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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.
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.
- Smart, spacious seating
- Sharpened styling
- Creamy ride that's not too floaty
- Torquey, fuel-efficient diesel model
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- Complicated seat-folding arrangement
- Long rear doors a handicap in parking lots
- Balky COMAND screen interface
- Ambiguous shape