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First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
More power, better fuel economy and new gadgets: Mercedes' M-Class is gunning for top spot in the luxury SUV class.

 



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| First Drive | Montana, USA | 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class |

Overall rating: 4 4 4 4 4

With a million examples sold since 1997, the third generation of Mercedes' premium SUV gets a new platform and a host of gadgets. On sale in April 2012, it'll be available with a 3.0-litre V6 diesel for the ML 350 CDI tested here and a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 for the ML 63 AMG.

Key Facts

Model driven: Mercedes-Benz ML 350 CDI Bluetec
Pricing: From 45,000 - 75,000 (estimate)
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body style: Five-door SUV
Rivals: BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, VW Touareg
CO2 emissions: 179g/km
Combined economy: 41.5mpg
Top speed: 139mph
0-62mph: 7.4 seconds
Power: 255bhp at 3,600rpm
Torque: 457lb.ft at 1,600rpm

In the Metal: 4 4 4 4 4

The new Mercedes M-Class isn't quite as imposing as it once was, looking a bit more like a raised estate car these days. Mercedes' new family face gets mixed with sculpted door panels from the CLS, although, thanks to big LED head- and taillights plus huge alloy wheels, it still looks chunky and expensive.

Big leaps have been made inside, with a new dashboard that gets a classy facia made of stitched leather, backed up by quality un-lacquered wood veneers and soft-touch plastics. There's decent space for five tall adults with even more shoulder room than before, while the boot is enormous.

Driving it: 4 4 4 4 4

We tried the 255bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel-engined ML 350 CDI, which is set to be the best seller. Whisper quiet, you'll barely be able to hear it even under hard acceleration. Boasting an extra 27bhp and 59lb.ft of torque than before (now up to 457lb.ft) it's fast and copes well with the M-Class's 2,100kg kerb weight - 0-62mph takes 7.4 seconds and thanks to a responsive new 7G-Tronic-Plus seven-speed auto you can easily overtake slower traffic with just a flex of your right foot.

Even better news is how fuel efficient it is. The old ML 350 CDI barely managed 30mpg, but the new unit returns 41.5mpg on the combined cycle, while CO2 emissions drop from 230- to just 179g/km thanks to a host of BlueEfficiency measures, including a super subtle start-stop system that you barely notice operating and brake energy recuperation.

Handling makes some big strides in the right direction too. With four-wheel drive and double wishbone suspension, the M-Class is certainly surefooted. A clever new optional system called 'Active Curve Control' features active anti-roll bars that stiffen up only when cornering - it works well with the optional Airmatic air suspension, but even cars fitted with standard steel springs offer good body control and a soothing ride too.

Ultimately, a BMW X5 is still more agile and involving, but the M-Class is more fun than you might think and a better long-distance cruiser. Factor in a highly adjustable raised seating position, great visibility and accurate, well-weighted steering and this is the best driving M-Class yet.

What you get for your Money: 4 4 4 4 4

Like the Mercedes S-Class there's no shortage of standard luxury car-style equipment including Bluetooth, climate control and a powerful entertainment system. That's backed up by a whole raft of safety kit including Attention Assist, Pre-Safe and low-speed collision mitigation, as well as adaptive Distronic cruise control.

As for prices, well, they haven't been released just yet because of the car's April launch but you can expect the ML 350 CDI we drove to kick off at around 45,000, which is competitive for the class. That's not cheap, but residual values are expected to be extremely strong, meaning you'll hold onto your money when it comes to re-sale.

Worth Noting

Mercedes-Benz UK is currently undecided on whether to bring a 2.1-litre twin-turbodiesel four-cylinder ML 250 CDI variant with 204bhp to our shores. Returning close to 50mpg and emitting even lower CO2 than the 350 CDI, it seems like a no-brainer - message to Mercedes: please bring it to the UK. Meanwhile a hybrid based on this model is due in late 2012 and should be even more efficient, if more costly to buy. A 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 ML 63 AMG performance variant will be available from the April launch.

Summary

The new Mercedes-Benz M-Class is a finely honed SUV that manages to mix all the attributes of the old car - a relaxing driving experience, real luxury and space - with even more precise handling, better quality and, best of all, really impressive fuel economy and emissions. Throw in strong off-road ability and you've got a great all-rounder.


Sam Hardy - 26 Jul 2011









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2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 






 

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