2012 Mercedes-Benz R-Class

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2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class — Review

This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2012.
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Rating: 7.5

Bottom Line:

The 2011 R-Class is the most comfortable Mercedes for carrying six or seven passengers, especially if they are adults. It also has plenty of room for cargo, but the price is high and the gasoline engine is not fuel efficient. The diesel engine offers a useful mix of usable power and improved fuel economy; however, it, too, comes at a premium.
Pros:
  • Luxurious interior
  • Versatile space for passengers and cargo
  • Efficient diesel engine
Cons:
  • Costly
  • Poor fuel economy with gasoline engine
  • Not as versatile as a minivan

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.

Model Lineup
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is offered in two trims, the R350 4MATIC and the R350 BlueTEC 4MATIC. Standard equipment in both iterations includes faux leather upholstery, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, a 60/40 split-folding second-row seat, an AM/FM stereo with 6-disc CD changer, a universal garage door opener, self-leveling rear air suspension, automatic headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels.

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
The R350 4MATIC is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, while the R350 BlueTEC has a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel engine that makes 210 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Both engines route their power through a 7-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually via a pair of steering-wheel paddles. Fuel economy is rated at 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway for the gasoline engine and 18 mpg/24 mpg for the diesel.

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.

Inner Space
Inside, the R-Class is all about room and comfort. It can be configured to seat four, five, six or seven passengers. The second row can be ordered with a three-passenger bench seat that splits 60/40, or with a pair of bucket seats. A two-passenger third-row seat is optional. The second-row seats offer enough headroom and legroom for even tall passengers, though the middle seat isn't contoured for the best comfort. Many crossovers have useful second-row seats, but few offer a third row that is as comfortable as that in the R-Class. It has enough room to fit a pair of adults without complaint, although the short seat bottoms will limit long-trip comfort. Getting in and out is a breeze, except for the third row, of course.

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
From behind the wheel, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class has the traits of a crossover. It drives like a car, with a stable and composed feel. It's not sporty, though, as there is some notable lean in turns and the large size means it needs some time to gather itself in quick changes of direction. Compared with the minivans that buyers may cross-shop it against, though, the R-Class is more composed and easier to maneuver.

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?
If you want European luxury with the ability to transport up to seven people, the Mercedes-Benz R-Class is the roomiest and most versatile vehicle available. But it's pricey and it still lags behind a minivan for the ultimate in useful space. Mercedes doesn't sell many R-Classes in the U.S., and the 2011 update doesn't change the vehicle in any appreciable way. Perhaps if it gave the R-Class sliding side doors, it would be more popular.

(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.

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BB03 - 9/18/2014 11:30:50 PM