2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class Review

2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class - Full-size crossover from the car-with-the-star brand.


PLUSES: Roomy, quiet cabin holds up to 7. Ample people and cargo room, especially with third row seats folded. Good mileage for a full size crossover wagon, especially one tipping the scales at over 5,000 pounds. Absence of diesel noise and/or smell. Pleasant ride and handling. Spacious feeling with Panoramic glass roof. Standard 4Matic all wheel drive.

MINUSES: Lowering third row seat backs or getting to third row seat with cargo shade in place. Pricey and extensive options.

Oops! The fuel gauge was getting a bit too close to "E" for comfort so we rolled into a station before entering the interstate, pulled to the pump, and opened the filler door to fuel up.

It was then that we spotted the telltale green fuel lid and the even more compelling words "diesel fuel" that warned if the lead free gas nozzle was slipped inside it was going to be a long walk home.  

It also was then that we had to start the search for a station that offered not just expensive gasoline, but even more expensive diesel fuel. Luckily one was only a few blocks away.

The case of mistaken identity actually was partly the fault of Mercedes-Benz for not fastening "diesel" badges all over the front, side, top and bottom sheetmetal like Ford Motor Co. does whenever it offers an out of the ordinary model and wants the world to pay attention.

But other than Bluetech wording on the fenders, there was no advertised warning that this vehicle consumed an alternative fuel.

Of course, the primary reason we forgot that the R350 was powered by a 3 liter, 210 h.p. turbocharged diesel V-6 teamed with a silky smooth 7-speed automatic and not the 3.5 liter, 268 h.p. gas V-6 is that the Bluetech diesel is whisper quiet.

There's no racket or commotion under the hood like diesels had been prone to act in the past. And no harsh diesel fumes penetrated the cabin, stench that had to be suffered as the price for getting more miles of travel range than with a quiet, odorless gasoline engine.  

We tested the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R350 Bluetech and found it erases all unpleasant memories of diesels past. No telltale noise or smell to give it away. And quick yet quiet movement, thanks to the turbo boost. Few would know that a V-6 diesel rather than a V-6 gas engine was under the hood unless warned in advance.

More than 400 miles of driving range before having to refill, giving ample time to find a station. Yet keep in mind that diesel is more expensive than gas, $3.55 a gallon versus $3.15 for gas at the station we found. And diesel stations aren't as plentiful as those dispensing gas. When you find diesel, there may only be a single pump.

While the R350 weighs about 5,200 pounds, it's rather limber and there's no problem squeezing in or out of a parking place or keeping control of movement on twisty roads. Stability control is standard as is all season/all reason 4Matic all wheel drive that helps ensure you go where you point without either lingering or wandering.

The R-Class crossover wagon was redesigned for 2011 and sports new hood, fenders, radiator grille, headlamps, bumper and a longer, wider, more substantial look without looking too big or bulky.
It has three rows of seats that hold up to 7 people in cushioned comfort. Second row is spacious with ample leg and arm room. The seats slide forward and the backs tip to create an entry way to row three, though the space is more in keeping with the needs of kids than adults. Third row head room is also tight, which is why kids, not adults, should be directed to that row.

All doors open wide to help entry and exit, and keep in mind just how wide they open when looking for a space in the parking lot between two vehicles.

Cargo room is good behind the third row seats, but grows in size when you flip third row seat bottoms against the second row seats and lower the third row seat backs flat. A pull out shade behind row two hides items in the cargo hold, but you must remove it and store it in order to have access to row three.

Lots of comfort up front in row one, but there's a galaxy of controls and buttons in the instrument panel and center control stack that are a little more complex than need be.

The R350 Bluetech starts at $51,740.
Options quickly boost the price, like $6,050 for a premium package with voice activated navi, power folding outside mirrors, power liftgate, power driver's seat with memory, and rear view camera to name just a few items. For $51,740 you'd expect a few of the options would be standard, like power liftgate, heated front seats, power driver's seat with memory, and rear view camera.
When it comes time for the next upgrades, hopefully someone will come up with a plan to make third row entry/exit less of a chore. And power folding third row seats would be a blessing if Mercedes keeps the cost within reason.

2011 Mercedes-Benz R350

Wheelbase: 126.6 inches
Length: 203 inches
Engine: 3 liter, 210 h.p., V-6 turbo diesel.
Transmission: 7-speed automatic.
Mileage: 18 m.p.g. city/24 m.p.g. highway.
Base price: $51,740.

Price as equipped: Add $1,550 diamond white paint; $6,050 premium package 2 with voice activated navi, auto dimming rear view mirror, power folding outside mirrors, power liftgate, iPod/MP3 interface in glove box, power steering column with memory, power driver's seat with memory, rear view camera, Sirius satellite radio with real time traffic and Zagat restaurant guide, 115-volt power outlet in cargo hold, 4GB hard drive with Music Register, Harmon Kardon surround system, and keyless go; $985 lighting package with bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, and headlamp washers; $800 Parktronic parking assist, $600 blind spot warning lights in outside mirrors; $1,090 panoramic power sunroof with electronic shade, $1,450 three zone automatic climate control; $1,950 rear seat entertainment system with video screens housed in front seat headrests; $750 heated front seats; and $875 freight.

Jim Mateja

Jim Mateja enjoyed a 42 year career with the Chicago Tribune before retiring in 2007 as the newspaper's automotive columnist. He received numerous awards for his reporting and writing, including the National Automotive Journalism Association's "Moto" award for best regularly published column and automotive feature writing, and a Best in Show award for his test ride of a horse in conjunction with the Tribune's 150th anniversary. He also earned the Detroit Press Club Foundation's Gold Wheel Award for best car reviews, and a Tribune Professional Performance Award for his column and regular reporting. He still writes occasional car reviews for the Tribune, is one of the nation's 50 automotive journalists who serve as members of the North American Car of the Year judging panel, and is a panel member who helps select Best Buys for "Consumers Digest" magazine. Mateja also is the founding President of the Midwest Automotive Media Association.