Mercedes India have been on a quiet note the entire first half of 2011. Well, they have allowed their sales to do much of the talking out here. Sales which had diminished in the wake of competition coming in the form of Audi and BMW, have seen better days in 2011 than earlier. Come to think of it, Mercedes in a bid to improve their brand image have been going around conducting their Mercedes StarDrive events all over India. These events were done keeping in mind that BMW and Audi have a more sporty image while Mercedes only has a stately image in the minds of luxury car buyers. The StarDrive needless to say proves beyond doubt that Mercedes vehicles are also sporty if driven in the right way. Point taken. However one car which caught our attention at that event was the presence of the Mercedes Benz R350 4Matic. Now, we know that’s a long name for a car but the entire print comes on the back of the vehicle. Now, this Mercedes Benz R350 4Matic in India is a uniquely positioned car and one which has no competitor. The situation is said to remain the same until 2012 when BMW bring in their MPV version of their famous 5 series sedan. That’s strange considering that they already have the 5 GT here in place. So today, we have got the review of one huge vehicle which is dimensionally similar to Audi’s Q7. Unfortunately this expensive piece of machinery namely the Mercedes Benz R350 4Matic wasn’t available off the shelf and hence we had to wrangle it out of Mercedes after a 5 days request.
Check on Road Price
As for its looks, the AMG version grille from Mercedes stables seem to satisfy the driving purists. The grille is in the same league as the Audi Q7’s. On papers though the Q7 is longer than the R class. Why the Q7, even the newly introduced Mercedes GL class is also longer than the R class. As for the head lamps, they are of the neat variety and there is no LED gimmick in them. Just pure halogen gimmicks. In place of the fog lamps come in the traditional Mercedes Day Time running LED strips. The wing mirrors are the typical Mercedes fare with their swooped cuts and stuff. The 18 inch alloys along with their 255/55 configuration look good on this MPV. However the MPV stance doesn’t emphasize itself from the 147 mm ground clearance. Yes, that’s the ground clearance which some of the sports cars possess here. The rear slopes into a CRV like coupe roofline. As for the rear, there are twin exhausts which look like they would blow away Nigeria in a jiffy. The tail lamps, though LEDs have a boring design to them. A single slab of chrome is present as the tail gate lifter. From a distance, if you remove the badge, then the Audi Q7 and the Mercedes R class look very much the same.
The doors open real wide that you can really walk into them. Once inside, you would realize that this is typical Mercedes fare with the 5 spoked multi function steering wheel with the persistent mud color on it. Quality is evident from the way the materials have been put together. By the way, the R class is the only car which comes directly from the US and not somewhere nearby. The AC vents have a shutter effect to them. The meter dials are two aloof units which have a multi information display in the center. The fake wood trim in the central panel means looks awesome and the fit as also finish are immaculate. The Harman Kardon music system, as always makes its presence here as well and is a fantastic sounding unit with aux and USB input to it. The steering wheel has the usual Bluetooth, audio and cruise controls on it. The seats themselves are comfortable and have electric controls thrown in. These controls can help the driver as well as front seat passenger to adjust the seating position according to their preference. By the way, this is a 6 seater MPV with individual captain chairs for all the occupants. DVD screens at the back of the head rests of the front seats are also present. The buttons and stalks all work with a precision which we have come to expect from Mercedes Benz vehicles. The second row of seats is also comfortable, even with the front seats pulled all the way back. With the captain seat configuration for the seats, the second row of seats can also be slid back or forth. The third row of seats is also very comfortable considering that most of the MPVs with a third row in place don’t have good under thigh support. Equipment levels are similar to what the others from Mercedes stables offer and there is a reverse camera as also front parking sensors. Access to the rear most seats is also of the easy types. However with all the seats in place, the boot space is highly affected. Especially the 310 liters of space is hardly recommendable for 6 passengers on a picnic trip. However there are many deep pocketed cubby holes in the cabin which more than make up for the lack of space in the stowage zone.
