2009 Mercedes-Benz R Class Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
May 31, 2009

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is unlike any station wagon, minivan, or SUV currently on the market, and with the new BlueTEC model, it can haul six in supreme comfort at 24 mpg.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Mercedes-Benz R-Class in order to give you an expert opinion. TheCarConnection.com's crossover experts researched available road tests on the new Mercedes-Benz R-Class to produce this conclusive review and to help you find the truth where other reviews might differ.

Since the introduction of the R-Class in 2006, Mercedes-Benz has sternly referred to the vehicle as a Sport Tourer SUV. The reasoning behind this description is that the R-Class shares many components with the M-Class SUV, and it’s manufactured at the same facility as the M- and GL-Class SUVs. But no matter how you refer to the R-Class, one thing’s certain: It is a vehicle that transports its passengers to and fro better than any other in its segment.

Joining the gasoline-powered R350 for 2009 is the new R320 model featuring the German manufacturer’s BlueTEC clean diesel engine. The BlueTEC engine, in conjunction with the new AdBlue exhaust treatment system, meets emission standards in all 50 states. The BlueTEC engine also gets a remarkable 20 to 30 percent better fuel economy than its gas-powered counterpart and, with 398 pound-feet of torque, creates enough pulling power that Mercedes made optional a 3,500-pound Class II trailer hitch. The turbocharged 3.0-liter direct-injected diesel produces 215 horsepower, while the 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 kicks up 268 horsepower. A seven-speed automatic transmission with TouchShift capability backs both engines.

The 2009 R320 BlueTEC diesel can run upward of 500 miles on a tank, securely devouring the interstate at impressive rates in virtually any weather. (Should you encounter many inches of snow, the air suspension is capable of lifting the body to provide additional ground clearance.) The R-Class doesn't like to be rushed, though. Its 5,000-pound curb weight and slow steering don't encourage hooliganistic driving.

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The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class roofline, while practical, isn't beautiful. The low, aerodynamic nose is also graceless and too much like lesser minivans, while the Mercedes-Benz grille is forced to fit between large headlight units.

The good news is that when you're behind the wheel or inside, you can't look at the exterior. Inside, the R-Class is supremely comfortable. Full-size seats are arranged in a 2+2+2 fashion. Huge rear doors and simple-to-operate second-row seats allow easy access to the third row. However, because of their length, those rear doors are also difficult to open in crowded parking lots, even in generous spaces.

PRE-SAFE, a safety system that anticipates collisions before they happen, is now a standard feature on R-Class models. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are included, as is stability control. Side-curtain airbags are included and span all three seating rows; a rollover sensor can also deploy the seatbelt tensioners and the curtain airbags if the vehicle senses that a rollover is about to occur.

The 2009 R-Class is, of course, very well equipped for its price. The base rear-wheel-drive R350 is the most affordable R-Class, starting in the low-$40,000 range.

Both 2009 R-Class models receive redesigned instrument clusters with a new-for-2009 COMAND system featuring a large 6.5-inch display screen, a standard in-dash, six-disc CD/DVD changer, and a Bluetooth interface.

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2009 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Styling

Most sources consulted at TheCarConnection.com are not overly impressed with the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class styling cues.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class may be more functional than beautiful.

The Kelley Blue Book reviewer sums it up best, stating, "you may think it's a minivan or an SUV, but there's one thing of which you will have no doubt: with its prominent grille and nameplate branding you'll know it's a Mercedes-Benz." Edmunds, however, picks up on a theme TheCarConnection.com’s editors hear repeatedly in connection with the R-Class: “in black, the R-Class looks funereal.” Cars and Driver praises the "sensuous curves" that define this Mercedes-Benz 2009; Cars.com points out that the Mercedes-Benz R-Class "front and rear design cues are modeled after Mercedes-Benz coupes and sedans," adding that "rounded and squat at the rear, the [Mercedes-Benz] R-Class flaunts a relatively long profile."

