The significance of the 2011 R350 is that it’s the first major face-lift for the slow-selling R-class, and the vehicle looks undeniably better. The new styling was intended to make the R-class appear a bit less like a minivan, and that effort has succeeded. The R-class now better resembles its big, successful brother, the GL-class SUV. I’ve always liked the combination of utility, luxury, and prestige that the R-class provides, but the market didn’t agree with me. And although the R350 has a very impressive, very efficient diesel powertrain, I’m not sure the market will respond, especially given the R350’s high price. It seems that for those Americans who want to haul more than four or five people in a Mercedes, the GL is what they want. But if that big SUV leaves you cold, by all means, check out the R-class. There’s a lot to love here — just not the monthly payments.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
It’s a shame the Mercedes-Benz R-Class doesn’t resonate with the American market. It’s a great way to transport four adults and lots of luggage with a touch of class. The second-row bucket seats are a little more comfortable than the bench seating you’d find in a sedan or wagon. With the Bluetec diesel engine, it’s rather fuel-efficient and can blast down the highway all day without the need to refuel.
Dynamically, the R-class is a bit too loose for my taste. Cruising down perfectly smooth highways is be very comfortable but there are too many unchecked body motions over broken pavement. The average R-class buyer is considerably older than I am, so perhaps the very soft suspension appeals to the target demographic. Steering feel isn’t anything to write home about, but the wood and leather steering wheel feels very luxurious in your hands.
I’d love to see vehicles like the R-class and Mazda5 sell well in the U.S. These versatile people movers can haul a lot of cargo without a jacked-up center of gravity or lousy fuel economy. Ford is about to enter the segment with its Grand C-Max, so maybe there is some potential for increased interest.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
With apologies to Volkswagen, this is the “first and only minivan with German engineering.” Like any minivan, this one has a spacious, versatile interior, but this one is superbly and stylishly finished. It’s also dead quiet, to the point that one can barely discern the diesel under the hood. With the windows closed, very little clatter comes though, and power is more than sufficient for a big luxury barge. True, the R-class isn’t particularly agile, but it’s still unmistakably German in the solidity of its ride. Call me crazy, but I also like the way it looks — upscale and assertive but not butch. The R-class’s misfortune derives from its position in the Mercedes lineup, sandwiched between the cheaper, 5-seat ML-class and the much more masculine looking GL-class.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
This is certainly a nice vehicle for hauling around the family, and if I had a few extra ten-thousand-dollar bills lying around, it might enter the discussion, but realistically this car doesn’t REALLY perform exceptionally enough in any one area to make it truly desirable to me. It’s not as functional as a minivan, yet it feels every bit as ponderous as a big SUV. I think this new restyled version is much more attractive overall than it’s predecessor, yet I can’t really point to any particular reason why…so, it’s not scoring enough style points with me either.
The Blutec performs nicely — it’s quiet, and pulls with a nice, smooth surge away from lights and on highway ramps — but the performance isn’t inspiring and the mileage isn’t really good enough to offset the premium one pays for diesel fuel.
I think the interior is gorgeous, but M-B seems to have gone a step too far with the controls on the dash — eschewing knobs for buttons or menu screens for far too many functions. Usually it takes a few moments to acquaint oneself with the latest features in a car like this, but the controls of the entertainment system were incomprehensible. I had a maddening struggle to try and operate the DVD player for the rear seats and somehow rendered the entire system mute. All in all, the painful experience with the center console might have soured me on the entire car.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
No, 18/24 mpg (city/highway) isn’t all that stellar at first glance, but keep in mind this is a 5280-pound, seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive vehicle capable of towing 3500 pounds, and it is loaded with virtually every convenience shy of a wet bar. That isn’t all that bad, and seeing as my commute consists primarily of highway driving, I could have piloted this R-Class to and from work for a week or two before needing a refill of diesel. I’d also be able to carry friends and family around with ease-the second-row legroom is nearly identical to that of the legendary 600 sedan (36 inches), although that figure drops to 32.4 inches for those riding in the third row.
I didn’t share Matt’s infotainment nightmare, but I do agree that Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND system, at least as it’s installed in some models, is a little clunky to operate. While some Benz models, including the E- and S-class, receive a console-mounted knob to scroll through menus, tune into stations, or zoom into maps, the R-Class instead must make do with four arrow buttons. They’re sufficient but are nowhere as elegant or intuitive for the driver. Still, this is but a minor complaint in an interior that is otherwise impeccably trimmed and incredibly accommodating.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
The R-class’s face-lift definitely makes it blend better with the rest of the M-B lineup, although this type of vehicle is still an anomaly for the brand. That said, it’s a very capable people hauler, especially for minivan-resisters who crave some luxury and badge prestige. The rear doors are very large and make ingress and egress incredibly easy, especially for loading small children. Those doors have nothing on a minivan’s sliders, though, for both practicality and convenience, particularly in the tight quarters of a parking lot.
The BlueTec engine adds an element of economy for just $1500 more than the gasoline-powered R350. Over some 600 journalist-driven miles, the trip computer reported an average of 24 mpg, which is quite impressive.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2011 Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec
Base price (with destination): $52,615
Price as tested: $68,260
3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V-6 engine
7-speed automatic transmission
19-inch alloy wheels
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Self leveling air suspension
Power tilt/sliding glass sunroof
Dual-zone automatic climate control
In-dash 6-disc CD/DVD changer
Electronic stability program
Trailer stabilization system
Tire pressure monitoring system
Options on this vehicle:
Premium 2 package — $6050
Harman/kardon Logic7 surround sound system
Sirius satellite radio
4GB hard drive
Power steering column
iPod/MP3 media interface
HD digital radio
Rear seat entertainment system — $1950
Three zone automatic climate control — $1450
Panoramic sunroof with electric sunshade — $1090
Lighting package — $985
Headlamp cleaning system
LED daytime running lights
Parktronic — $800
Heated front seats — $750
Steel greay exterior paint — $720
Mbrace — $660
Blind spot assist — $600
Wood/leather multifunction steering wheel — $590
Key options not on vehicle:
7 passenger seating — $690
Trailer hitch — $550
18 / 25 / 22 mpg
Size: 3.0L DOHC turbocharged diesel V-6
Horsepower: 210 hp @ 3800 rpm
Torque: 400 lb-ft @ 1600-2400 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Curb weight: 5203 lb
Wheels/tires: 19 x 8.0-inch aluminum wheels
255/50R19 Bridgestone Dueler HL all-season tires