Full 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011, the Mercedes-Benz R-Class receives updated styling and minor interior enhancements.
You didn't think the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class was going to be a flash in the pan, did you? Trust us; there were plenty of automotive critics who did. After years of disappointing sales of this high-end people mover, many thought the R-Class would die a quick death. But for 2011 the Mercedes-Benz R-Class gets a new lease on life thanks to updated styling that should hold greater appeal to traditional Benz buyers.
This time around, the designers did a much better job of making the R-Class look like a real Mercedes instead of some oddly proportioned passenger van. Almost everything up front has been restyled to look more like the sedans and SUVs in Mercedes' lineup. Other updates include new sideview mirrors, new wheels, LED running lights, a revised rear bumper/lower fascia (with integrated exhaust outlets) and LED taillights.
Apart from new saddle-style second- and third-row headrests, new wood accents and a revised instrument display, there are no big upgrades to the interior. Thankfully, not much is needed, as the luxurious and spacious cabin has been one of the more worthwhile features of the R-Class, with plenty of room for both second- and third-row passengers to stretch out. Under the hood it's the status quo as well, with the relatively fuel-efficient turbodiesel engine found in the R350 Bluetec model being the main draw.
Given these appreciated but relatively minor changes, our advice regarding the 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class remains consistent. Thanks to its roomy, comfortable and plush interior, the R-Class is a fine choice for family transport, particularly if you're after something with luxury-brand cachet. Yet there are other worthwhile and less expensive choices. The Ford Flex and related Lincoln MKT might not be as prestigious, but both offer a powerful turbocharged V6-engine option (and the Flex has more third-row seat room). One should also consider the Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna, both of which have been redesigned this year and can be customized with plenty of luxury features.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a large crossover wagon that seats six people standard with a seven-passenger stand-alone option. There are two available models that correspond to engine choice -- R350 4Matic and R350 Bluetec -- but both offer virtually identical equipment.
Standard items include 19-inch wheels, tinted rear glass, automatic wipers, automatic headlights, foglamps, a sunroof, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power driver seat (includes lumbar adjustment), MB-Tex premium vinyl upholstery, Bluetooth, the COMAND electronics interface and an eight-speaker stereo with auxiliary audio jack and six-CD/DVD changer.
The Premium 1 package adds a power liftgate, power-folding exterior mirrors, auto-dimming driver and interior mirrors, a rearview camera, a power steering column, driver memory functions, a hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic updates, HD radio, satellite radio, an iPod interface and digital music storage. The Premium 2 package gets you everything from Premium 1 plus keyless ignition/entry and a Harman Kardon premium surround-sound system. The Lighting package provides active bi-xenon headlamps (with washers) and LED daytime running lights.
Stand-alone options include parking sensors, blind-spot assist, a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, a second-row bench seat, a heated steering wheel, three-zone climate control and a rear entertainment system. Leather upholstery is not available on the R-Class. The R350 4Matic can be equipped with a Sport Appearance package that includes 20-inch AMG wheels, dark-tinted taillamps and blue-tinted front glass.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz R350 4Matic features a 3.5-liter V6 good for 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automatic is standard and 4Matic indicates it has all-wheel drive. Mercedes estimates a 0-60 time of 8.0 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined -- a bit less than comparable crossovers.
The 2011 R350 Bluetec features a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 that utilizes Mercedes-Benz's Bluetec clean-diesel technology. It produces 210 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. The seven-speed auto and 4Matic all-wheel drive are standard as well. Mercedes estimates a 0-60 time of 8.2 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is a much better 18/24/20 mpg.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes, active front head restraints, front- and second-row side airbags and side curtain airbags for all three rows. Mercedes' "mbrace" emergency telematics system is also standard.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the R-Class achieved the highest rating of "Good" for frontal-offset and side crash protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The R-Class' cabin certainly warrants its Mercedes badge, with high-quality construction and materials. However, the cabin controls are dominated by Benz's previous-generation COMAND electronics interface, which features a less convenient four-way directional button pad (like a video game controller) rather than the new multipurpose knob found in the newer GLK-Class and others.
There are other downsides. The sliding doors of a minivan may not be cool, but the R-Class' elongated conventional rear doors can be cumbersome in parking lots. And while the six-person configuration offers plenty of room for all, the optional seven-passenger bench encroaches upon third-row knee room and its middle position is too narrow for adult frames. With the second- and third-row seats folded forward, the R-Class can hold only 85 cubic feet of cargo -- less than a minivan for sure, but on par with most other luxury crossovers.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is big and feels it, but its ride quality is comfortable and its high-speed stability is exemplary. Throw in appropriately subdued noise levels and you've got all the ingredients of a world-class long-distance cruiser. However, maneuvering on tight streets and parking can be a chore because of its size, so the optional parking sensors and rearview camera are certainly recommended. As for engine choice, we'd go with the Bluetec since its diesel engine is stronger at low speeds around town and returns much better fuel economy.