Cars.com dishes the details on the Mercedes-Benz R-Class cabin: "the seats have leather inserts, and brown bird's-eye maple wood trims the doors, dashboard and center console...the upper section of the two-tone dashboard arches over the instrument cluster, which holds two cylindrical binnacles for the speedometer and tachometer." Car and Driver describes the Mercedes-Benz 2009 cabin as a "sumptuous interior"; Edmunds remarks "the interior of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is both posh and functional."

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2009 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Performance

Reviews seen at TheCarConnection.com indicate respect, if not admiration, for 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class performance.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is more of a workhorse than a thoroughbred.

About the new BlueTEC engine Edmunds says, “The diesel power plant is unfortunately a mixed bag. You can't ignore 398 lb-ft of torque, of course — the R320 really lunges forward once the Bluetec is on boil. However, it takes far too long for the transmission to act when you floor the gas from a stop. There's an exasperating delay (one-one thousand...) while the seven-speed slushbox unhurriedly mulls over your command, rather than the instantaneous turbodiesel torque we'd expect.” MyRide.com, however, views the performance of the R320 a little differently. “The R320 BlueTec gets to it as soon as you put your foot in the throttle, and stays at it all the way up to 2,400 rpm.”

Buyers have a choice between "a pair of eminently capable but relatively uninspiring power plants," reports Edmunds, which according to Cars.com are "a 3.5-liter V-6 in the R350 [that] develops 268 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque," and the turbodiesel R320, which "produces 221 hp and 398 pounds-feet of torque." In the opinion of ConsumerGuide, the latter Mercedes-Benz 2009 engine "suffers brief turbo lag, then accelerates quickly."

Estimates by the EPA are 15 mpg city and 19 mpg highway for the 2009 R350 4Matic and 18/24 mpg for the R320. These figures are lower for ConsumerGuide, which determines that "an R350 averaged 17.6 mpg, requires premium-grade gas."

ConsumerGuide testers find that "the transmission in one test model periodically suffered jerky gear changes at low speed." Kelley Blue Book remarks that it delivers "seamless shifts, always finding just the right gear when needed." Cars.com states that both Mercedes-Benz R-Class engines "team with a seven-speed automatic," which "is able to skip as many as three gear ratios during downshifts to get the transmission in the proper gear."

For those concerned with braking power, Kelley Blue Book proclaims that stopping the Mercedes-Benz R-Class "is...no problem with its 13.8-inch front brake rotors and standard ABS and Brake Assist features." Cars.com comments that Mercedes-Benz 2009 "steering feels just right for this new class of car, and it requires moderate effort with utterly satisfying response," and ConsumerGuide attests it "acts more like a station wagon than an SUV," adding that "the steering is impressively linear and accurate, though some drivers may prefer a weightier feel." Car and Driver reports that the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class offers "competent handling that no one could call sporty"; they say it "feels remarkably agile, [and] the AMG-tuned suspension is firm without being too harsh," noting that the "steering has a heft to it that serves as a reminder of the mass being hustled around."

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2009 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Comfort & Quality

There's no shortage of passenger or cargo room inside the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a good choice for luxurious mass transportation.

ConsumerGuide assures potential buyers that "six-footers have abundant 2nd-row headroom and knee space, plus adequate under seat foot space...seats blend fine support with soft padding." Cars.com reports that the Mercedes-Benz R-Class seats up to seven "courtesy of three pairs of seats [that] offer magisterial comfort and support, are wholly adjustable to suit one's physique, and remain appealing even after hours of driving." Edmunds warns that the Mercedes-Benz 2009 "new seventh-seat option, however, is a mixed bag...the extra seat does add to the R-Class' versatility, [but] encroaches on third-row knee room when in use and a too-narrow width for adult frames...it makes for a questionable addition."

ConsumerGuide says the "cabin design is the expected blend of rich, textured plastics, soft-touch surfaces, and high-quality materials." Kelley Blue Book reports "the interior of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class feels more like a family room than a car," due to "the panoramic sunroof that spans nearly the entire length of the vehicle."

