These pictures prove just how close Mercedes is to launching its most innovative model since the A-class. The R-class has already been previewed as the GST concept but the real thing will be rolled out this autumn. The R-Class arrives at an interesting time: 4x4s, especially those used in urban areas, are increasingly under pressure from environmentalists and politicians. Restrictions on their use are already under debate in Scandanavia, Italy, France and the UK. The upshot is that the R-class could arrive at a highly opportune time. Although it is four-wheel drive, affluent families who value the space and versatility of a big 4x4 but are concerned by 4x4s’ image may find welcome refuge in Mercedes’ new ‘station wagon’. Cleverly, it is based on the same components as the new M-Class and G-class. All three cars are to be built at the same factory in Alabama. Mercedes has made a massive investment in the plant, doubling its annual capacity to 160,000 units, which will be shared between the three new vehicles. If market demand suddenly shifts away from off-roaders, Mercedes could, for example, ramp up production of the R-class. Four-wheel drive and air suspension will be standard, as will Mercedes’ new 7G seven-speed automatic gearbox. A shorter wheelbase version aimed primarily at Europe will also feature Merc’s all-new V6 diesel engine, which turns out 224bhp from its 2987cc capacity and a massive 376lb ft of torque from just 1600rpm. The adoption of the robust 7G transmission has finally allowed the torque potential of a diesel to be fully exploited with a shelf-shifter.