NEW FOR 2008:

– R500 replaced with R550
– R63 AMG discontinued
– New standard seven-passenger seating; six-passenger seating now optional
– Design changes including AMG body styling, two-tone leather upholstery and Burl Walnut wood trim with chrome inserts
– Standard Bluetooth telephone connectivity, Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 Surround Sound system with six-CD changer and auxiliary jack, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, fog lamps, new laurel design centre caps for non-AMG wheels and rear air suspension with self-levelling function

For 2008, the Mercedes-Benz R-Class undergoes numerous changes, including a new 5.5-litre engine that transforms the R500 of 2007 into the new R550. The high-performance R63 AMG model is gone, but the remaining models now have AMG-style front and rear bumpers, and side skirts.

The interior is also configured differently: the previous standard six-passenger seating is now a stand-alone option, with the default being seven-passenger seating that adds a new, independently-folding middle seat in the second row. As a result, the two outer second-row seats lose their armrests.

The R-Class is now available in three models: as the R320 CDI with 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine; as the R350 with 3.5-litre V6; and as the R550 with 5.5-litre V8. All use a seven-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC all-wheel drive.

Features on the R320 and R350 include 18-inch alloy wheels, Thermatic automatic climate control, parameter steering, rear air suspension, Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 Surround Sound with six-CD changer, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, auxiliary input jack, compass, Bluetooth hands-free telephone system, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming rear-view and driver’s side mirrors, power-adjustable heated front seats, leather upholstery, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, high-gloss Burl Walnut trim, cargo cover, power pop-out third-row windows, power sunroof, garage door opener, Parktronic parking assist, TeleAid emergency calling system, anti-theft alarm system and tire pressure warning system.

The R550 adds 19-inch alloy wheels, Thermatronic automatic climate control, active bi-Xenon headlamps with washers and cornering lights, blue-tinted glass, three-position memory front seats, panoramic sunroof, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, interior lighting package and power liftgate.

The R-Class is beautifully styled, and although it’s a big vehicle, its sloping style cleverly hides its bulkiness. Its size means it’s roomy inside, and unusual for the crossover segment, the third row of seats is comfortable enough for adults on longer trips, with plenty of legroom. Both the second and third rows of seats fold flat for extra cargo space.

The new 5.5-litre V8, while not quite up to the outgoing AMG model, gives the R-Class plenty of power, but those who want torque along with better fuel mileage can choose the diesel, which is surprisingly quiet and very well-mannered, and befitting the R-Class’ luxury.

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