Alexei Sayle: Time travelling on the long road north

I took the new Mercedes-Benz R350 to Hull the other week. Built on the floorpan of the recent Mercedes M-Class SUV, it too has four-wheel drive, but the body is stylistically rather closer to that of a people carrier.

It is a big vehicle, indeed so big that at the Royal Hull, the sort of place that always acts as if they're doing you a favour by letting you pay to stay there, the duty manageress told me rather sniffily that I had to move my car from the front of their hotel as it was blocking access for ambulances and fire-engines.

In the version of the R- Class that I sampled, there were three rows of full-sized seats in an attractive black-grained leather, with DVD screens built into the seat-backs to keep the kids amused.

My only criticism is that, despite its imposing exterior bulk, there is only fairly restricted boot space with all the seats up.

Apart from that quibble, this new Mercedes model was an absolute dream to drive, though not as taut as the S600 limousine I tested and wrote about a few weeks ago. It was easily as relaxing to be behind the wheel of, with the added advantage of a driving position almost as lofty as that in an SUV, but without any of the negative vibes that that particular type of vehicle can often provoke in other road users.

I sometimes felt I was actually more rested after a six-hour drive in the R Class than I had been before I got in it.

Yet, despite that, I had one of my most unsettling driving experiences ever while in this car.

A Mercedes delivery driver had dropped off the R350 at my house 90 minutes earlier and at the same time had picked up my former loan car - the Mercedes S600 previously referred to. Driving north up the M1 at the wheel of the R350, I was trying to marshall my thoughts about the S-Class and, particularly, what effect such an ostentatious motor had on other people when a glint of chrome caught my eye and in the outside lane I saw the very car I'd been at the wheel of only an hour and a half before.

This sight gave me the disturbing sensation of being like a man in a time-travel movie who sees a version of himself from the past.

As I shot past myself I thought that the earlier version of me seemed guileless and full of a naïve innocent hope, unaware of the horrors that lay waiting for him in the future.

I pitied him.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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