Unfortunately, history has shown that neither diesels nor the Mercedes-Benz R-Class are popular in North America. So why, then, would Mercedes drop its brand-new BlueTec diesel engine into the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R320 Bluetec and sell it here?
The answer may be surprisingly simple: it may well be the best version of the R-class presently available to Americans. Though the $1500 cheaper R350, with its gasoline-powered V-6, may appeal to those on a budget, the power, refinement, and efficiency of the R320 make it the more compelling option for most customers.
This may well be the most frequently asked question surrounding the R-class since its debut in 2002. Sharing its underpinnings with the M-class SUV, riding on a wheelbase longer than an S550, yet devoid of the European V-class minivan's sliding side doors, the R-class seems to defy most vehicle categories. Mercedes' official classification of a "sports tourer" does little to clarify the situation.
Despite the conventional rear doors, the R320's three rows of seating, tall ceiling, and acres of cargo room (provided at least one row of seats is folded) certainly give it the functionality of a minivan.
Some, however, may see it as an alternative to an E-class wagon. And while the sedan version of the E-class gets the Bluetec diesel for 2009, the wagon does not. Likewise, you'd be hard pressed to seat more than five in any E350 wagon, unless your third-row passengers are under five feet tall and enjoy facing backwards.
We'd have to agree with Mercedes-Benz that the R-class doesn't look like a minivan - but it's not drop-dead gorgeous, either. Though everything aft of the A-pillars resembles a lower-slung GL-class SUV, the front fascia is an odd mixture of the headlamps from the E-class and the hood form from an SLK roadster. The large, ovoid lights seem particularly out of place - a situation we hear will be rectified with the next-generation R-class.
Apart from the unique looks, the R320's sheer length helped us pick it apart from a sea of crossovers in most parking lots. Measuring 203 inches from bow to stern, the R320 is approximately three inches longer than a GL320 SUV. Adult passengers in both the second and third rows will appreciate the large dimensions, but parents may not - the rear doors are quite long, making loading small children and safety seats in parking lots a bit of a hassle.