2011 Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec
2011 Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec. Click image to enlarge

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First Drive: 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class

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Mercedes-Benz Canada

Review and photos by Haney Louka

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2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class

Seventy-six per cent: that’s the official diesel take rate among buyers of Mercedes-Benz SUVs and crossovers in Canada. And who can blame them? With a mere 210 hp but a stout 400 lb.-ft. of torque, the modern diesel engine under their hoods gives serene, effortless cruising a new meaning. Not only that, but this 3.0-litre compression-ignition engine burns significantly less fuel than Mercedes’ own 3.5-litre spark-ignition gasoline engine.

In the new R-Class, the diesel consumes 11.5 L/100 km in the city and 8.2 on the highway according to published figures, with the 3.5 gas engine requiring 14.4 and 10.5 L/100 km respectively. And – here’s the part I love – I came very close to achieving those diesel consumption figures in my real-world test – as in half a litre per 100 km close. That rarely happens when I drive gasoline-fuelled vehicles and it absolutely never happens when I’m behind the wheel of a hybrid.

And with its seemingly limitless torque reserves, the diesel R350 completes the zero-to-100 km/h task in 8.4 seconds, a half-second quicker than the gas version.

2011 Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec
2011 Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec
2011 Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec. Click image to enlarge

So, with its useful power and frugal consumption, what’s not to like?

There’s certainly no old-school diesel clatter, although the Benz’s diesel is a bit noisier than the competitive unit from Volkswagen I recently tried in a Touareg. The black smoke and classic diesel smell are gone too. You can thank stricter European and North American emissions regulations for bringing about that change, and you can thank Mercedes’ Bluetec technology for being up to the challenge.

While several technologies are employed to reduce emissions to acceptable levels, including an oxidation catalyst and a particulate filter, the component of Bluetec that garners the most attention is the AdBlue urea additive, which is automatically metered out by the engine control unit and injected into the exhaust stream. When the AdBlue is heated by exhaust gases, ammonia forms and reacts with the dreaded oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and oxygen to form nitrogen and water vapour products, which are harmless. This process reduces the diesel’s NOx emissions by 80 per cent.

The final nail in the gas version’s coffin is the minuscule price difference compared to the diesel: I fully expected the diesel version to be about $5,000 more than the gas one (as is the case with VW’s Touareg), but the diesel price premium on the R350 is a mere $1,500; an amount that could be easily justified by the increased performance. How refreshing is this?

As a vehicle, though, the R-Class is a bit of an odd duck. The Chrysler Pacifica didn’t fare too well and neither did the Ford Taurus X, two vehicles that share the R’s basic form: an oversized wagon with seating for seven. That didn’t stop Mercedes from introducing the R-Class to the unsuspecting public in 2006. That first model had an oddly sloped front end with awkward round headlights that didn’t really give it an identity consistent with the rest of the Benz stable. “Ungainly” was an apt descriptor.

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