Another successor to the Mercedes-Benz R-Class looks in doubt with the current model being discontinued in the crucial US market, and the range in Australia has been simplified to just two models in recent times.
Pricing starts at $94,400 for a model that isn't easy to categorise.
Unlike the hordes of high-riding 4WD ‘trucks’ that litter our suburban roads without ever venturing across so much as a dirt driveway, the R-Class is a cut or two above that lot. This is the proper definition of a “Sports Utility Vehicle”; with loads of space, superb quality and comfort, and one of the best rides in the people-moving business.
If you’re not towing a boat or horse float, and you aren’t driving around Australia in the wet season, I question the need to haul around a 4X4 gargantuan off-roader to and from the shopping mall each day. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
Of course, if you’re worried about how you might fare driving up to the snowfields from Sydney or Melbourne, don’t be; the R300 CDI is equipped with the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system as part of the model’s extensive standard equipment inventory.
Mercedes-Benz launched significant update of the R-Class in Australia in late 2010, and while it looked similar to the previous model, from the A-pillar forward it was all new.
No longer are there infinite variations of the same model on offer. This time around, the choice is easy, as long as it’s an R 300 CDI in short wheel base form. A long wheel base version will follow in 2011, for those families or businesses that need even more room.
It might not be the most powerful engine in the Benz line-up, but believe me, armed with a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine producing 140kW and 440Nm of torque, there’s plenty on tap whenever you need it. Smooth as silk, too, with the 7G-TRONIC 7-speed auto transmission putting the power down, effortlessly.
That said, as smooth and as refined as this powertrain surely is though, you can still hear a faint sound of diesel clatter under initial load. It’s not something you’re aware of after a while, though, as there is lot of insulation under the bonnet and through the firewall for minimising noise inside the R-Class cabin.
At almost five metres long and near enough to two metres wide, this is a substantial vehicle. Open the tailgate and there’s a massive expanse of loading space back there, especially when both second and third row seats are folded flat.
You see, that’s the big advantage of the R-Class. Seven seats as standard, and that still leaves more than enough space for the weekly grocery shop.
Fold the two individual seats that make up the third row seating, and you could probably get two racing bikes back there as well as a heap of other gear. Lower both rear seat rows, and you could move house.
If however, you don’t want the seven seats, you can opt for a four, or six-seat configuration, where each passenger gets their own seat along with plenty more luggage room and individual space.
Styling wise, its coupe-like lines makes the R-Class look sportier than most of the conventional SUVs roaming our streets. The front end is more pronounced than the previous model, more aggressive and appealing too with the compulsory (at least stylistically) LED daytime driving lights and a deeper front grille space.
Ingress and egress is also a lot easier than in the fleet of high-riding luxury SUVs, which means it's less tiring for older folks when climbing in and out the car frequently. It’s also a breeze with kids too, especially if you’ve got toddlers in baby seats or boosters.
You’ll also notice a few changes at the rear of the R-Class, in the form of a new bumper design, LED taillights with fibre optic technology, and a rear diffuser with integrated exhaust tips. From some angles, it looks more like a crossover estate than a bona fide SUV Tourer.
I particularly like the 21-inch AMG alloys fitted to this test car, but no need to mourn over the standard fit 20-inch 5-spoke wheels, as they set the car off nicely.
Inside, it's all Mercedes-Benz luxury and feel, although, the car we are test driving is fitted with the optional AMG Sports Package, which features some very tasty sports seats in black Nappa (soft as) leather, in addition to an AMG sports steering wheel with shift paddles, and the brilliant AIRMATIC air suspension system, with adaptive damping.
It feels special sitting inside the R-Class cabin, every bit as lush as the high-end cars in the Mercedes-Benz fleet.
There’s an exhaustive list of standard fit creature comforts too including COMAND APS (HDD SatNav, reversing camera, 4GB HDD music register with SD card slot and LINGUATRONIC voice control system) and THERMATIC automatic climate control to name but a few of these.
For iPhone/iPod users not only is there the UCI Media interface connection, but you also get USB and auxiliary ports, including the cables.
Safety is always high on the agenda at Mercedes-Benz, always has been, and the R 300 CDI gets the full suite of active and passive safety gear. Apart from permanent all-wheel drive and Acceleration Skid Control (ASR), the Electronic Traction System comes with automatic brake control for negotiating steep descents, and the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) includes Trailer Stability Assist.
