Mercedes-Benz R-Class

Written By nyit on Monday, April 11, 2011 | 3:55 AM

If you are somewhat surprised that Mercedes-Benz decided to give its R-Class another go, don't feel like the Lone Ranger. The economy notwithstanding, the first generation didn't sell all that well; maybe things will be better the second time around.

The suits at Mercedes-Benz will hate me saying this, but think of the R-Class as an answer to the minivan for Mercedes-Benz loyalists. Offering the space, comfort and practicality of a traditional minivan, the R-Class is a classier, more sophisticated interpretation of that genre. Mercedes-Benz, however, would like us to think of it as a crossover. Tomayto, tomahto.

With the exterior dimensions unchanged, the 2011 R-Class casts the same shadow as the 2010. Consequently the interior's measurements remain the same as well.

Mercedes-Benz altered nearly every exterior element forward of the A-pillar; however, if you aren't a student of the brand, you will probably need to see the 2010 and the 2011 versions side by side to identify the differences. Styling modifications inside and out are evolutionary. The changes are enhancing rather than sweeping. The grille, with its large star, is taller and the headlamps are more elongated on the 2011. From the side, the core shape remains virtually the same and the sharp, chiseled beltline still flows from the front wheel opening to the wraparound taillight. While the taillights are different, they retain the basic shape of those on the 2010. Both front and rear fascias are new. The dual exhaust ports are squared off as opposed to the 2010's round ones.
Although Mercedes-Benz is building short and long versions, as with the last generation, the U.S. market will see only the longer wheelbase edition. Likewise only two of the five available models will find their way here: the R350 and the R350 BlueTEC. Both will be standard with the Mercedes-Benz all-wheel drive 4Matic system and will usher engine output to the wheels via a seven-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission. In fact, the powertrains of both models are essentially unchanged.

For the fuel-economy conscious, the R350 BlueTEC delivers an EPA estimated 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. Using 50-state approved clean-diesel technology, this 3-liter V6 pumps out 210 horsepower and a whopping 400 pound feet of torque. Mercedes-Benz says it takes 8.6 seconds for the R350 BlueTEC to reach 60 miles per hour from a standstill.

U.S. traditionalists will more likely opt for the R350 with its gasoline 3.5-liter V6. Generating 268 horsepower and 258 pound feet of torque, it carries an EPA mpg rating of 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. Although fuel economy isn't as good, this version is quicker requiring eight seconds to reach 60 miles per hour.

As is typically the case with all-new or redesigned models, official pricing won't be announced until much closer to the on-sale date. However, $1,500 separates the suggested retail price of the 2010 editions of these two models. Pushing the MSRP of the R350 (currently priced at $49,300) into $50,000 territory seems unlikely. So figure the 2011 R350 at around $49,900 and the R350 BlueTEC at approximately $51,400. Both of these estimates are before adding this year's $875 delivery charge.

Inside the changes are even less obvious. But that's OK; the cabin of the 2010 was well designed and beautifully executed, as is that of the 2011. The instrument cluster is redesigned, but subtly. You can furnish the R350 to seat as few as four or as many as seven. The second row can be configured with an optional three-person split-folding bench seat or the standard two captain's seats with a center console. A two-person third-row bench seat is also standard.

Front- and rear-seat occupants alike enjoy plenty of leg, hip and headroom. The third-row seat is a bit cramped. An optional electric tailgate is available that opens to cargo space ranging from 15.2 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats in place to 85 cubic feet with both those rows folded down.
The richness of this cabin is obvious. Seven different surfaces converge at the A-pillar. Leather seating is standard, with real walnut wood inlays and chrome accents liberally used. Full power accessories, an automatic dual-zone climate system, eight airbags and steering wheel-mounted redundant audio controls are all standard. Traction control, electronic stability control and brake assist are included in the base prices as well.

Also included as standard equipment, the Mercedes-Benz Command system features an in-dash six-CD/DVD changer, an auxiliary input port in the glove box and a 6.5-inch color monitor.
Although its not set to go on sale until August, Mercedes-Benz brought an international group of journalists to New Jersey in mid June to get a first taste of the redesigned R-Class. In a driving route that included New Jersey and upstate New York before winding up in New York City's SoHo, the R-Class proved to be a terrific tourer. Well behaved in the twisties, it handled crisply and predictably. Its quiet, luxurious cabin was an inviting spot to spend four or five hours.
Sure it's not the most exciting vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz stable, but when gobs of space, creature comfort, high-tech safety systems and competent performance are all on your must-have list, the 2011 R-Class shines.

By Russ Heaps - MyCarData

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