Mercedes-Benz R-Class: The black sheep among the siblings.
However, its off-spring, the V-Class has brought some glory that the father couldn't even wish for.
Mercedes-Benz didn't want to march past with just a generous lineup of sedans, SUVs and hatchbacks when a whole new idea was being commissioned to its engineers in the early 2000s. After the continued proliferation in sales, Mercedes thought about entering the only segment that was untapped- The MPV segment, an idea which doesn't beckon for many manufacturers' attention as it could be either a blockbuster success, or a ghastly fiasco.
However, with an ever-rising ambition and plan to offer a Mercedes for all, the R-Class debuted as a concept receiving the parlance of 'Vision GST' standing for Grand Sports Tourer at the 2002 Detroit Motor Show. Three years later, we finally got a sneak peek into the R-Class at the New York International Auto Show. As Mercedes too was skeptical about its cab-forward proportions, they tried to market it as a car emulating the typical traits of a crossover, estate/station wagon and a Van. A really obnoxious idea for some, it wasn't furtive at all for the German marque. De facto, they themselves knew things weren't going to be a promenade in the park to sell it alongside the superbly crafted ML-Class (now GLE) and GL-Class (now GLS).
The car shared its platform with its elder brethren and was also conceived in long-wheelbase forms for the North-American market as the bandwagon persists even today. The first generation looked long enough to associate it with an SUV haranguing about a 2,980 mm wheelbase for the standard model itself and a 3,215 mm gap between the wheels for the long-wheelbase avatar to open up ginormous levels of space for the nabobs seated in the lap of luxury in the middle-row.
The car also boasted of a palatable feature roster encompassing features such as a panoramic sunroof, navigation, electric mirrors, navigation, reverse parking sensors, electrically adjustable leatherette seats, rear AC vents, cruise control, USB ports and steering-mounted switches with even paddle shifters! Some markets also got rear-entertainment screens as Mercedes was prophetic in understanding that most owners would spend time at the back thinking about their next viable business deal.
With a car like this, you might wonder if it would be as powerful as a conventional Mercedes. Guess what? It really was and there was also the full-fat AMG treatment given to the car to clinch it for the ones wanting to savour every moment behind the wheel of it. There was a 7-speed 'G-Tronic' transmission as the standard offering which tied the knot with the standard offerings giving the owners a medley of power outputs ranging from 231 hp to 382 bhp. Meanwhile, the R63 AMG was endowed 503 hp and 630 Nm of peak torque for locomotion from nought to sixty in just 5.5 seconds. Back in the day, this wasn't anything vapid even for a sports car. The top speed though, was restricted to just 250 Km/h. Reason? You guessed it right, fishtailing movement around corners and excessive body roll.
As the car wasn't able to carry forward the legacy of the tri-pointed star, it resulted in a pandemonium bringing incessant levels of predisposition to both, its buyers and the illustrious marque alike. People weren't able to come in accordance with its MPV design which is regularly associated with cheapness in most markets and doesn't emanate the core luxury feel. The 2011 update with a reworked fascia sporting new headlamps and sleeker grille couldn't do much to keep the fire burning. The sales charts saw a pitiable decline from 34,357 units in 2006 to just 5,485 units when the car had reached its run-out phase clearly alluding that it had become a rife for the buyers and a high-cost headache for the brand. Moreover, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan looked similar to the R-Class which embroiled this model into image issues. Mercedes' ailing marketing efforts and a tremendous shift of trend to SUVs and crossovers meant there was no panacea to withstand the maladies. Lastly, the 2008 financial crisis leveraged the fuel prices to go all time high which completely paralysed its existence and future.
In a nutshell, I would remark that the R-Class is a paradigm of the aphorism, "ahead of its times." I am sure the brand would have been able to sell more of these in the current scenario. Just look at how prosperous the vans that followed this car, the Vito, Viano and the neoteric V-Class have been. It happens very often that fathers are unable to hone up their kids to become successful in life and this MPV-cum-Van is the ideal testament to that.
What are your thoughts about the R-Class?