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First Drive: 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class Page 3

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You'll likely go about 5 mpg farther per gallon with the Mercedes-Benz R350 Bluetec (EPA 18 mpg city, 24 highway) compared to the gasoline R350 (14/19). We averaged nearly 23 mpg in about 70 miles of driving in mixed conditions with the diesel, then just over 18 mpg over about 100 miles with the gas version.

Supple ride—and surprisingly economical with the Bluetec diesel

The 2011 R-Class’s ride is creamy yet firm, and soaks up jittery back-road surfaces with aplomb. Even over the potholes and crumbled sections that are all too common in the New York City metro area, the R-Class maintained a feeling of composure and solidity. It's no coincidence or mistake that these vehicles are becoming increasingly popular with high-end livery companies.

You won’t find the 5,000-pound-plus R-Class exciting to drive either, but it handles in a secure manner, with less pitching than taller or shorter SUVs. The steering has no real feel of the road and has a unnecessarily hefty feel at parking speeds, though especially in gasoline versions it’s weighted nicely for highway ramps and back-road corners.

Next to some of the latest infotainment systems, with bright, large touch screens, Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND system is beginning to feel dated. Though the menus can be navigated from either a control on the dash or from the steering wheel, the menus for some frequently accessed functions (like zooming in or out in a nav-system map) are less straightforward than they should be. Properly optioned, the R-Class includes an SD card slot, 4 GB of music storage, and an iPod interface along with harman kardon surround sound. Pricing hasn’t yet been announced (and likely won’t be substantially changed), but a long list of options and packages will continue to be offered, including an air suspension, adaptive damping, heated active front seats, and a rear-seat entertainment system.

Luxurious, secure, sensible

We’d venture to say that the solid-feeling R-Class is one of the safest vehicles in which to carry your family and friends. There are eight airbags on board, along with the Pre-Safe safety system and front active headrests. Newly available is a blind-spot system that alerts with a triangle in the rearview mirror, as well as a chime, when you use the turn signal and another vehicle is alongside.

The 2011 Mercedes R-Class—particularly the R350 Bluetec—is one of the most often overlooked alternatives on the market. Whether an upscale alternative to a minivan or a lower, more people-friendly alternative to a truckier ute, its comfort and accommodations are first-rate.


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