Revamp shows class

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 December, 2010, 12:00am

The Mercedes-Benz R-Class had mixed reviews when it was launched in 2006. The seven-seater was big, but hardly sexy, critics said. So the German marque redesigned the van's bonnet, grille and wings, and added new LED running lights, sleeker headlights and a bit of chrome on the bumpers.

The new R-Class seems more 'sculpted' than its predecessor. Its sides have been reshaped with larger exterior mirror housings and light-alloy wheels in three design options for a choice of 17- to 21-inch wheels. The rear has been reshaped with modified bumpers, rearranged lights with LED and new tailpipe trim. But the R-Class is still large, at 4.922m long, 1.922m wide and more than 1.66m high. Stretch versions can be 5.157m long and weigh up to 2,265kg.

The R-Class costs more than its competitors, but was named Europe's most popular van in this year's Internet Auto Awards run by AutoScout24, which drew more than 230,000 voters from seven countries.

The range also seems just right for southern China, where we love big, comfortable, chauffeur-driven cars, and particularly those with a separate entertainment system in the rear seats. The R-Class also seems to offer its passengers more stretch, particularly in the third row, which is useful for cross-border board meetings or factory visits from Hong Kong.

More important, the R-Class is a Mercedes-Benz that stands out among the herds of Nissan Elgrands and Toyota Alphards at the golf club, particularly in the marque's new 'diamond white' paint finish.

The range starts with the three-litre R 300 L (HK$632,000), which has a 231hp three-litre engine capable of a top speed of 222km/h and sprints to 100km/h in 9.7 seconds, which might suffice for around town, but could strain at full occupancy in a fast lane in Shenzhen.

The 3.5-litre R 350 L (HK$745,000) has an extra 39 horses, promises 230km/h and is 1.5 seconds faster to the tonne, the marque says. The R 350 L's 4Matic version (HK$794,000) offers four-wheel drive and the marque's latest stability electronics in the wet, while the 5.4-litre, 388hp R 500 L (HK$998,000) is top of the range with self-levelling rear air suspension as standard, the promise of 100km/h sprints in 6.3 seconds, and a top speed of 250km/h.

The interior has two new contrast combinations, of greys and browns, is predictably plush and can be brightened with a panoramic glass sunroof.

The front seats can be 'actively ventilated' or heated and three child safety seats can be installed in the space behind them, the marque says, adding that the remaining seating can be arranged into 2-2-0 or 2-3-0 and 2-2-2 to 2-3-2 systems.

The R-Class is also 'the most variable and spacious vehicle in the entire Mercedes-Benz passenger car product range', the marque says, with up to 2,385 litres of space in the boot and an Easy Pack tailgate-opening device that improves access to it with a switch or key. But your chauffeur might need to practise the Linguatronic voice control.