The R Class is a surprising vehicle, when you think about it. We road users weren’t exactly screaming for what it offers, so it clearly isn’t market-led. It’s nice to know that the famous prestige manufacturer can come up with an interesting niche car that is a combination of three distinct car types.

Using the floor plan and 4-Matic permanent four-wheel-drive running gear, the new Mercedes is capable of going places the ‘Green Wellie’ brigade only dream of. The sure footed nature of the drive train is impressive in all weather conditions. The R feels solid and confidence-inspiring, even when taken beyond the school run and suburbia!

The R Class features MPV-like seating for six adults. The individual leather seats are arranged in three rows of two with the last row collapsible to the floor in seconds. This makes the R Class a very spacious four-seater with ample luggage space and this is the vehicle's best configuration. Sadly, with the six seats in place the boot all but vanishes, although there is a stretched long wheel base version (+235mm badged ‘L’) available for a premium of €2,530. Passengers enjoy a decent amount of personal space. The middle two seats are MPV-like captain's chairs.

Mercedes estate cars are always elegant and more often than not remain fashionable for longer than their saloon siblings. Depending on how you look at the rugged R Class it can have the appearance of a jacked up estate car or a lowered four wheel drive. Because it doesn’t sit way above conventional cars in traffic the nasty looks and verbal flack big four wheel drive users receive are less of an issue, although the R Class still takes up a huge amount of road.

The ‘G-Tronic’ seven-speed automatic features the very handy and intuitive ‘Direct Shift’ steering wheel mounted gear shift buttons for those times when you want to have a little more control over engine braking or for more enthusiastic driving. There are three tried and trusted engines in the R Class range. €79,530 gets you started on the first step of the R Class ladder. The entry level petrol unit is the R350 V6, a very smooth and quiet unit. The same price gets the R320 diesel (an R280 diesel is on the way), the best choice for all round ability as it combines reasonable fuel efficiency (averaging 8.9L/100Km) with good pulling power. The diesel can get a bit rowdy when pushed but only sounds coarse to the ears of petrol car drivers. The range topping power plant is of course the R500 V8 petrol. €99,070 gets the no holds barred version for the moment until the R63AMG arrives later this year. In the real world the extra spend can’t be justified. The R500 is very indulgent in the eyes of mere mortals.

The main downside with the R Class is its size. The fact the driver can’t see the bonnet makes the optional ‘Parktronic’ at €1,452 a must.

The R Class is a lot of car.

Michael Sheridan