The Mercedes R is a class-bridging leviathan. It meddles with all of our notions of what makes an estate, an SUV or an MPV but, looking at the development history things become clearer. The R Class is a very American beast, aimed at and selling well in the different parameters of the US market. It may have a niche on UK roads, but will never become a classic in any way. This is to the benefit of used buyers with large families or groups to transport, who can take advantage of that class confusion by picking up a bargain.
The R Class was released in the UK in 2006 in two guises: standard length and a longer wheelbase version dubbed the 'RL'. The basic R offered very little not already available on an E Class estate, except perhaps size. The RL could perhaps have carved an interesting place for itself but the public don't quite seem to have caught on – yet... Over time the standard length R has all but disappeared.
The range has V6 and V8 engines providing power outputs from 224bhp to 306bhp in both diesel and petrol variants, mainly notable for exceedingly good efficiency figures and Mercedes' 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic gearbox. An AMG special edition was briefly available with a massive 6.2 litre, 500bhp unit under the bonnet.
2010 refreshments turned the original six-seater into a seven-seater.
Bang for your buck
The R Class stands out mostly for its vast size. It is one among very few genuine seven-seaters, where large adults can comfortably ride in the third row without getting cramp or a crick in the neck. Being a Mercedes, the R Class is also notable for its luxuriousness, not always to be expected in this market sector.
The second and third rows of seats can be folded to leave an almost completely flat floor and gargantuan amount of luggage space – far more than any estate car you might consider instead.
Standard equipment is predictably impressive, while there are a number of funky options available, such as a tailgate with remote control open and closing, a 12-sensor equipped Luxury Climate Control, third row exclusive air-conditioning, a rear DVD/CD player and a panoramic glass sunroof.
What you'll pay
At about £11,000 for the first 2006 models, a used R Class for sale certainly counts as a bargain Mercedes. A 2010 model comes in at about double that, but being relatively new it's still a lot of car for the money. Go for the longer wheelbase versions to really get value and practicality.
What to check
Unusually for a Mercedes, there have been some reports of reliability issues for the R Class, mostly based upon fuel leaks and dodgy turbos. However, warranty cover will have sorted out most of these and that three-spoke badge should still be reassuring. As usual with family cars, you'll need to check for damage from infant passengers in the rear.
Not too wallet-wrenching, with air filters costing about £24, fuel filters close to £60, oil filters £6 and spark plugs around £5.
How it drives
The approved used Mercedes R Class for sale is as powerful as it is large, offering sports car performance in a practical car's body. Particularly impressive is the level of return for the level of consumption – the R Class is frugal to the point of miserliness. The short-lived AMG edition took you from 0-60mph in less than five seconds, but all of the models available will get you there in less than 10 seconds. Neither do these straight-line speed figures come at the expense of torque or refinement. The R Class is whisper-quiet and silky smooth even at speed.
Mercedes' 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic gearbox is an interesting little gadget, allowing Formula One style gear pre-selection via steering-wheel mounted buttons, added to the steering column shift lever. Dynamic control is provided with permanent all-wheel drive, 4ETS electronic traction control, ESP and rear axle air suspension, all coming together to provide the capacity of an MPV with the driving experience of a luxury saloon. That sophisticated ride belies the R's massive size, which can of course cause problems manoeuvring around tight spaces, but this complaint smacks of redundancy, as pretty much the whole and only point to the R Class is its behemoth-like bulk. It's an interesting attempt at adding sporty properties to a family car, like an elephant on speed, but the result is ambiguous.