Lee Wolstenholme's blog: 13 September - Right car, wrong time. I hope they bring it back.
13 September 2016
The last few years in particular have seen a surge in crossover vehicles being introduced by almost all manufacturers, from mainstream models like the Mazda CX-3 and Renault Kadjar to what would once have been considered unthinkable notions such as Jaguar with its F-Pace SUV and Bentley with the Bentayga.
A couple of weeks ago, news from SsangYong hit the media when the Korean manufacturer announced that its Tivoli XLV model is now on sale. Having tested one a while ago, the Tivoli is an impressive compact SUV but it got my hackles up to see Ssangyong state that the arrival of the XLV variant has created a new class of car, the 'SUV-estate', because, quite simply, it hasn't.
Wind the clock back by a decade and another car manufacturer launched a model that combined an estate silhouette, four-wheel drive and a commanding driving position. Yes, I'm talking about the Mercedes R-class, a car that always divided opinion, leaving a handful of people enamoured but the majority running for the hills in confusion or outright disgust.
While 2842 Mercedes M-class SUVs found homes across Europe in 2012, just 273 buyers were taken in by the R-class, which was unarguably unusual in the way it straddled so many vehicle segments. In today's car buying and leasing climate, though, models like the BMW X4 and X6, Mercedes GLE Coupe and Range Rover Evoque Convertible are considered the norm and adored by large fan bases. If they were launched ten years earlier, they too would have been considered by many as being just as 'pointless' as the R-Class, leaving me feeling that Mercedes had actually come up with the right car - just not at the right time.
There's a glimmer of hope that the R-class may reappear in Mercedes' lineup in the not too distant future, though. When the GLE and GLE Coupe were unveiled last spring, Wolf-Dieter Kurz, Mercedes' vice-president of product group SUVs and sports cars, commented that "due to its growth and the worldwide interest, the SUV segment will be one which sees most derivatives." Speaking about the potential return of a crossover blending MPV, estate and SUV attributes, Kurz added: "There was already one in the portfolio. Maybe we were too early. The R-class is still selling in China, doing good, with 12,000 to 14,000 units per year."
Nowadays, families in particular appreciate the feeling of safety afforded by the elevated driving position of SUVs, MPVs and crossovers, but they seldom venture off road, so if Mercedes does revive the R-class or a similar model, optional front-wheel drive is a must, along with seven seats, nine-speed transmissions and efficient diesel and hybrid powertrains.
If Fiat can be so bold as to sell the 500L in stretched MPW guise, an ultra-efficient R-Class with low CO2 and high MPG would surely be a hit amongst private hire operators, executive fleets and indeed PCH customers. Oh Lord, won't you lease me a Mercedes Benz R-class.if they bring it back like I'm hoping they will?