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The Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a four-door luxury crossover minivan that seats up to seven passengers. There are some car companies out there that seem to want it all – a great reputation for offering high-performance luxury vehicles, combined with a lineup of products which cover every possible segment of the market. The trouble with this type of strategy is that it introduces luxury versions of certain vehicle types for which there may be no demand. When Mercedes-Benz released the R-Class in 2006, it was clear that what they were labeling a crossover SUV was in reality a minivan – albeit a minivan without sliding rear doors. Mercedes was gambling on the idea that there were buyers out there itching to upgrade from a Grand Caravan to something more upscale, and of course, more expensive.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz R-Class comes in only two trim levels. The R320 CDI is offered with a 3.0 liter, 6-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that offers excellent power and great fuel economy. This 215 horsepower unit not only provides enough motivation to effortlessly move the R-Class through traffic, but with just under 400 ft-lbs of torque the R-Class is a very gutsy minivan that outmatches anything in its class. Fuel mileage is 18 miles per gallon in city driving, and 24 miles per gallon on the highway – not bad for a seven-passenger people mover. If a gasoline engine is preferred, then the R350 provides a 268 horsepower V6 that turns in less impressive fuel economy but excellent throttle response. Both versions of the R-Class are all-wheel drive, and both use a 7-speed automatic transmission.

Minivans are all about interior utility and comfort, and here the R-Class definitely does not disappoint. Wood trim, leather seating and interior ambient lighting really give the passenger compartment a world-class feel. This is definitely not a Mazda or a Honda minivan. The rear tailgate is powered in order to assist with loading, and the 85 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear rows of seating folded into the floor matches the larger GL-Class SUV. Even better is the fact that 8 foot long planks or ladders can also be swallowed up by the spacious R-Class – the equivalent of a full-size pickup truck bed in cargo length.

Mercedes-Benz also adds three zones of climate control so that the driver and front and rear passengers can all individually decide on what temperature suits them the best. Bluetooth integration and a built-in hands-free phone system help to focus the driver’s attention on the road, and a DVD navigation and entertainment system keeps everyone on track and free from boredom.

The close-to-5000 lbs R-Class is surprisingly nimble, and although it wouldn’t be mistaken by drivers for a sports car, it does offer a pleasant motoring experience that is both smooth and confidence inspiring. Large brakes and electronic stability control work together with the vehicle’s all-wheel drive system to keep journeys drama-free even in inclement weather conditions.

While the R-Class may be a competent vehicle that is head and shoulders above many other minivans and van-like crossovers, consumer response to the vehicle has been tepid at best. It may simply be that Mercedes-Benz over-estimated the interest level or budgets of minivan buyers, or it may be the fact that people are unlikely to overspend on a vehicle that is usually considered as a simple way to get from point A to point B with the maximum number of passengers and a minimum amount of hassle.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a carryover from 2008, minus the rear-wheel drive edition – all versions of the R-Class are now all-wheel drive only – and the addition of an upgraded diesel engine. The 2009 R-Class is available in R350 and R320 editions. The R350 features a 3.5 V6 engine that produces 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is rated at 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 miles per gallon during highway cruising. The R320 substitutes a 3.0 liter diesel V6 that churns out 210 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. Fuel mileage rises to 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 miles per gallon on the highway. Each edition of the R-Class features a 7-speed automatic transmission.