What is it?
Anyone of a cynical persuasion could be forgiven for thinking that the Mercedes R-class has, until now, rivalled a broken pencil for its lack of an obvious point. Mercedes' belief that well-heeled punters would be forming queues for an XXL MPV that combines four-wheel drive with the kudos of the three-pointed star has proved woefully wide of the mark. On both sides of the Atlantic, buyers have been staying away in droves.
So now a rethink, and the arrival of a new entry-level R-class that gets five normal seats in place of the previous 2-2-2 three-row seating, and which also gets rear-wheel drive instead of the early R-class's default all-paw 4-Matic.
All this de-contenting has allowed Mercedes to cut the entry price of the range, with the R 280 CDI wearing a screen sticker of £36,420. The R 350 petrol and R 63 AMG versions have been quietly dropped, while further up the range a new optional seven-seat configuration replaces the previous six pews.
What’s it like?
The new car certainly makes a better case for itself than its precedessor. The 280 CDI engine is a slightly detuned version of the 320 CDI's 3.0-litre V6 diesel, but with 188bhp and 324lb ft of torque it's still capable of motoring the R's considerable bulk along at a respectable pace.
Mercedes seven-speed autobox comes as standard and works well with the engine's meaty mid-range. And, snow aside, you're singularly unlikely to notice the absence of four-wheel drive.
Rear seats can still slide to maximise legroom, but three adults trying to share the rear bench will find themselves suffering from a distinct lack of shoulder room. Removal of the collapsable rearmost seats has improved the already impressive boot capacity, though.
Should I buy one?
These revisions to Mercedes leviathan MPV have broadened its appeal, and if you’re going to get one, there’s no doubt that this entry-level diesel model makes the most sense. £36k is, after all, only around £4k more than a mid-spec Land Rover Discovery and equally little more expensive than a Volvo XC90 D5. It enjoys a lower profile than both of those luxo-SUVs, yet is still more desirable and no less talented.