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by Marcus B. Fitzhugh










In March of 2010, the redesigned 2011 R-Class made its world premiere at the New York International Auto Show. Continuous positive feedback has convinced Mercedes-Benz they are on the right track in this market segment.

  What market segment                        

The R-Class was originally introduced in 2006 as a multipurpose vehicle. Most people have no idea what a multipurpose vehicle is, so I'll try to explain where it fits. Looking at the R350, we can see it's too big to be a car. If it had sliding rear doors, it might have been considered a minivan. It doesn't ride like a truck and would be out of it's element if driven off road, so it's not an SUV. However, it has elements of both a minivan and and SUV, which drops it into the crossover class. A crossover is a vehicle that combines the features of a sport utility vehicle (SUV) with the features from a passenger vehicle. It's close to a minivan in that it has seating for six passengers with an optional seventh seat. It has the roots of an SUV in that it has permanent all-wheel drive.

  Now that we know what it is              

This latest generation of the R-Class features a new, self-assured appearance. The focus of the designers was the completely revised front section. They emphasized the width and made use of the horizontally structured hood to give the vehicle a harmonious, powerful look. The hood, fenders, grill, headlamps, bumpers and chrome under guard have all been completely redesigned. Chrome inserts with integrated LED daytime driving lights in conjunction with bi-xenon headlamps enhance the look even further.

The side view features coupe-like glass lines, modified exterior mirror housings and new wheel designs. The new front design continues through the rear section, which has a new bumper cover, tail lamps and integrated tailpipe trim. This has all been done to accentuate its wide look. These changes result in a vehicle that is more visually in synch with the ML and GL. Despite these numerous body enhancements, minimal changes were made to the general structure

  The interior                                        

The interior is exactly what you'd expect of a Mercedes crossover: first-class comfort, high-end materials and best in class safety. Having said that, let me state that in standard form, this vehicle can seat six people very comfortably. However, it has room for an optional seventh. If we're talking about seven adults, the middle person in that second row may find themselves somewhat less than comfy. This may be OK for short trips, but I wouldn't want that middle seat for an extended time.

The R-Class' front seats are ten-way power adjustable, with four-way lumbar adjustments for the driver's seat. Optionally, the front occupants can also enjoy actively ventilated, heated multicontour seats. The second row of seats offers fewer options and up to 36 inches of legroom. Each of the second and third rows of seats fold down individually. This presents a number of seating configurations and up to 85 cubic feet of storage.

When the Panorama roof option is selected, the occupants will have unparalleled views of both the horizons and skies. The Panorama is made of heat-rejecting tinted glass and has dual interior power shades, allowing the occupants to adjust the amount of sunlight entering the cabin. The front portion can tilt up for ventilation or slide rearwards for an open air sensation.

This year, the driver's review camera has been upgraded to include directional lines. Coupling that with the hard-drive navigation system built into the COMAND, PARKTRONIC, and a heated steering wheel makes this a much easier vehicle to navigate. The COMAND system also includes a compass function which is shown in the instrument cluster. Both the rear camera and the COMAND are standard equipment.

In addition to being a driver's aide, the COMAND system is the central piece of the R-Class entertainment system. The COMAND has an in-dash six-disc CD/DVD changer with a high-resolution 7-inch color display. It also has four gigabytes of memory for MP3 files, an SD memory card slot, can access SIRIUS/HD radio, SIRIUS real-time traffic updates, Gracenote Media Database, Zagat® Survey restaurant guides and can work by voice control. The voice-operated control system can be used for accessing various vehicle functions, and is standard. Music tracks are displayed both in the instrument cluster and the color display in the center console, and can be accessed using the buttons in the multifunction steering wheel or on the dashboard. COMAND can also recharge an audio device while accessing music from it.

Passengers can enjoy concert-hall surround-sound with the optional, latest-generation harman/kardon® Logic7® sound system. This high-output sound system includes a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) and Dolby Digital 5.1. Also available is an optional rear seat entertainment system with two large 8-inch screens, a DVD player, two wireless headsets and a remote control.

