2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class — Review
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2012.
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
The Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a hard vehicle to classify. It has the size of an SUV, the looks of a minivan and the carlike unibody structure of a crossover. But it's not really any of them. It's roomier than your typical crossover, doesn't have sliding side doors like a minivan, and drives like a car, not a wonky SUV.
No matter how you categorize it, though, one fact remains the same: The R-Class has been the roomiest and most comfortable European-made people-mover since it was introduced to the public as a 2006 model year vehicle.
For 2011 Mercedes gave its impressive family hauler a face-lift. But don't worry, it didn't change anything else. The R-Class is still the poshest people-mover on the block.
Standard safety equipment consists of dual front airbags, front side airbags, side-curtain airbags for all three rows, a tire-pressure monitor, active front head restraints, rear park assist, anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control with trailer stabilization. The R-Class also comes with Mercedes' Pre-Safe system, which activates emergency brake assist to help avoid a potential accident and readies the airbags, seatbelts and even the sunroof for a crash.
Under the Hood
Both versions come standard with Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. In the R-Class, it is a full-time system that sends 45 percent of the power to the front wheels and 55 percent to the rear wheels at all times.
The R-Class is also about cargo space. Both the second- and third-row seats fold flat to create a large, 85-cubic-foot cargo area — about as much as an Acura MDX or Land Rover LR4. Opening up all that space can be a bit complicated, though. When the second-row buckets and center console are ordered, the console must be removed and stored. Depending on how far back the front seats are set, the second-row headrests may need to be removed. When folded, the third-row seats also hook into the second-row seats, so the second row must be moved into the right position. It all takes about a minute to configure, which isn't that bad, but other crossovers have much easier folding procedures.
For those who want to carry both passengers and cargo, the R-Class has 42.2 cubic feet of cargo space when the third-row seats are folded, which is as much room as a small hatchback. Maxing out passenger capacity limits cargo space to 15.2 cubic feet, which is still as much as a good-size trunk.
Up front, the ambience is typical Mercedes, though a bit downscale from vehicles like the E-Class or S-Class. The standard upholstery is faux leather instead of real leather, but there is burl walnut trim, the new gauges have an attractive watch-face look, and the materials have a solid, soft-touch feel.
Mercedes' COMAND system operates the communications, navigation and entertainment functions. Unlike in other Mercedes cars, there is no central knob. Instead, there's a 5-way controller inconveniently located to the right of the navigation screen on the center stack. Using the COMAND system can be complicated, and reaching across the dashboard will grow tiresome for most drivers.
The R-Class also offers a bevy of entertainment features. An available hard-drive-based navigation system holds up to 4 gigabytes of music files; an iPod interface and SIRIUS Satellite Radio are available; an optional Harman Kardon 7.1 surround-system cranks the tunes; and back-seat occupants can be entertained by DVD screens in the backs of the front headrests. Many of these features are offered in the $4,000 Premium package.
On the Road
In the Mercedes tradition, the ride is smooth, and only the sharpest ruts upset passenger comfort. Steering is light and a little slow but direct, and the brakes are predictable and easy to modulate.
The 3.5-liter gasoline engine provides ready but not excessive power from a stop. Zero to 60 mph arrives in 8 seconds. The engine works fairly well with the 7-speed automatic transmission; shifts are smooth, if a bit tardy when passing punch is needed. Unfortunately, fuel economy is poor. The gas engine's mileage numbers are more of what you'd expect from a V8, not a V6.
If you want better mileage, opt for the 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine. It provides even more willing power from a stop, but midrange and highway response aren't quite as brisk. Zero to 60 mph takes 8.6 seconds. Fuel economy is much higher. Given the savings at the pump, we'd opt for the diesel. Properly equipped, both engines can tow up to 3,000 pounds.
New for 2011 is Blind Spot Assist, which monitors the sides of the vehicle and warns drivers (via lights in the side mirrors) that vehicles are traveling in the blind spots. The system also sounds a warning if the driver signals for a lane change when a vehicle is traveling in that lane. The system works as advertised, but drivers should take care not to rely on it and should pay attention to the lights in the mirrors instead of tuning them out.
Right for You?
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Mercedes-Benz provided MSN with travel and accommodationsto facilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.