What follows is a Review of another car I admittedly not had the pleasure to drive, but have in fact sat in! (for once). But first a slice obscure American television…which shares its name with the Kaiser Chiefs song in the title of this post. Ruby is (apparently) a relatively popular show about a regular Southern gal’s desperate attempts to lose half her body weight, and evidently she needed to as this picture demonstrates:
This brings me to another large R which I have had the pleasure of encountering recently, one made by Mercedes Benz and accordingly named the R Class. One of my friends actually owns one of these SUV-cum-estate beasts and has in turned named his Ruby, but the comparison to the American reality star seems pretty tenuous past this point so I will stop trying to force the point!
The R Class itself was a car I actually really liked when it was launched; the Vision R concept which previewed the vehicle was sleek and seemed to offer a modern alternative to truck-based SUV’s of the time, which as a vehicle aimed at the American market included the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator to some extent. Probably the most direct competitor came from within the DaimlerChrysler stable of the time, the Pacifica. Unfortunately for all involved neither the Mercedes or Pacifica has been a success, and subsequent cars of the same mould (Lincoln MKT and Ford Flex) have met about the same reception, despite the US market welcoming crossovers as a whole with WIDE open arms.
But what is the R Class like? Well for a start it is massive! Admittedly most of the UK models were the LWB version, but even the shorter car is nearly 5m long. This pays dividends inside however, and as you might expect there is ample room for 7 (or 6 with optional captains chairs in the middle row); in fact the LWB R Class is often used by chaffeur companies to bus VIP’s around as it can comfortably take 7 adults comfortably, if not their luggage. Apart from being spacious and lined in leather, the car’s cabin is pretty much standard late 00’s Mercedes. Plastics are of a good quality and again leather comes into play on most surfaces, seat controls are actually mounted on the seat itself and encompass everything from air bladders to lumbar support (basically they are comfy), and the raised driving position is probably just about right to allow a good view out whilst not making it too difficult for granny to climb in. On cars equipped with air suspension this is even easier and also means a silky smooth ride. Sports suspension was also an option, although I am pretty sure that nobody would consider this car anything else than a grand tourer at best.
Negative points? Well lets be kind and start in the cabin again…not everybody gets on with Mercedes’ quirky column mounted gear shift or their US style foot parking brake, but these are things that are probably quite easy to learn in a short period of time without too much effort. Similarly whilst the COMAND system in this age of Merc products is critcised as being slow and non intuitive against its competition, for the average buyer they are unlikely to notice unless you have come from a brand new Audi or BMW…which in all honesty somebody buying this car new or used is unlikely to do. But the major beef which most potential buyers are going to have with the R is in the way that it looks, to put it kindly the front end is unusual at best with ovoid headlamps and attached indicators. With the right wheels and in a dark color it looks quite sleek from the side view and the rear is actually stylish in my personal opinion. The one I have been in was gold with the smaller 17″ wheels, which whilst not my favourite colour combination does at least help the car stand out and look classy. Mercedes gave the car’s front end a thorough facelift in 2011 and improved it to the extent I feel it looks attractive! Despite this customers have not taken the R Class to their hearts and MB announced they were discontinuing production in late 2012 despite decent sales in China. Whether this means we see a new generation with an Asian focus remains to be seen however.
Would I buy an R Class? In a word No. But then I am not the kind of customer who would want one…personally I am a big fan of SUV’s and their aggressive styling, but if I was in the market for a big MPV like a Galaxy or Espace I would snap one up sharpish, especially post facelift with all the goodies. Admittedly they will be more expensive but then this is a Mercedes, and one which should still average 30mpg and hit 60 in about 8.5 seconds!