The R350’s swanky window- and beltlines still mimic the seductive CLS’s, but the R350 seems to have lost a bit of its charm with the nose job.
Inside, you’ll have to be an R-class aficionado to really notice the alterations. They’re limited to a newly designed instrument cluster and altered piping on the seats. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering the R-class interior has always been a roomy and comfortable residence for the first two rows of passengers, but riders taller than six feet will find the third row only adequate. We are quite surprised to see the navigation-and-radio interface that first appeared in the 2003 E-class carry over in the refreshed R. It does have the latest COMAND software, but in a vehicle this expensive, we expect better.
The R350 is currently offered in the U.S. with standard 4MATIC all-wheel drive and your choice of a gas-powered 3.5-liter V-6 producing 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque or—for a $1500 premium—our tester’s 3.0-liter BlueTec diesel V-6, which pumps out 210 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. The diesel’s fuel-economy ratings of 18 mpg city and 24 highway easily trump the gas V-6’s 14 and 19. We achieved a respectable 20 mpg in the BlueTec.
Both V-6s are hooked to a seven-speed automatic that, in our tester, provided smooth shifts when driving Miss Daisy but proved lazy when we were impersonating John Force. The diesel likewise provides a hearty torque kick off the line, but the power disappears shortly thereafter. Accelerating to 60 mph took a lackluster 8.5 seconds, and the quarter-mile passed in 16.5 seconds at 83 mph. We know straight-line performance is no longer on the R-class’s agenda (Mercedes killed off the special-order 507-hp R63 AMG after one year), but the R500 was two seconds quicker to 60.
The R350 BlueTec still has old-style Mercedes steering, heavily weighted with a large on-center dead spot. It’s relaxing, and we appreciate the dead spot because of the tremendous amount of body roll that accompanies steering inputs. That said, the R350 BlueTec did manage to improve on the R500’s skidpad performance, from 0.75 g to 0.80. Braking from 70 mph takes 177 feet—pretty good for a six-seater—but pedal feel is noticeably absent.
Disappointingly, what isn’t absent is noise from the suspension and road. Even on a stretch of week-old asphalt, the chassis is always hard at work, sending tremors through the interior. On rough pavement, it only gets more aggravating. We have much fonder memories of the ride in the R-class. The BlueTec’s standard run-flat Bridgestones on 19-inch wheels could well be cause for the chatter.