In regard to interior storage space, ConsumerGuide reports that "second- and 3rd-row seats fold easily to lay flush with the floor, providing a cargo hold that's nearly 8 feet long," while "liftover is low for easy loading." Cars.com states "optional second-row console contains additional cupholders, and bottle holders are located in each door pocket."

ConsumerGuide notes that "the R320 diesel engine sounds louder here than in the E-Class sedan or M-Class SUV, with clatter that's intrusive during acceleration and noticeable at idle and in cruising." But having a quiet conversation while on the road in the Mercedes-Benz R-Class is highly doable: "just a touch of driveline and road sound is evident, but the engine is nearly silent unless pushed hard," according to Cars.com.

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2009 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Safety

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class offers superior levels of safety gear, but for some versions, the crash-test ratings aren’t quite perfect.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn’t tested the R-Class, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has, and the results weren’t as good as anticipated. The R-Class got a "good" rating for frontal impact from the IIHS, but its "acceptable" rating for side impact—indicating a higher chance of bodily injury—wasn’t impressive in a class nearly full of vehicles that achieved nothing but top ratings. The R-Class did, however, see a "good" rating in the IIHS’s seat-based rear-impact test. One note: Mercedes has made some running changes, and 2009 models manufactured after September 2008 were retested for a rating of "good."

That aside, all the top safety equipment is in the R-Class. Edmunds says that all Mercedes-Benz R-Class models are "outfitted with stability control with a rollover sensor, antilock disc brakes with brake assist, active front head restraints, side-impact airbags for front and second-row passengers, and side curtain airbags for all three rows." Cars.com reports several standard active Mercedes-Benz R-Class safety devices, including "side curtain airbags protect occupants in all three rows of seats, and door-mounted side-impact airbags for front occupants."

According to Edmunds, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class' "steeply raked windshield affords excellent sight lines." However, Cars.com expresses some concern over Mercedes-Benz R-Class visibility issues: "a nest of headrests impairs the rearward view, which is otherwise OK and helped by ample mirrors...reflections are evident in the steep windshield, but they're not too distracting."

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2009 Mercedes-Benz R Class

Features

Auto experts at TheCarConnection.com note no shortage of extra equipment for the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class can be outfitted quite lavishly—and expensively.

According to MyRide.com, “Standard technology provisions include the COMAND in-car media control system with a 6.5-inch high-definition color screen, Bluetooth, a DVD video/audio player, and a six-disc CD/DVD changer.” Edmunds, however, isn’t taken with the new COMAND’s design and implementation, stating, “the COMAND interface lacks the control knob we've come to expect in premium vehicles, forcing you to use four directional arrow keys and an 'OK' button instead. Compounding the problem is the smorgasbord of identical-looking black buttons surrounding the COMAND screen.”

Edmunds says the following are standard equipment on the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class: "power front seats, easy fold-down second- and third-row seats, eight-speaker audio system with auxiliary audio input and a retractable cargo cover." Oddly, the standard upholstery on the R-Class is vinyl; leather is optional. According to Cars.com, "privacy glass is standard" in every Mercedes-Benz R-Class, and "a single-lift tailgate is installed...weather-band reception is included in the standard radio, which has a single-CD slot and controls for optional satellite radio," while "an auxiliary plug in the glove box connects to MP3 players."

Options for this Mercedes-Benz 2009 model are indeed plentiful but pricey. Car and Driver recommends that consumers "be careful when cruising the long list of optional temptations." Kelley Blue Book reports "options abound on the [Mercedes-Benz] R-Class." According to Cars.com, these temptations include "optional flat-screen monitors built into the back of the front head restraints [that] can provide entertainment for rear passengers."

Edmunds notes that "most desirable [Mercedes-Benz R-Class] options are rolled into pricey packages, although a handful can be selected a la carte...available [Mercedes-Benz 2009] accoutrements include a panoramic glass sunroof, 19- or 20-inch wheels, Bluetooth, keyless ignition, heated seats and steering wheel, a power rear liftgate, three-zone climate control, a rear-seat entertainment system, adaptive cruise control, and glovebox-mounted six-CD changer and dedicated iPod interface."

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Styling 7
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