2011 Mercedes-Benz R Class Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 24, 2010

If you can look beyond the ambiguous shape of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class, you'll find it a near-perfect vehicle for the family road trip—especially with the strong, economical BlueTEC diesel engine.

The Mercedes-Benz R-Class is one of the best luxury people-movers on the market, yet its chameleon-like qualities and not-quite-minivan, not-quite-SUV styling haven't made a lot of friends. Despite the road-trip kudos, the R-Class's ambiguity has gotten in the way of success. With a silhouette that lands somewhere between a tall wagon, an SUV, and yes, a minivan, plus a very people-oriented interior with space to sprawl, the R-Class should be a sales success, especially in the suburbs—it isn't.

That's all due to change this year, when the R-Class gets a modest refresh that sharpens up the appearance and takes it slightly more in the direction of a utility vehicle. With interior upgrades and new color combinations, it feels more luxurious yet remains as spacious and versatile.

The R-Class's top rivals are likely the Lincoln MKT and Buick Enclave—vehicles that offer three rows of seating with a good dose of comfort. However, the 2011 R-Class provides something those vehicles don't: In addition to the base 3.5-liter V-6, a 210-hp, 3.2-liter turbo-diesel V-6 is available in the R350 BlueTEC, enabling mid-20s fuel-economy figures on the highway.

Review continues below

Though primarily a wagon in purpose, the R-Class offers a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system for all-weather performance, along with a smooth ride, a hefty, solid driving feel, and a lavish interior with some of the latest infotainment systems. Families looking for a long-distance luxury hauler that eats up the highway miles won't be disappointed.

7

2011 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Styling

Refreshed styling, especially in front and in back, plus richer detailing, make the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class appear slightly more robust than before, but it still might solicit soccer moms a little too obviously.

The profile of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class says it all:
the roofline of a minivan, the cargo opening of a wagon, and a dash of rugged
SUV detailing, plus a slightly more buff stance than some crossovers. It truly
is a mix of several types of vehicles, but it makes a lot more sense when
looking at the passenger-friendly interior first.

 

To bring
this luxury people-mover a little more up-to-date and take it just a little bit
further stylistically in the direction of a utility vehicle, Mercedes-Benz has
given the 2011 R-Class a slightly more upright front end, with a higher,
arrow-edged hoodline and a higher, more prominent grille that's now a lot
closer in appearance to those used in the M-Class and GL-Class utes. It's
flanked with flowing headlamps that, to this reviewer's eyes, look like they
have eyelids and are a little more organic, while the rear fascia has been
changed and tail lamps are lifted slightly.

 

Inside,
the dash top gets a new look, bright trim accents illuminate it a bit, and some
of the other materials and color combinations are new. The optional Panorama
sunroof remains a nice touch that lends a light, airy feel, too.

 

Overall,
it looks a bit more muscular on the outside, a little more smartly dressed
inside. But to some, the R-Class is still an acquired taste or too close to
that dreaded mom-mobile they don't want in their driveway.

7

2011 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Performance

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class has safe and secure handling, and either powertrain gives it enough performance, but it's far from nimble. Diesel fans rejoice, as the BlueTEC model feels stronger in everyday driving, as well as more fuel-efficient.

The 2011 Mercedes R-Class still comes in two models for the
United States: an R350, with a 268-hp, 3.5-liter gasoline V-6, and the R350
BlueTEC, with a 210-hp, 3.2-liter turbo-diesel V-6. Of the two, the BlueTEC is
the way to go for all but those who absolutely detest diesels. It’s clean and
economical, and only when just starting from a stop do you momentarily hear the
customary diesel clatter. With 400 pound-feet of torque (compared to only 258 lb-ft
for the V-6), the diesel model has a strong, refined, relaxed feel and isn’t
flustered by hills or full loads, where V-6 models need to downshift more
frequently.

 

You'll likely get about 5 mpg more with the Mercedes-Benz
R350 BlueTEC (EPA 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway) than with the gasoline R350
(14/19 mpg). 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.

 

Whichever the model, the seven-speed automatic transmission
churns through the gears smoothly, and 4Matic all-wheel drive provides
all-weather reassurance.

 

You won’t find the 5,000-pound-plus R-Class exciting to
drive, 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 an unnecessarily
hefty sensation at parking speeds, though especially in gasoline versions it’s
weighted nicely for highway ramps and back-road corners.

 

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, where we
first drove the 2011 R-Class, it maintained a feeling of composure and
solidity.

9

2011 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Comfort & Quality

We're not surprised that a number of livery companies have ordered R-Class models. The 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class has seating that adults are bound to find comfortable, no matter which row they're in, though cargo versatility suffers slightly for it.

For those who
need to accommodate adults in comfort, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class interior
is downright smart. Those very long back doors allow easy access to the third
row of this six- or seven-seater, and the standard arrangement in three rows of
two bucket seats (with a middle seat available for the second row) makes sure
everyone’s taken care of. The second row slides fore and aft a few inches so
that you can properly divvy out legroom between passengers, and the seatback in
both rows adjusts for rake. The third row is a little smaller, a little flatter,
but it’s no punishment as there’s still enough headroom (even, barely, for this
6’-6” beanpole). Getting in is a good deal easier than in some minivans, as the
second-row seats flip up and forward and the rear door openings are huge.

 

Unfortunately, those
huge rear doors will still be a handicap for those who live in tighter city
spaces. They’re probably about 50 percent longer than the doors of most large
sedans, and you won’t be able to open them up all the way in most
parallel-parking spots. With a rather stiff action, they also require a little
too much muscle for smaller kids.

 

Front
and back and behind that, the R-Class has great seats. While those seats—the
second-row ones especially—are great for passengers, the R-Class's setup isn't
quite as good as a minivan’s for cargo. The second and third rows fold to
create a mostly flat space for large items, but they don’t fold low into the
floor as in most of today’s vans. Also, folding the seats is a daunting, multistep
operation that in no way, as in many competitors, can be done with one arm
still holding onto a kid or a stroller. Second-row headrests need to be
manually removed, and the driver’s seat has to be pushed forward a bit first in
order for it all to work smoothly.

9

2011 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Safety

We’d venture to say that the solid-feeling 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is one of the safest vehicles in which to carry your family and friends.

There are eight
airbags on board the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class, 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.

 

Since
the R-Class has been revised for 2011, it will need to be retested; the 2010
model achieved top "good" results for frontal, side, and rear
protection from the IIHS, though it wasn't tested by the federal government.

9

2011 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Features

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class breaks no new ground for a luxury vehicle, and the COMAND interface is a little kludgy, but everything you'd expect is there.

The 2011
Mercedes-Benz R-Class certainly doesn't disappoint in terms of features; it's
as well equipped as any other luxury vehicle. The R-Class can be optioned up to
include an SD card slot, 4GB of music storage, and an iPod interface, along
with Harman Kardon surround sound. A long list of options and packages include
an air suspension, adaptive damping, heated active front seats, and a rear-seat
entertainment system. Shoppers should be aware, though, that loading up on the
options will add nearly 10 grand to the sticker price.

 

Next to some of
the latest infotainment systems, with bright, large touch screens,
Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND system is beginning to feel dated. Though drivers can navigate
to the menus 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.

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8.2
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
Safety 9.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 7.0
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