Giles Smith: Mercedes R 320 | Technology | The Guardian

28 Jul 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Giles Smith: Mercedes R 320 | Technology | The Guardian
Mercedes R 320

A luxury saloon car

Model Mercedes R 320 CD1

Price From £42,970

Top speed 134mph

Acceleration 0-62mph in 8.8 secs

Consumption 30.4 mpg (combined)

CO2 emissions 246g/km (road tax band G)

At the wheel Jürgen Klinsmann

On the stereo James Last

En route for Baden Baden

They’d rather walk Sir Bobby Charlton

You would call the R 320 a people carrier, if that didn’t seem to be lowering its tone. After all, there are people and there are people, and this all-new six-seater from Mercedes seems to have been designed with only the better kind of chauffeuring in mind. It would make a suitable minibus for a truly exclusive Swiss private school.

Or you could see it collecting a footballer from an airport. Either way, it is built to convey its occupants in conditions of comfort and space more conventionally associated with five-star hotels.

Make that a suite, in fact. The R 320 is enormous – brazenly vast, in fact, and in these notionally concerned times, even in an automatic diesel format, it pumps its carbon dioxide with a rare insouciance. Parked on a suburban street, the car appears to have descended from the Planet of the Eco-Unfriendly Giants.

Pedestrians seem to step cautiously round it, as if worried about what might emerge from it, or in fear of being sucked into its turbines.

Yet the R 320 isn’t even pretending, SUV-style, to be some kind of rugged, stream-fording, stonewall-climbing, cross-country tractor. There’s no spare wheel tagged ostentatiously to the boot, no fat around the wheel arches, no nature-resistant cladding plastered to the front end. It is, quite simply, without disguise, a whopping great luxury saloon car for six.

Mercedes R 320

Or, as Mercedes prefer to put it, a Grand Sports Tourer, though it’s not clear where sports come into it, unless you specifically mean the sport of truck-racing. Touring, too, doesn’t seem much to the point. Most likely bankers will buy the R 320 for their wives, and their wives will take their children to school in it and then, having stopped off at Waitrose on the way home, tether it carefully behind electronic gates.

All Mercedes loudly announce their gladness to be German, but the R 320 is glad to be German plus. I toyed with accenting this noisy message by flying the flag of Germany from my test model’s rear windows. Now, that would be a statement to make on English streets, as World Cup fever grips the land.

But I backed down, figuring that the people at Mercedes would appreciate my returning the car with a full set of wheels and at least some of its glass intact.

This is, after all, an expensive item to go casually putting in the way of danger. By fitting a few electronic oddments, Mercedes managed to inflate the value of my R 320 to just south of £50,000. As they say in Germany, ker-ching.

That works out, roughly, at a cool £8,000 per passenger.

Still, the R 320 doesn’t hide its costliness. Indeed, it chats openly about your capacity to afford it, which is presumably what you want, if you are spending this much on a car. Its interior is a sumptuous spread of carefully graded woods and leathers.

Everyone gets a cupholder and four of you get access to fastidiously conditioned air and business-class legroom. The twin seats in the third row are, inevitably, more cramped, but even these will feel like Wyoming to anyone who has recently flown with Monarch Airlines.

And, of course, in the now obligatory gesture towards adaptability, you can collapse those back seats to create some boot space, or topple the lot of them, in the event of I don’t know what. Needing to stage an emergency indoor basketball match, presumably.

All of which would surely command only one’s rueful respect, if the R 320 wasn’t, at the same time, so thumb-bitingly ugly. One wouldn’t want to go so far as to maintain that this was Mercedes’ bid to unseat the SsangYong Rhodius, notoriously voted Britain’s ugliest car in an online poll. There is no arguing, though, that the R 320 is no Brad Pitt.

I looked at it from every angle I could find, and couldn’t make its ponderous bulk and swollen lines add up to anything even halfway attractive. I tried looking at the car through a squint, to see if it cohered any better. No joy.

This car is only handsome if you look at it with eyes clamped shut and think of another car.

All the more reason to be on the inside looking out, basking in the soft acoustics, floating on the cushy suspension, dimly noticing the engine tug through its seven gears without drawing breath. The stereo, needless to say, is a peach – achingly precise with enough bottom end to halt a charging rhino. Frankly, the R 320 only wants a flatscreen TV and a bathroom and you could live in it.

At these prices, you may have to.

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Mercedes R 320
Mercedes R 320
Mercedes R 320
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