2009 Mercedes Benz RL-Class
Part minivan, part station wagon and part luxury crossover, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is several cars rolled into one. Essentially a luxurious alternative for those who would never consider a traditional minivan, the R-Class seats six or seven passengers rather than the seven or eight you could fit into a minivan or SUV. However, those six or seven passengers will be pampered by one of the finest interiors of any people hauler on the planet. If you have the means to splurge on this kind of transportation, the R-Class is an intriguing upgrade from the Honda Odysseys of the world.
Roughly 35 percent of R-Class components are shared with the M-Class SUV, and both models are built in Alabama. Still, the R-Class, which is offered in R350 and R320 Bluetec trim levels, is very much its own vehicle. At 203 inches long, the R-Class extends past the E-Class wagon by a foot. It's also longer than rivals like the Audi Q7 and Cadillac SRX.
All that length pays dividends inside. Both second- and third-row passengers have more than adequate room to stretch out. For quick trips, there's an optional seventh seat, but this is not a road-trip seat for anyone. New navigation and audio options this year enhance the luxury feel of the R-Class and also make it possible to add Bluetooth, surround-sound and iPod integration. But the biggest news this year is the introduction of the R320 Bluetec trim level, which features an updated version of Mercedes' turbodiesel engine that's now 50-state legal in terms of emissions.
The one main drawback to the 2009 Mercedes-Benz R-Class is its rear doors. Where minivans use parking-lot-friendly sliding doors, the R uses traditional swing-out doors, and these doors are quite large. The good news here is that the door openings are nice and wide, making it easy for passengers to get in and out. Unfortunately, they're so heavy and long that kids may not be able to open or close them without help.
To some extent, the R-Class leaves us scratching our heads, wondering why a prospective buyer wouldn't just get a minivan instead. With a taller roof, power-sliding side doors and many of the high-end features of a Benz, upscale trim levels of traditional minivans simply make more sense. But if you absolutely must have a three-pointed star on your hood and no-compromises luxury in your cabin, the R-Class will certainly serve you well as a family wagon.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
In the full-size luxury SUV segment, many automakers consider "the more ostentatious, the better" to be a design goal. That's why it's nice to see that the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class is all about understated class. The GL boasts mechanical sophistication and superior craftsmanship that set it apart from other blinged-out, seven-passenger SUVs. Not surprisingly, this big Benz has been a favorite of ours ever since it debuted two years ago.
This year marks the debut of the diesel-fueled GL320 Bluetec, which replaces the previous GL320 CDI. Unlike the CDI, which wasn't available for sale in California or California-emissions states, the GL320 is 50-state certified, thanks to a new technology that cleans up the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6's emissions by injecting urea into the exhaust. Like the CDI before it, the GL320 Bluetec offers significantly better fuel economy than its gasoline-propelled counterparts do. It also provides adequate power for those who can live without the authoritative thrust of the optional V8s. Price is a consideration, too. Not only does the GL320's sticker price start at $1,000 less than the GL450, but the 2009 GL320 also qualifies for an $1,800 federal tax credit.
The GL-Class models compete with full-size luxury SUVs like the Audi Q7, Cadillac Escalade, Lexus GX 570 and Lincoln Navigator. The domestics certainly have some advantages, particularly in regard to maximum cargo capacity, but they can't match the GL's polish and on-road handling. The GX 570 is just as opulent as the GL, but its demeanor is more off-road-oriented. That leaves the Q7 as the vehicle closest in concept and execution. There's even a forthcoming diesel-powered Audi Q7 TDI to match up against the GL320 Bluetec. You'll certainly want to look at both, but you can't go wrong with the classy and capable 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.