2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class: Posh Crossover or Pricey Alt-Minivan?

September 17, 2010

Consumers today, especially those with families, want it all: style, performance, versatility, space, comfort, fuel economy, safety, and as much technology they can get without spending a fortune. To carry adults, kids, assorted friends, pets, and stuff – comfortably, that is -- you either need a SUV, a wagon or a minivan. Despite their popularity years back, minivans today aren’t exactly what the luxury buyer cares to plunk in the driveway. How about a cross between an SUV, wagon and minivan? Will that do the trick? Case in point: the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class crossover, available in two trims, the R350 4MATIC and R350 BlueTEC 4MATIC. 

Looks aren't everything

For 2011, Mercedes-Benz gives the R-Class a whole new look in the front section, including hood, fenders, radiator grille, headlamps and bumper. There’s a new bumper in the rear as well, along with modified tail lights, a diffuser, and integrated tailpipe trim.

Some critics say the R-Class hasn’t been a stellar sales success because of its decidedly minivan-like styling. Yes, it’s luxurious – and carries a steep price tag (with manufacturer’s suggested retail prices starting at about $50,240). But it’s also the most versatile and roomiest, up-to-seven-passenger hauler around. Actually, the R-Class can be configured to seat four, five, six, or seven passengers.

Of interest to families with three infants or toddlers, Mercedes-Benz says the space behind the front seats is so generous that three child safety seats can be installed at the same time. The second row can be ordered with a three-passenger bench that splits 60/40, or with dual bucket seats. A two-passenger third row is also available – and it’s comfortable for adults. That’s pretty versatile in terms of carrying passengers.

Compare the R-Class to the Lincoln MKT and the Audi Q7, both of which seat seven. The MKT is about $6,000 less than the R-Class, but there’s no standard all-wheel drive. The Audi Q7 does have standard quattro AWD and is some $4,000 less (3.0T Premum) than the R-Class.

Space-wise--that is, cargo-carrying capacity--the R-Class is impressive as well. With the second and third rows folded flat, there’s 85 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s in the range of 2011 Land Rover LR4 (90.3 cubic feet) and 2011 Acura MDX (83.5 cubic feet), so, pretty large. And the optional electronic tailgate, operated by switch or smart key, makes loading and unloading the R-Class a snap. Just watch out for second-row bucket seats, if you order them. You’ll need to remove the center console and stow it. It takes a bit of concentration to figure it all out, but once you do it, you’ll remember (like riding a bicycle, I expect). However, other crossovers have rear seats that are easier to fold.

One thing the R-Class doesn’t have that minivans do is sliding side doors. But, of course, the R-Class isn’t a minivan and doesn’t pretend to be. 

Performance and road-worthiness

The 2011 R350 4MATIC is powered by a 268-hp 3.6-liter V-6 engine, while the R350 BlueTEC 4MATIC has  210-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel. Both are mated to seven-speed automatic transmissions with manual shift via steering-wheel paddles.

Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway in the gasoline model and 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway in the diesel.

The standard 4MATIC all-wheel drive is a full-time system sending 45 percent of the power to the front wheels and 55 percent to the rear wheels.

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