Test Drive: Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTEC

With a few differences, the Mercedes-Benz R350 is much like a small business jet ? for example a Cessna Citation Mustang, a smaller Bombardier LearJet or even the upcoming HondaJet.? The concept is the same, they all carry about a half-dozen passengers including the driver (pilot), they have plush, leather-clad cabins and there is room for some luggage.? The big difference is about 40,000 feet of elevation, a few hundred miles per hour, jet fuel versus diesel fuel and a few million dollars. ?The results are the same; both take people from point A to point B.

For 2011, Mercedes-Benz has updated the R-Class with some evolutionary design changes which don?t jump out at you, but they freshen the look, especially from the A-pillar forward.? We like the R-Class styling; it reminds us of a wagon version of the sexy Mercedes CLS, the car that started the burgeoning four-door coupe segment.

R-Class interior configurations allow comfortable seating for up to seven, and the interior is easy to reconfigure for various combinations of passenger seating and cargo carrying.? When the need arises, the R-Class cargo space can expand to 85 cubic feet.? We especially liked the five-seat configuration with the larger cargo space and the extra storage space under the cargo floor.

Like all Mercedes vehicles, the R-Class is driver oriented first, but with a heavy emphasis on luxury, passenger comfort and safety.

Driver controls center around the steering wheel with the Mercedes short shifter stalk on the column and the wheel-mounted shift paddles to control the seven-speed automatic transmission.? The paddles make manual gear changes easy and quick to take advantage of engine braking and to hold a gear on winding roads.? The multifunction controls on the upper spokes of the four-spoke steering wheel allow the driver to cycle through a multitude of functions displayed on the small screen mounted between the tachometer and speedometer without removing hands from the wheel.? Climate, navigation and audio controls, which are all mounted in a panel in the center of the dash, are convenient from either front seat.

U.S. model engine choices include a 268-hp, 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 and a 210-hp, 3.5-liter BlueTEC diesel V-6.? The diesel produces a whopping 400-lb.ft. of torque compared with the 258-lb.ft from the gas engine, but the additional torque makes the diesel feel even more powerful. The gas engine accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 8.0 seconds and the diesel in 8.6 seconds.

The Mercedes BlueTEC diesel is one of cleanest diesels in the world.? The diesel is equipped with the AdBlue? exhaust gas after-treatment process which produces about same level of emissions as a comparable gasoline engine. In this process, AdBlue?, a non-toxic, aqueous urea solution, is injected into the stream of exhaust gases. ?This releases ammonia, which breaks down up to 80 percent of the nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water.

Our BlueTEC test vehicle was so quiet, it was difficult to tell if we were driving the gas or diesel engine.? Previously the R-Class was offered with V-8 engine options, including a 6.3-liter AMG model, but the new offering is much more simplified and family minded.

Both engines have 4Matic all-wheel drive system as standard equipment.? EPA fuel economy estimates are 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the diesel and 14 mpg / 19 mpg for the gas.? We averaged 22.7 mpg in our BlueTEC test vehicle.

The R-Class is quite large, taking up about the same garage space as the Mercedes S-Class or one of the popular minivans. ?Size has some effect on handling; it?s not as nimble as a sports sedan, but it?s much more agile than most SUVs and crossovers.? The ride is set up more for comfort than handling prowess, and as a result it displays a little controlled body lean when pushed through tighter corners.? The R-Class is designed to carry people in comfort and that?s exactly what it does, however it?s still fun to drive.

The R-Class has a full arsenal of safety equipment including the PRE-SAFE? system with a complete restraint system of eight airbags, crash-responsive active front head restraints, and a tire pressure warning system.? We especially like the Blind Spot Assistance that warns the driver when another vehicle is in his or her blind spots.? Other safety features include the reversing camera and the Distronic cruise system that keeps the R-Class at a constant distance from the vehicle ahead.

The gasoline version with 4Matic has a base price of $51,115.? The diesel is $1,500 more.? There are about $18,000 worth of available options for owners that want to customize their low flying R350 with options like navigation, rear seat entertainment, moonroof and a plethora of comfort and convenience features.

For not much more than the price of a full-feature crossover or minivan, a family can be driving a stylish, comfortable and prestigious Mercedes-Benz R-Class.? It makes sense to at least check it out.

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