Two major options are no longer available - the V8 powered R500 and the rear wheel drive only R350 are no longer sold in North America.

The removal of the V8 leaves us with a pair of exceptional vee sixes. The new R350 Bluetec uses Mercedes-Benz' turbocharged 3-liter vee-six Bluetec diesel engine. This engine produces 210 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Alternatively, a 3.5-liter gasoline powered vee-six is available. The gasoline engine produces 268 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque.

  Which engine to choose.                  

If you've never owned a modern BlueTEC diesel, throw out any old impressions of smoky school buses. There is no diesel clatter, they don't smell (yes, you can park this in your garage), and they don't smoke. The 2011 BlueTEC meets the emission requirements for all 50 states as well as meeting the currently planned 2014 EU6 European emission standards. The 3-liter BlueTEC diesel doesn't have as much power as the 3.5-liter gasoline engine, but it has better fuel economy. That doesn't mean the R350 BlueTEC is slow, it just means it's not as fast as its gasoline counterpart. When comparing the BlueTEC's acceleration on city streets, there is no difference. In fact, the BlueTEC may actually be faster to 30 MPH. When accelerating to 65 MPH from a stop, the gasoline version is about a half-second faster. The upside for most people will be the fuel economy. The R350 BlueTEC gets about 20% better fuel economy and boasts a 500 mile cruising range.

Not to be outdone, the new 3.5-liter vee-six gasoline engine features direct fuel injection and multi-spark ignition. The vee-six engine has a new engine block with 60-degree cylinder angles. This allows the engine to run much smoother and eliminates the need for balance shafts. Like its predecessor, the new engine has aluminum cylinder heads, pistons and cylinder block (with cast-in Silitec cylinders). The new vee-six also has a newly designed cam chain drive and a new three-phase, low-load cooling system.

Regardless of the engine, all R-Class models are equipped with the latest-generation of the 7G-TRONIC. The 7G-TRONIC is a seven-speed automatic transmission. It is controlled with a column-mounted shifter and is equipped with steering wheel mounted paddles for manual gear selection. The paddle shifters are nice if you want to hold a gear, say in traffic or on a hill. Although with Mercedes-Benz' intelligent transmission logic, this typically isn't necessary. Like all Mercedes-Benz transmissions, this one has a microprocessor that uses information such as changes in road speed, load, and throttle opening when changing gears. The transmission computer also recognizes both uphill and downhill grades, and adjusts gears shifts to suit those situations. This transmission also considers data from the cruise control system and uses the engine temperature sensor when making shift decisions. In designing the transmission logic, one of the objectives was human-like gear selection. In this regard, the 7G-TRONIC is a success. It avoids annoying shifts back and forth between two gears on a long incline, delays upshifts on descents, using engine braking, and has adaptive logic that determines the driver's style. It does this by measuring how fast the accelerator pedal is presses and released. The more aggressively the pedal is depressed, the more likely the transmission is to downshift. If the pedal is abruptly lifted, upshifts are much less likely. When the pedal is applied in a smooth, normal fashion, the transmission shifts according to a basic program aimed toward obtaining the best fuel economy.

  Technical upgrades                      

For 2011, the 7G-TRONIC has been upgraded with new style bearings and couplings, operates with different oil pressures and uses a new, low-friction oil. These changes reduce friction and churning losses, thereby improving efficiency. The upgraded 7G-TRONIC has new torque converter with a slip-reduced lockup clutch. This also improves efficiency and increases fuel economy. In addition, standstill decoupling lowers fuel consumption. This technical feature reduces transmission input torque in "D" when the car is at rest, such as when waiting at traffic lights. This lowers the stress on the engine, lowering fuel consumption, producing better vehicle acoustics and a smoother idle. The slip-controlled clutch is engaged as soon as the driver releases the brake, ensuring no delay when the vehicle pulls off.

