Perhaps it's best to start by letting Mercedes make its own case for the new R-class, which comes to the UK in shorter-wheelbase, dynamically tweaked Europe-friendly form next spring with prices starting at around £40,000.
First, and there’s nothing like a little self-confidence to get the juices flowing, it’s an unprecedented vehicle concept (the Grand Sports Tourer) that reaffirms Mercedes as a visionary and trendsetter among car makers.
What makes the R-class unique, argues Mercedes, is that it takes the acknowledged strengths of established vehicle categories – sporty saloon, estate, MPV and four-wheel drive – and fuses them to create a new car with a character all of its own.
All things to all people? Not exactly. To fully appreciate the R-class you need to be ‘modern minded’ and seeking a vehicle that offers ‘tremendous versatility, athletic performance, more than ample room, exemplary standards of safety and impeccable comfort for up to six passengers’.
If that’s the case, then prepare to be ‘enthralled by the beguiling styling, prestigious flair and, last but by no means least, the dynamism out on the road’.
Not convinced? All right, let Mercedes put it to you this way: the R-class provides a wholly new motoring experience. That’s right, not massaged, not evolved, not re-packaged, not re-imagined. But new.Conceivably, this is a claim calculated to annoy an increasingly cynical motoring press which would no doubt point to other well-intentioned revelations like the Renault Avantime. But it’s backed up by impressive early sales in the US and, in a broader philosophical sense, the knowledge that it’s the Cayenne, that most unlikely fusion of lofty 4x4 and supercar, and not the 911 that’s made Porsche the most profitable car maker in the world.
Of course, if Mercedes really has made a vehicle that can stand in for all its other models, it might be in danger of stealing sales from a wider line up than just the M-class 4x4 and E-class estate but, realistically, Benz sees the R-class attracting more customers to the brand: ‘empty nesters’ who currently drive large 4x4s but who need more space and flexibility.
When the R-class is launched in the UK next spring, there will be a choice of three engines; a petrol and diesel V6 and a 306bhp 5.0-litre petrol V8. But it’s the 224bhp, third-generation common-rail V6 diesel that will account for 60 per cent of the 1800 projected sales and it’s this car, the 320 CDI short wheelbase, we’re driving in the Bavarian Alps.
It’s a startling-looking car which, like the CLS, has huge presence and is far better in the metal than in photographs. In particular, the arching roof line invests the shape with a sense of muscularity that makes the new S-class look clumsy.
Measuring 4922mm from nose to tail, the short-wheelbase R-class certainly doesn’t take up any more road space than Merc’s flagship saloon, but it’s much roomier inside. There’s seating for six in three rows and the four seats in the rear fold flat individually, allowing the load capacity to be expanded to 1950 litres (2385 in the long-wheelbase version).