Handling and ride quality
The Mercedes Benz R350 4Matic in India is a MPV which is supposed to ride well and let the cornering duties be taken over by its more agile companions like the ML and GL class, leave alone the saloons. A 4 wheel drive configuration means that the R350 transfers all its power via a 4ETS system. This Electronic Traction System is one of the advanced versions of the 4WD and has a different nature of operation as opposed to a differential lock. However both use the same principle for their operation. If the system detects that a particular wheel is losing traction, then it automatically applies brakes to that feel so that it stops spinning or either reduces the rotations to the same rotations as the opposite wheel. Theoretically this means that even when there is too much of muck outside the cabin, the R class would still be in motion. This MPV gets Mercedes’ famous Airmatic suspension. One can actually jack up the suspension or lower it based on the road surface that one is traveling on. On Indian roads, given the ground clearance of the R class, it is mot likely that drivers would rather raise the suspension than lower it. But then this system works only when the MPV is traveling at speeds lower than 30 kmph. Once past this speed, the MPV resorts back to its original stance. This system is not automatic as well since it cannot detect change in terrain and lower or jack itself up.
On more than once occasion we experienced this phenomenon the hard way when the nose of the Mercedes touched a huge speed breaker. Well, a Tata Nano with its roof lowered would easily fit into the wheelbase of the R class. This is one of the reasons why Mercedes have given the R350 three different modes to choose from amongst the suspension settings. One is the Comfort mode. In this, the R350 smothers everything which comes in its path. Much like the Audi Q7 and LC200 which use their sheer brute strength to crumple all the bad roads into submission. This is one Mercedes quality which has been retained in the R class amidst others. The steering wheel carries more feel than most of the Mercedes cars and this is a nice trait. However lock to lock, the R class has a bigger turning radius than most Mercedes cars. The typical Mercedes nimbleness is missing. The R class feels like a whale out of water in the city limits. However NVH has been relegated to oblivion with the use of sound deadening materials inside the cabin which more or less show the level of commitment Mercedes has for its customers.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
The Mercedes Benz R350 4Matic in India is available only in a single engine configuration and that engine happens to be a petrol drinking one. It’s a transverse V6 engine with 4 valves per cylinder and displacing 3.5 liters of cubic volume. It makes 273 Bhp of power at 6000 rpm whereas the torque figure reads as 350 Nm from 2400 rpm. It is aligned with a 7 speed triptronic transmission called as 7G Tronic in Mercedes speak. This coupled with the 2.2 tonnes kerb weight means that the R-class on papers would be slower than what it appears to be. However figures on papyrus would seem far fetched because when it comes to real world performance, the R350 is quite brisk off the line. For the 0-100 kmph dash, it dispatched that in only 9.4 seconds whereas the top speed was close to 186 kmph. What the figures don’t suggest is the eagerness of the engine as a whole. It is more than an eager performance and its performance can be called as akin to a puppy which is always ready to fetch a stick. The gearbox is a nice unit as long as you are in the city limits however out on the highway, it surprisingly is a reluctant companion. Any joy which can be derived out of the engine performance is killed with the gearbox combination. The gearbox even in manual mode fails to upshift at the right moment and when exiting corners, one is left for lack of any power going to the wheels. The gearbox has a mind of its own and overtaking maneuvers have to be very carefully executed since one would never know what the gearbox would decide next.
The power delivery from the engine comes in as linearly as can be possible from a petrol motor. We are being told that the gearbox’s slow to react attitude is mainly so that it can contribute to a good fuel economy. Mercedes BlueEfficiency techniques have been working overtime in this car since inspite of its bulk and V6 engine, it manages to return 6.3 kmpl in the city and 12.2 kmpl on the highway. 6 airbags as also a collapsible steering column along with various crumple zones and seatbelts with pretensioners and restraints comprise the safety factor. Moreover, there are various braking aids assisting the all wheel disc brakes. Some are the ESP, traction control and ABS.
The Mercedes Benz R350 4Matic in India is one MPV which would grant you immediate distinction. The fact of owning a 3 pointed star and also having the costliest MPV on sale in India. The R class has its merits with the fact that it is the most spacious and luxurious MPV in this price. Build quality and also the feeling of luxury is amplified maximum in this big MPV. However that apart, the R class has a very low ground clearance for Indian conditions, has a weak gearbox, low fuel efficiency, is quite a handful in the city and also high sticker price. Coming to the price, the Mercedes Benz R350 4Matic price in India is Rs 60 lakhs. This price is ex-show room, Mumbai. Adding some more money to this package means that one can go in for the slightly bigger but much better GL class. The GL also comes with a diesel engine which means that running costs would also be on the lower side as compared to the R class.