Overall, this is a vehicle that's strong on form and function. If you have to travel with five other people, occasionally have a need to move a lot of cargo, and would like all wheel drive, this is the vehicle for you.


Model R350 BlueTEC 4MATIC R350 4MATIC
Vehicle type Four-door, six or seven passenger full-size crossover
Chassis Unibody
Engine 72-degree turbocharged diesel V6 60-degree gasoline V6
Valve arrangement Four valves per cylinder
Valvetrain Double overhead camshaft per cylinder bank;duplex chain-driven
Displacement (cu. in./cc) 182.2 / 2,987 213.4 / 3,498
Bore (in./mm) 3.27 / 83.0 3.66 / 92.9
Stroke (in./mm) 3.62 / 92.0 3.39 / 86.0
Compression ratio 16.5:1 12.0:1
Horsepower @ rpm 210 @ 3,400 302 @ 6,500
Torque (lb-ft.) @ rpm 400 @ 1,600-2,800 273
Intake system Turbocharger and intercooler; piezoelectric injectors Naturally Aspirated, Direct Injection
Max. engine speed (rpm) 4,500 6,800
Transmission Seven-speed electronically controlled automatic with driver-adaptive shift logic.
Gear ratios
R2 comfort mode
Final drive 2.92:1
Stability control Electronic Stability Programming (ESP) integrating single brake application and throttle intervention for yaw control.
Suspension Four-wheel independent
Front Upper and lower control arms; coil spring struts, stabilizer bar
Rear Self-leveling rear air suspension
Steering Rack-and-pinion with hydraulic power assist
Turning radius (feet) 41
Front Wheels 8.0 x 19 8.0 x 19
Rear Wheels 8.0 x 19 8.0 x 19
Front tires 255/50 R 19 255/50 R 19
Rear tires 255/50 R 19 255/50 R 19
Brakes Hydraulic power assisted 4-wheel vented discs;Four-channel ABS anti-lock, Brake Assist with electronic brake proportioning
Front disc diameter (in./mm) 13.0 / 330 - ventilated
Rear disc diameter (in./mm) 13.0 / 330 - solid
Front disc thickness (in./mm) 1.26 / 32
Rear disc thickness (in./mm) 0.55 / 14
Exterior dimensions (in./mm)
Wheelbase 126.6 / 3,216
Length 203.1 / 5,159
Width 85.4 / 2,169
Height 65.4 / 1,661
Ground clearance 5.8 / 147.3
Front track 65.4 / 1,661
Rear track 65.0 / 1,651
Interior dimensions (in./mm)
Front head room 39.8 / 1,011
Rear head room (second row) 40.4 / 1,026
Rear head room (third row) 37.2 / 945
Front Leg room 39.8 / 1,011
Rear Leg room (second row) 36.2 / 919
Rear Leg room (third row) 32.4 / 823
Front Shoulder room 60.3 / 1,532
Rear Shoulder room (second row) 59.6 / 1,514
Rear Shoulder room (third row) 52.8 / 1,341
Cargo Length w/back row up 18.3
Cargo Length w/back row down / w second row down (inches) 42.3 / 87.3
Cargo floor width (narrowest) -
Cabin volume in cubic feet 162.1
Cargo volume in cubic feet (w/seats up) 15.2
Cargo volume in cubic feet (w/back row down) 42.2
Cargo volume in cubic feet (w/2nd & back row down) 85
Curb weight (lbs.) 5,225 (6-pass) / 5,280 (7-pass) 4,960 (6-pass) / 5,060 (7-pass)
Gross vehicl weight (lbs.) -
Towing (lbs.) 3,500
Maximum total payload 1,588 1,635
Fuel tank / reserve (gallons) 21.1 / 3.4
Fuel tank / reserve (gallons) 7 N/A
0-60 (seconds) 8.6 8.0
Top speed (MPH) 130 (electronically limited)
Fuel mileage, city/hwy 18 / 23 16 / 21

All specifications supplied by Mercedes-Benz USA



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