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If car companies treated their products like TV families, Mercedes-Benz would have a Brady-style dilemma on its hands with the R-Class. It's such a Jan-the obedient, plain B student unfortunately born between two cuter, smarter, more talented siblings. The R-Class all but disappeared in the shadows of the five-seat ML-Class and seven-seater GL-Class sport-utes from the day it was born in 2006, and it hasn't made a dent in the luxury-crossover market since, even though a diesel engine makes it the most efficient vehicle of its kind. Radical change isn't coming any time soon, either. For 2010, the R-Class gets very few tweaks-the biggest one in name only-and soldiers on with a price tag of about $50,000. The crossovers it gets jealous of? The big and bawdy Lincoln MKT, the lean and sophisticated Audi Q7, and the poster child for the bling generation, the Cadillac Escalade.
The R-Class is sidelined most, we think, because of its inflated proportions. It's the rare car that looks bigger than it is. We don't find anything wrong with the details of the R-Class, but it tries to fuse a sport-ute personality on a minivan-sized body and misses the mark. As long as an S-Class and as tall as some SUVs, the R-Class just can't hide its bulk behind the mom-jeans effect of a low, aerodynamic nose. Worse yet, at first glance, you might mistake it for its old corporate cousin, the Chrysler Pacifica. Inside, it's plainer than you might expect, and the R-Class dash reads more "utility" than it does "luxury." Wide bands of wood trim dress up the gray plastics well enough, and gauges have cut-tube styling that's trendy and handsome. It's the big stack of controls between front passengers and the oddly retro chrome trim on the steering wheel that dial back the luxe look the most. You'd find the same shapes in minivans of a lesser price point.
For 2010, two R-Class models wear the alphanumeric R350 tag-despite the fact that the diesel version displaces just 3.0 liters. The diesel turns the R-Class into a very practical utility vehicle; it's as smooth as modern diesels get, and though its output is rated at just 210 horsepower, its big torque figure of 400 pound-feet gets channeled through a seven-speed automatic and an all-wheel-drive system for relatively swift acceleration, all-weather grip, and a wallet-friendly 18/24 mpg fuel economy rating. The gas-powered 3.5-liter V-6 puts out 268 hp through the same transmission and AWD system, giving the R-Class a little more straight-line performance while cutting fuel economy to 14/19 mpg. Benz estimates either version will accelerate to 60 mph in about 8.0 seconds. The R-Class' gearbox is a smooth operator, and it offers a manual-shift mode-but we're not sure many drivers ever will use it. The R-Class' 5,000-pound body and sluggish steering will smother most attempts at brisk driving on curvy roads, even if the powerful brakes can keep up their end of the bargain. The R-Class' air suspension damps most bumps out of touch, though like the GL-Class SUV, its roll control is so tight passengers will feel more head toss than in a softly sprung Cadillac Escalade. Both 2010 R350 crossovers will tow 3,500 pounds with an optional hitch.
Whether it's a sport tourer, a crossover, or a pseudo-minivan, one thing's for sure: The R-Class delivers its passengers in more comfort and space than any truck-based SUV, and it's on a par with TheCarConnection's favorite big crossovers, the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT. The R-Class seats six or seven passengers, and at least four of them will be coddled in supreme comfort all of the time. All three pairs of seats are full-sized and offer adult-sized cushioning and headroom. A third passenger seat can be fitted in the second row in the place of a console. The third-row seats are nearly as plush, with a touch less knee room and width, and they're easily accessed from the R-Class' wide rear doors and easy-tilt second-row seats. Those big doors can be difficult to open in crowded parking lots, even in generous spaces. The second and third rows of seats fold down to create a sizable cargo space of about 87 cubic feet (a huge 50 cubic feet shy of the Escalade ESV, but larger and flatter than the space in the Lincoln MKT), and the R-Class is positively littered with in-cabin storage, molded into the door panels and hidden under console lids.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz R-Class has better safety protection than even last year's model. A new POST-SAFE system disables electrical and fuel systems after an accident, while PRE-SAFE tightens seatbelts in advance of an accident. All R-Class crossovers have anti-lock brakes; traction and stability control; four-wheel drive; dual front, front and rear side, and side curtain airbags that cover the third seating row; active headrests; a trailer-sway control system; and tire pressure monitors. A radar-based cruise control system, parking sensors, and a rearview camera are options. The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) gives the R-Class "good" ratings for front and side impact protection; NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has not tested the R-Class.
Mercedes simplifies some R-Class equipment and options for 2010. All R350 crossovers get standard vinyl upholstery; wood trim; a sunroof (on gas versions); a leather-trimmed steering wheel; 19-inch wheels; power front seats; dual-zone automatic climate control; power windows, mirrors, and locks; COMAND control for audio and entertainment systems; an AM/FM/DVD changer with SD memory slot and an auxiliary jack; and Bluetooth. An iPod/MP3 interface, Sirius Satellite Radio with real-time traffic and data, and HD Radio are options, along with a rear-seat entertainment system. Other options include a power liftgate; keyless entry and push-button start; a cargo tray; a seven-seat configuration; parking sensors; ventilated seats; a panoramic sunroof; a towing package; a heating steering wheel; and heated front seats. Twenty-inch wheels can be fitted to gas-powered versions.
- Great long-haul tourer
- Diesel fuel economy
- Better mobile lounge than the ones at IAD
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- Inflated proportions
- Lethargic steering
- Gas version's no fuel-sipper