THE MERCEDES-BENZ R-Class has long been the ‘forgotten’ Benz, consistently outsold by the M-Class and larger GL-Class.
As a large people mover, it perhaps lacks the cachet of a high-riding SUV in a style-driven prestige market.
But while it might not win for style, our experience with the value-added 2010 R300 CDI Grand Edition shows that the R-Class has much to offer.
Effectively a run-out model before the facelifted R-Class arrives later this year, the R300 CDI Grand Edition sports tweaked aesthetics and boosted equipment levels.
There are no mechanical changes for the Grand Edition, but the model does feature Benz’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system as standard equipment. It is the only model in the R-Class line up to mate the 3.0 litre turbodiesel V6 with an AWD drivetrain.
Styling has been updated with the addition of LED daytime running lights to the front air dam, tinted rear light clusters, 20-inch AMG alloy wheels, privacy glass from the B-pillar rearward.
The interior also benefits from a three-spoke AMG steering wheel with integrated shift paddles, anthracite poplar wood trim and brushed alloy pedals.
What’s the appeal?
High equipment levels and slightly improved visuals. The R-Class also boasts a spacious interior, good packaging, a commanding view of the road for the driver and plenty of comfort for all passengers.
What features does it have?
The R300 CDI Grand Edition is gifted with a lengthy list of standard equipment.
As with the rest of the R-Class range, cruise control, power windows, a trip computer, heated wing mirrors, parking sensors, auto-on headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and climate control are standard-issue.
The Grand Edition also scores the COMAND APS multi-function display, a reversing camera, six-disc in-dash CD stacker, sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity, power folding and auto-dimming wing mirrors, Bi-xenon headlamps and a glass sunroof.
The audio system features 4GB of onboard music storage, and can also play music from SD cards. Voice recognition software enables the driver to have hands-free control of basic audio and phone functions.
What’s under the bonnet?
Mercedes-Benz’s ubiquitous 3.0 litre V6 turbodiesel lives under the R300 CDI’s sloping nose, and develops 140kW of power at 4000rpm and 440Nm of torque between 1400-2800rpm.
Benz’s 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission is the sole gearbox offered, and in the R-Class it’s controlled by a column-mounted.
Steering wheel-mounted paddles are standard too, and allow the driver to manually select ratios.
In automatic mode, two shift programs (Comfort and Sport) deliver either good economy and smooth power delivery, or increased performance.
The Grand Edition gets 4Matic permanent AWD as standard equipment, something the regular R300 CDI can’t be optioned with.
Rather than being an on-demand system, 4Matic constantly delivers drive to all four wheels, with a 50-50 torque split.
While the front axle uses coil springs and double-wishbones, air suspension is fitted to the multi-link rear axle.
The air suspension system replaces the conventional coil springs, and automatically compensates for changes in load weight and helps level the vehicle on uneven ground.
How does it drive?
The R-Class is a big car, and it definitely feels like it out on the road.
With a longer bonnet than most other seven-seat people movers, the view out the windscreen is more carlike than you’d expect, and the tall SUV-like driving position allows you to see further ahead in traffic.
The view out back is hampered somewhat by the arcing D-pillar and rising beltline, but the large wing mirrors help reduce the car’s blind spot and the standard parking sensors and reversing camera reduce the likelihood of car park scrapes.
At 4938mm long, the R300 CDI is appreciably bigger than the ML. The long-wheelbase R500 is even longer still at 5173mm, but the R300 CDI Grand Edition is only available in short-wheelbase form.
With a kerb weight just under 2.2 tonnes, handling and braking isn’t quite as crisp as lighter seven-seaters like the Honda Odyssey. Still, the R300 does a decent job of concealing its bulk out on the road.
It feels stable through corners and although body roll is in evidence, it’s not excessive. The rear air suspension and front wishbones keep the chassis in check, and the suspension tune is supple enough to absorb bumpy tarmac easily.
It's no sports car, but considering its portliness the Mercedes R300 CDI handles itself rather well around most corners.
The 4Matic AWD system gives the R300 a sure-footed ride on gravel, and the stability control calibration isn’t fussed by loose surfaces. Having a default 50-50 torque split helps promote traction too.
Around town, the ride is exceptionally smooth. It's a long car and as such its turning circle isn't stellar, but at full lock it's still tight enough to navigate a crowded supermarket carpark easily.
The seven-speed gearbox feels a bit too soft when in comfort mode (it favours high gears and is reluctant to downshift), but when switched to sport mode it feels more like the Ford Falcon's ZF six-speed in its shift mapping.
However, the elapsed time between pulling one of the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles and the gearbox responding is noticeable, particularly in comfort mode.
On the highway, the 3.0 litre diesel V6 – despite being the least powerful engine in the R-Class range – is perfect. With its peak torque figure of 440Nm available down low in the rev range, the R300 CDI just lopes along in seventh gear, using torque - not revs - to maintain momentum.
Fuel economy in such conditions is excellent as a result, and we saw a highway average of just under 7.5 l/100km.
However, accelerating the hefty R-Class to triple-digit speeds is a thirsty process, and the stop-and-go of city and suburban driving saw fuel consumption rise dramatically.
By the end of our week with the R300 CDI Grand Edition, average fuel economy (over a fairly even mix of highway and urban driving) had risen to 11.4 l/100km – quite a different number to Mercedes-Benz’s claim of 9.3 l/100km for the AWD R300.
But considering the tractability of the engine and the weight it has to pull, that’s not an entirely terrible result. Besides, with such a smooth powertrain, slick-shifting automatic and supple suspension, most drivers will be too comfortable too complain.
