First Look: 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but few who witnessed the original 2005 Mercedes-Benz R-class professed it to be a design masterpiece. Designers crafted an unusual creation by merging a sharp, pointed nose -- not unlike that of the 2002 F400 concept -- to what otherwise looked like an elongated SUV.

That awkward aesthetic is no more, as Mercedes-Benz is treating its 2011 R-class range to a substantial facelift. Every inch of sheet metal forward of the A-pillars -- including the hood, fenders, grille, and bumper -- is completely new.

Using the recently facelifted GL-class SUV as inspiration, designers abandoned the narrow nose of the original R in favor of a long, broad hood, which flows into a wide grille opening. Ovoid headlamps are abandoned in favor of rectangular lenses that flow into the curved fenders. LED running lamps -- one staple of the revamped GL -- lurk in the lower bumper openings in lieu of fog lamps. 17-inch, five-spoke aluminum wheels are standard, although a new sport appearance package adds AMG-designed 19-inch rims, along with smoked tail light lenses.

Interior revisions, however, are slightly less extensive. For the most part, the R-class's cabin is left untouched, although it is now available with either a beige-on-brown or gray-on-black two-tone scheme. Six-passenger seating remains standard, although a 7-passenger arrangement, which replaces the second row of buckets with a split bench seat, is optional.

For North America, the R-class remains a two-model lineup. The 2011 R350 continues to utilize Mercedes-Benz's 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. Diesel fans will likely want to spring for the R350 Bluetec, which uses the same 215-hp, 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6 as the ML350 Bluetec and GL350 Bluetec. Both the gasoline and diesel engines are mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission, which channels power to all four wheels via Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system.

Option packages and pricing for both 2011 R-class models are expected to remain similar to the 2010 model. Expect the revised 2011 R to roll off Mercedes-Benz's assembly line in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the next few months.

Now it looks pretty much like every other minivan on the market. I kinda liked the old one better--it wasn't exactly handsome, but at least it was special.

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