2012 Mercedes-Benz R Class Review

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The ambiguously shaped Mercedes R-Class isn't as easy a choice as the big GL-Class SUV, but especially in diesel trim, it's a capable long-distance touring machine.

Not quite an SUV, not nearly a minivan, the Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a crossover that hasn't crossed over in the way that its cousins, the M-Class and GL-Class, have. Maybe it's overcrowding in the over-$50,000 all-wheel-drive market in Mercedes stores, but for whatever reason, this six- or seven-seat long-distance tourer's been overlooked.

The R-Class' amorphous styling could be at fault, too. It's somewhere between all those popular body styles, and as a result the R-Class doesn't look like anything except the departed Chrysler Pacifica. It's softer and less overtly a utility vehicle, and it has a bulbous rear end with a big wagon tailgate. It's androgynous, and mostly forgettable. Inside it's much better, with a familiar collection of big, clear gauges and wood trim that's clearly related to, but not identical to, the setups in the GL and ML utes. The dash is probably the most SUV-like feature of the R-Class, aside from its all-wheel-drive hardware.

There's a choice of two six-cylinder engines. A new direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 boosts horsepower from 268 hp to 302 hp this year, bringing with it a new seven-speed automatic--a drivetrain we've sampled at length in the M-Class. The R-Class we'd buy is the other six, a 210-hp, 3.2-liter turbodiesel V-6 that's clean and economical, with only a bit of muted diesel clatter to differentiate it from the smooth-revving gas engine. Both powertrains offer strong, refined and relaxed performance with a smooth ride and a hefty, solid driving feel, but the diesel's mid-20s highway fuel economy is a strong selling point for those who don't mind seeking out a new filling station, if they must.

The R-Class is tailored for six adult passengers, but a seventh spot can be opted into. Riding lower than the big GL-Class, the R-Class is easier to climb into, and the front seats are quite supportive and well-shaped. The second-row seats are buckets unless a bench is ordered, but like in the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT, those middle bucket seats are worth having. They're very comfortable, with lots of leg and head room, even when slid to their most forward position and tilted into their most upright position. The third row is a bit smaller and flatter, but have great head room and much easier access than most SUVs, since the R-Class' rear doors are very wide. The packaging has its drawbacks--the long doors can make tight parking spots seem tighter, and the back two rows of seats are more complex to fold forward when more cargo room is needed.

'Good' IIHS safety scores have been awarded to the R-Class in several categories, and with standard all-wheel drive, as well as curtain airbags and stability control it has a solid, reassuring set of security items. A rearview camera and Bluetooth are also standard, and blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control are offered. Other standard features include satellite radio and dual-zone climate control; major options include a Harmon/Kardon audio system; an air suspension; heated, massaging front seats; and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

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