Also worthy of mention is NECK-PRO active head restraints for the front seats and the PRE-SAFE accident anticipatory occupant protection system with eight airbags.
Seemingly insignificant to most drivers, but vitally important, is the brake pad wear indicator, which could save you the cost of a set of rotors, and a tyre pressure loss warning system, which is extremely useful with low profile tyres.
The ride quality at high speed on some decent stretches of less than average quality roads is superb. There are bumps down here in rural Victoria that should be driven at well under the 100km/h speed limit in most vehicles, but the R-Class is tracking as straight as a dye, while at the same time, offering a magic carpet ride.
I’m surprised at how high you sit in the R-Class, given its car like appearance and ride height. From behind the wheel, there's commanding view of the road, but at the same time, the car's handling and dynamics is more in keeping with a sporty sedan than a large SUV weighing 2100 kilograms.
Mercedes-Benz has built over 11 million automatic transmissions in the last 40 years, so you can believe me when I tell you that this 7G-TRONIC is about as good as it gets. Gearshifts up or down the 7-speed range are barely perceptible, while ratios are well spaced and allow for rapid acceleration at any point on the rev range.
High praise for the very direct hydraulic rack and pinion steering too, as we took the car down some steep twisty sections of road, and the big R-Class felt like a much smaller vehicle. The steering weight through the tiller is near perfect for this style of car and there’s little or no body roll, even in the tighter bends.
Published fuel consumption figures are 9.3L/100km combined with CO2 emissions at 246g/km, which for a vehicle of this size and weight is commendable.
At $92,200 the Mercedes-Benz R-Class offers a lot of car for the money, especially when compared with similar priced and specced SUVs from the likes of Audi, BMW, Lexus and Land Rover. Even more appealing is the level of standard kit on board, which means you won’t go wanting for anything you would expect in a car in this class.
Standard equipment highlights for MY2010 R 300 CDI SWB:
• 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive
• 20-inch 5-twin-spoke alloy wheels
• Automatically dimming interior and driver's side exterior mirrors
• Bi-Xenon headlamps (darkened) with LED daytime driving lights
• Blue-tinted thermal insulation glass all round
• Burr Walnut wood trim elements
• Chrome-look beltline trim strips, rub strip with chrome insert
• COMAND APS including Reversing Camera
• Dark tinted glass for rear windows back from B-pillar
• EASY-PACK tailgate
• Electrically folding exterior mirrors
• Electric rear vent windows for 3rd row seats
• Electronic Traction System incl. automatic brake control for downhill gradients
• Metallic paint
R 300 CDI 4MATIC Technical features
Engine and performance
Cylinder arrangement/number V6
Displacement (cc) 2987
Rated output (kW at rpm) 140/4000
Rated torque (Nm at rpm) 440/1400 - 2800
Compression ratio 17.7:1
Acceleration 0-100 km/h (s) 9.8
Maximum speed (km/h) 210
Drive system Permanent all-wheel drive
Final drive ratio 2.33
Fuel, emissions & insurance category
Tank capacity/incl. reserve (l): 80/13.0
Fuel consumption urban (l/100 km): 12.2
Fuel consumption extra-urban (l/100 km): 7.6
Fuel consumption combined (l/100 km): 9.3
CO2 emissions combined (g/km): 246
Cd value: 0.31
Emissions class: Euro 4
Suspension & steering
Front axle: Double wishbone
Rear axle: Multi-link
Springs front: Coil springs, single-tube gas-pressure
Springs rear: Airspring, single tube gas pressure
Tyres/wheels: front 265/45 R 20
Tyres/wheels: rear 265/45 R 20
Steering: Rack-and-pinion steering, hydraulic
Front brakes: Disc brakes, internally ventilated
Rear brakes: Disc brakes
Dimensions and weights
Kerb weight/payload (kg): 2100/780
Permissible gross vehicle weight (kg): 2880
Maximum roof load (kg): 100
Luggage capacity (VDA) min/max (l): 550/1950
Perm. trailer load unbraked/braked (kg): 750/2100
Perm. drawbar load (kg): 85
Turning circle (m) 11.8
Overall length (mm): 4922
Overall width (mm): 1922
Overall height at kerb weight (mm): 1674
Track, front (mm): 1661
Track, rear (mm): 1651
Wheelbase (mm): 2980