What did our passengers think?
Inside, the R-Class puts passenger comfort ahead of all else. The Artico leather-trimmed seats are comfortable and feature enough bolstering on the front seats and outboard second-row seats to give good support.
Even the centre seat on the second row seems to ‘grip’ the torso, and is surprisingly comfortable.
Minimal transmission tunnel intrusion improves second row legroom, and the 40/20/40 split second row can slide fore or aft.
The third row seats are a little difficult to access thanks to second row seats that don’t fold forward far enough, but once you’re in them they’re comfortable, well-padded and legroom is good if the second row bench is slid forward a couple of notches.
Headroom is a little tight for taller folks, but the R-Class definitely has some of the nicest third-row pews in the segment.
A minor omission is the absence of air conditioning vents for the third row. Second row passengers get adequate ventilation, but those seated behind them don’t.
Interior quality and feel
It’s a Mercedes, so there’s an expectation of superior quality and impeccable build. The R300 CDI Grand Edition delivers on both counts, and the car feels solid, superbly finished and well-engineered.
Some switchgear (particularly that on the centre stack) feels dated and a bit plasticky, but everything else feels pretty bulletproof.
Every door closes with a soft thunk, the tailgate features a motorized soft-close function and there was no rattling trim to spoil the R300’s interior ambience.
With the third row seats up there’s 314 litres of room in the R300’s boot, enough to accommodate the week’s shopping. Fold the 50/50 split third row down and enough space for a pram or two is liberated.
Retracting the second-row seats is a fairly involved multi-step process, but once done there’s a gargantuan 2001 litres of storage space.
Not only that, but each seat folds completely flat and lies flush with its neighbour, and, conveniently, the boot floor is level with the boot’s low loading lip.
When called upon to carry outsized loads, the R-Class is supremely capacious and highly versatile.
We would have appreciated more shopping bag hooks and a less-fiddly cargo blind, but on the whole the R300 boasts an immensely useable interior.
How safe is it?
In standard form, the R300 CDI Grand Edition is generously equipped with safety features.
There are three-point seatbelts on all seats, active anti-whiplash headrests on the front seats, ISOFIX child seat anchorages for the outboard second-row seats (as well as the usual top tether anchor point) and pretensioning front seatbelts.
Dual front airbags are provided for the first row, while both the first and second row seats get side airbags.
Full-length curtain airbags are activated in the event of side impact.
The R-Class has yet to be tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP.
Active safety equipment includes stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist and adaptive brake lights that flash rapidly during emergency braking.
A 'low tyre-pressure' warning system also prevents further damage in the event of flat, however the space saver spare only provides a limited limp-home capability.
Fuel consumption and Green rating.
Mercedes-Benz says the 4WD-equipped R300 CDI uses just 9.3 litres of diesel over 100km, while the RWD-only R300 CDI is claimed to use 9.2 l/100km on the combined cycle.
Our testing returned an average fuel consumption of 11.4 l/100km. Clearly, the 3.0 turbodiesel six needs to drink a lot of fuel to move the R300’s big frame.
The government’s Green Vehicle Guide rates the R300 CDI at 2.5 stars out of a possible 5, with a CO2 output of 246g/km contributing to its 3 out of 10 air pollution rating.
How does it compare?
Mercedes-Benz classifies the R-Class as an SUV and so does Australia’s Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. However, the reality is that the R-Class is more people-mover than SUV, which makes it fairly unique in the luxury segment.
The Discovery 4, with its seven-seat interior, cheaper retail price, excellent driving dynamics (both on and off-road) and rugged image, is a more than worthy competitor for the R-Class.
However, the R-Class is definitely a more family-friendly vehicle.If anything, the R-Class’s chief competition comes from within Mercedes itself – the M-Class.
The M-Class may only have five seats compared to the R-Class’s seven, but its more butch off-roader image has seen it become the family transporter of choice for many wealthy Australians while the more comfortable and more capacious R-Class only trickles out of showrooms.
The R300 CDI Grand Edition is available in nine colours, including Calcite White, Tansanite Blue, Iridium Silver, Obsidian Black, Palladium Silver and Fire Opal Red. Metallic paint is standard for the Grand Edition.
Is it expensive to maintain?
Service intervals occur every 12 months, with specific inspections and additional services occurring at specific odometer readings. A minor service costs $590, while a major service costs $950.
Mercedes-Benz offers a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty on the R300 CDI Grand Edition.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz R300 CDI Grand Edition retails for $85,345 before on-road costs. Unlike the rest of the R-Class range, there are no factory-fitted option packages available for the Grand Edition.
Officially classed as an SUV but with a body that straddles the line between off-roader and people mover, the R-Class is almost alone in its own little segment. It’s neither an SUV nor does it have the 'van-with-seats' origins of many people-movers.
The R300 CDI is very capable as a family hauler though, and it’s without doubt the best seven-seater in Benz’s passenger car line-up (the GL is much too big and far more expensive, while the Viano’s commercial origins deprive it of any genuine class).
Although a higher-output diesel V6, petrol V6 and a stonking petrol V8 can also be specified, the 3.0 litre turbodiesel in the R300 CDI Grand Edition is more than adequate.
The fact that the Grand Edition is equipped with 4Matic all-wheel-drive as standard sweetens the deal.
Its front end styling may not endear it to all, but an impending facelift will solve that soon. The rest of the package is hard to fault.
It’s an often-overlooked model in Mercedes-Benz showrooms, and it's not for everyone, but the R300 CDI Grand Edition is worth a look as an alternative to an SUV for larger families.