For 2011, the six-seat R-Class crossover has been redesigned for the first time since its 2006 debut. In addition to extensive front-end restyling, it also has an updated interior. The three rows of seats accommodate six occupants, but an optional second-row bench can take the place of two captain's chairs, increasing the count to seven. Though Mercedes has bulkier SUVs, the R-Class crossover is the company's most spacious model. It comes in R350 gasoline-powered and R350 Bluetec diesel versions, each with standard 4Matic all-wheel drive. The R-Class competes with the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Lexus GX on price and seat count, but with larger SUVs like the Land Rover LR4 on interior size.
The R-Class' entire front end has been redesigned, addressing the most maligned part of its most maligned characteristic — its styling. Many have perceived the R-Class as a minivan, though it doesn't have sliding side doors. Its rear end is more vertical than those of many crossovers, similar to a van's, but it pays off in interior space. The redone nose has more of an SUV look, with a taller grille and angular headlights in place of the first generation's ovals. The rear end features more subtle changes with new LED taillights and a reshaped bumper integrating chrome tailpipes.
Nineteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, and the R350 Bluetec has special AMG wheels — though Mercedes' AMG division offers no souped-up version of the R-Class in this country. Twenty-inch wheels come in the Sport option package. Other exterior options include LED daytime running lights and a power liftgate.
The R-Class provides roomy first- and second-row seats and a third row that's workable for adults providing the trip's not too long. The 2011 model brings new materials and color combinations, though the basic upholstery choices remain black, Cashmere and Ash. Imitation leather and partial-power front seats are standard, and both Nappa leather and full power with seat memory are optional, as is eucalyptus wood trim. Burl walnut trim is standard.
The R350 comes with standard Bluetooth connectivity and a tilt/sliding moonroof. A panorama glass roof is optional. Additional stand-alone options include heated front seats, parking sensors, a wood/leather steering wheel and a rear entertainment system, among others. Packaged options include auto-dimming rearview mirror, a backup camera, iPod integration and the Comand multifunction control interface.
Under the Hood
The R-Class' drivetrains are unchanged from 2010. The R350 has a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 gasoline engine and the R350 Bluetec has a 210-hp, 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6. The diesel's power rating is characteristically low, but it makes 400 pounds-feet of torque versus the gas engine's 258 pounds-feet. It also gets better mileage.
Both engines team with a seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
The R-Class comes standard with eight airbags, including side-impact airbags for each outboard seat in the first and second row and also a pair of curtain airbags that cover the side windows for all three rows. Also present are active head restraints for the front seats. Mercedes' Pre-Safe system can sense an impending collision and take steps to improve occupant safety: It tenses the seat belts and positions the front passenger seat for optimum protection. If the car skids, the sunroof and any open windows close to prevent ejection in the case of a rollover.
New for 2011 is a blind spot warning system that monitors the vehicle's blind spots on both sides and indicates to the driver when either is occupied by another vehicle.