What's New for 2009
Changes for the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class include the introduction of the 50-state-compliant R320 Bluetec diesel engine in place of the diesel-powered R320 CDI, which was not available in every state. Additionally, a sunroof is now standard, and a new audio and navigation head unit debuts with HD radio, real-time traffic updates, Bluetooth, an iPod interface and new voice controls for various features. Finally, last year's rear-wheel-drive R350 has been dropped, which means all R-Class models are now equipped with all-wheel drive.
Part minivan, part station wagon and part luxury crossover, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is several cars rolled into one. Essentially a luxurious alternative for those who would never consider a traditional minivan, the R-Class seats six or seven passengers rather than the seven or eight you could fit into a minivan or SUV. However, those six or seven passengers will be pampered by one of the finest interiors of any people hauler on the planet. If you have the means to splurge on this kind of transportation, the R-Class is an intriguing upgrade from the Honda Odysseys of the world.
Roughly 35 percent of R-Class components are shared with the M-Class SUV, and both models are built in Alabama. Still, the R-Class, which is offered in R350 and R320 Bluetec trim levels, is very much its own vehicle. At 203 inches long, the R-Class extends past the E-Class wagon by a foot. It's also longer than rivals like the Audi Q7 and Cadillac SRX.
All that length pays dividends inside. Both second- and third-row passengers have more than adequate room to stretch out. For quick trips, there's an optional seventh seat, but this is not a road-trip seat for anyone. New navigation and audio options this year enhance the luxury feel of the R-Class and also make it possible to add Bluetooth, surround-sound and iPod integration. But the biggest news this year is the introduction of the R320 Bluetec trim level, which features an updated version of Mercedes' turbodiesel engine that's now 50-state legal in terms of emissions.
The one main drawback to the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is its rear doors. Where minivans use parking-lot-friendly sliding doors, the R uses traditional swing-out doors, and these doors are quite large. The good news here is that the door openings are nice and wide, making it easy for passengers to get in and out. Unfortunately, they're so heavy and long that kids may not be able to open or close them without help.
To some extent, the R-Class leaves us scratching our heads, wondering why a prospective buyer wouldn't just get a minivan instead. With a taller roof, power-sliding side doors and many of the high-end features of a Benz, upscale trim levels of traditional minivans simply make more sense. But if you absolutely must have a three-pointed star on your hood and no-compromises luxury in your cabin, the R-Class will certainly serve you well as a family wagon.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a large luxury crossover wagon with seating for six or seven passengers. Two versions are available, the R350 and the R320 Bluetec, and they are equipped similarly.
Standard equipment on the R350 includes 18-inch alloy wheels, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, Mercedes' COMAND driver interface, bird's-eye maple accents, a power driver seat, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control and a single-CD stereo with eight speakers and a glovebox-mounted auxiliary audio jack.
Most desirable options are rolled into pricey packages, although a handful can be selected à la carte. Among the more notable add-ons are a second-row bench seat that allows seating for seven, leather upholstery, burl walnut trim, an excellent 12-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, a hard-drive-based navigation system with a rearview camera and real-time traffic updates, Bluetooth, satellite radio and park-assist sensors. Other available accoutrements include a panoramic glass sunroof, 19- or 20-inch wheels, keyless ignition, power and heated front seats, a power rear liftgate, three-zone climate control, a rear-seat entertainment system, adaptive cruise control a glovebox-mounted six-CD changer and a dedicated iPod interface.
Powertrains and Performance
The R350's 3.5-liter gas-burning V6 pumps out 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The new R320 Bluetec V6 turbodiesel is good for just 210 hp but cranks out a beefy 398 lb-ft of torque. Both engines route their power to all four wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission. In terms of fuel economy, the R350 gets an estimated 15 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined. Opting for the R320 Bluetec raises those numbers to 18/24/21 mpg.
All R-Class models are outfitted with rollover-sensing stability control, antilock disc brakes with brake assist, active front head restraints, side-impact airbags for first- and second-row passengers and side curtain airbags for all three rows.
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is both posh and functional. Gauges are large and easily read at a glance, most controls are ergonomically sound and appointments are generally befitting an upscale vehicle. All R-Class models seat six in rare comfort, and the R's combination of elongated rear doors and slick spring-loaded second-row chairs helps to facilitate third-row access. Moreover, with the second- and third-row seats folded forward, the R-Class can hold 85 cubic feet of cargo -- less than a minivan for sure, but on par with other luxury crossovers.
The seventh-seat option, however, is a mixed bag. Wedged between the second-row buckets, the extra seat does add to the R-Class' versatility. But with noticeably firmer bolstering than the others, a seatback that encroaches on third-row knee room when in use and a too-narrow width for adult frames, it makes a questionable addition. Audiophiles will love the Harman Kardon stereo, which now includes true 5.1 surround-sound capability in addition to DSP-driven faux surround sound. The new display screen looks better and lends the R Class' map and menu screens an upscale look.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class hides its length reasonably well when you're at the helm, but you'll never mistake it for a traditional wagon. We highly recommend the optional park-assist system for maneuvering in tight quarters. That said, the R's steeply raked windshield affords excellent sight lines, and its substantial heft and autobahn breeding yield exemplary high-speed stability. Throw in appropriately subdued noise levels and a compliant ride, and you've got all the ingredients of a world-class long-distance cruiser.
Aggressive cornering is naturally not the R's forte, yet the four-wheel independent suspension and available Airmatic air suspension system admirably quell excess body motions. Still, if you're looking for a more responsive drive, there are several luxury crossovers available that are more involving. Even the equally large Ford Flex feels lighter on its feet. The V6-powered R350 is acceptable in terms of acceleration but won't win any drag races. The turbodiesel offers satisfactory grunt along with significantly better fuel economy.