AS children we were always told never to judge a book by its cover, that beauty is only skin deep and it is what's inside that counts.
As an adult, with the wisdom of experience and a big dose of reality you find out that like all childhood ideals it is simply just that, and books are most definitely judged by their covers.
In that vein it is always interesting to note the reactions and behaviour of people when we are testing a luxury vehicle, one that would cost the average Australian three years' salary and a lifetime of dreaming.
Some designer badges incite aggression causing you to be cut off at every occasion, people constantly on your tail or motors revving beside you at traffic lights. Others bring out an aloof indifference with people wanting to look but not wanting you to catch them looking.
A Mercedes, almost always, finds that grudging admiration. Suddenly it is easier to merge on that busy road, easier to get that room upgrade at a posh city hotel and as we found, so much easier to get the bank manager to sign on the dotted line.
And when you drive one, even if it is for just a week, it is so much easier to believe in childhood ideals.
The R300 is the most spacious car Mercedes has built to date so riding around in comfort is certainly a given. Head and legroom in the seven-seater is impressive with the most usable third row we have seen for some time.
There are lots of nooks and crannies as well as under-seat storage to deal with family needs. The boot is considerable with the third row folded down but a lot less so when there are more occupants in the car.
The transmission controls are steering-column mounted and while that adds more space to the centre console, it is possible to mistake it for the indicator and knock the car into neutral.
On the road
The 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel is mated to the Benz's 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission. The 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive distributes torque to the front and rear axles at a ratio of 50:50 and helps improve tyre grip and traction. The R300 can be driven in Comfort mode, which makes light work of irregular surfaces or Sports mode for those days when you desire a bit more performance. With a kerb weight of 2.2 tonnes the engine has a lot to do to move you around efficiently.
You certainly feel the sense of solidness in the drive and it handles pretty well in most situations. There is some body roll but not enough to be an irritant and the R300 delivers a smooth, sure-footed driving experience. Turbo lag is experienced in the low-rev range especially during initial acceleration and it has to be urged quite forcibly up steep inclines.
What do you get?
As with all Benzs the standard inclusions often read like a wish list. Heated wing mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, parking sensors, reverse cameras, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers are the usual fare. As is a voice activated audio system, heated four-way lumbar support seats and cruise control with variable speed limiter. The R300 is also well equipped with state-of-the-art safety systems. In addition to the dual front and curtain airbags, stability control, traction control, ABS and brake control, there are blind-spot indicators on your wing mirrors and adaptive brake lights that flash rapidly during emergency braking. The Mercedes also boasts Distronic proximity control, which helps maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead.
Although the R300 seems more like a people-mover, Mercedes is quite determined to position it as a luxury SUV. That pits it against the Audi Q7 ($127,814), BMW X5 ($134,400), Land Rover Discovery 4 ($81,990) and stablemate M-Class ($91,750).
The R300 is a true family car and has the space to prove it. Driver elevation is good and while rear visibility could be better, it is helped by the reverse camera and parking sensors.
The third row is a bit tricky to get into because the second row doesn't drop enough but once ensconced it is very comfortable. Both back rows fold flat and in numerous combinations and with a lower boot lip, loading and unloading of bulky items is much more manageable.
The R300 can also be raised by up to 50mm, which aids ground clearance even with a full boot.
While fuel consumption on highway journeys was frugal we found driving around town particularly hard on the gauge especially for a diesel. Mercedes claims a combined average of 9.3 litres/100km. We found it closer to 11 litres/100km but even that is more than acceptable for a vehicle of this weight. Expect to part with $400 for a minor service and closer to $1000 for a major one.
Mercedes has tried hard to distance the R300 from the general look of a people-mover. The bonnet, front and rear bumper has been revised and there have also been major changes to the grille and headlights. The inside has remained pretty much the same but still projects that Benz quality.
The R300 is stylish, spacious and delivers a good driving performance. It is versatile, too, a must for family vehicles. It has often been an overlooked model with families tending to opt more for the robust M-Class but is definitely worth more than a passing glance.
Model: Mercedes-Benz R300 CDI.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive large sports utility vehicle.
Transmission: Seven-speed G-Tronic.
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 140kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 440Nm between 1400-2800rpm.
Consumption: 9.3 litres/100km combined average.
Performance: 0-100km in 9.8 seconds.
Bottom line: $92,200.
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