2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class Driving Impressions

The Mercedes-Benz R350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at 268 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 258 foot-pounds of torque available from 2400 to 4500 rpm, and 87 percent of that maximum available as low as 1500 rpm, very useful for crawling, whether through traffic or off-road. Mercedes-Benz says the V6 will power the R-Class to 0-60 times of 8.0 seconds, with a top speed over 140 mph and an expected highway fuel economy number of 19 miles per gallon under the new EPA test procedures that produce generally lower numbers.

The diesel alternative is the BlueTec turbodiesel, sporting 210 horsepower with more than 400 foot-pounds of torque available from 1600 to 2400 rpm. The diesel, which uses an array of exhaust scrubbers and chemical injection systems using urea, is legal for sale in all 50 states.

The 7-speed automatic transmission that comes on all R-Class models gradually adapts to each driver's driving style and changes shift patterns accordingly. By analyzing speed versus throttle opening comparisons, the transmission will know whether the R-Class is going uphill or downhill and will either delay upshifts or hasten downshifts accordingly. And, unlike most SUV automatics, the transmission in the R-Class comes with a TouchShift feature for side-to-side manual control and a choice of Comfort or Sport shifting modes for the driver's choice of higher rpm shifting and harder shifts or lower rpm shifting and softer shifts.

The 4MATIC system has a 45/55 front/rear torque bias and uses a dual-disc clutch that acts as a locking center differential in difficult traction situations.

The R-Class normally rides on 19-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels shod with 235/50R19 all-season tires. Optional 20-inch, seven-spoke wheels, 8.5 inches front and 9.5 inches in the rear, wear 235/40R20 tires in front and 255/40R20 at the rear.

Traveling on the freeways, winding country roads, and village streets in upstate New York, we pushed the R-Class as hard as we dared, and it behaves more like a luxury sedan than a truck, quietly soaking up bumps and potholes and other imperfections, and it cruises easily with the 3.5-liter engine when traffic and space permit.

Acceleration is very good for a vehicle of this weight, and in seventh-gear overdrive, it just purrs along at about 1800 rpm at 75 mph. Steering feel is good, braking performance is exemplary, and the R-Class is very quick and easy to learn. Nothing tricky in the switches and controls, and ergonomics are excellent.

Towing capacity is just 3500 pounds, so the R-Class is not our first choice for towing.

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