big, expensive and comfy then it’s got merit, but otherwise we’re at a loss to find exactly why it exists. The Viano does van-like limo work well, while the S-Class does proper luxury car and the M-Class or GL-Glass covers the 4x4 SUV angle – the latter even seating seven. It’s not cheap to buy, nor will it be to run, as even the more efficient of the pairing only manages 37.2mpg on the combined cycle – the latest ML 350 CDI betters that with ease and beats it on emissions, too. An anomaly, that’s bettered by ordinary, cheaper MPVs.