2 December 2004

With the pace of progress in the premium off-road sector continuing to pick up, and new entrants from Audi, Land Rover and BMW, Mercedes is poised to dramatically raise its game with the second-generation M-class.

And this is the result. The wraps come off the new car at January’s Detroit Motor Show, and the official pictures are just a couple of weeks from release, but our scoop photographers have snared the car virtually undisguised during final testing.

The styling is predictably evolutionary, introducing Merc’s new corporate identity, but big advances are said to have been made both under the skin and inside the cabin. The old car’s ladder-frame chassis is superseded by a unitary construction that should help push the M-class towards the top of the class with big improvements in comfort, handling and safety.

The interior is more spacious and functional, with a much-improved seat-folding system. Interior trim quality – one of the most-criticised aspects of the current car – has been enhanced. Much work is also said to have gone into improving build quality and durability.

The M-class won’t reach the UK until next autumn, and will get a range of V6 and V8 petrol and diesel engines, topped by a naturally aspirated 6.3-litre V8 in the ML63 AMG. There will also be a separate model, the R-class, spun off the same platform. The R-class will be a six-seater in a 2+2+2 configuration and arrives around six months behind the M-class in early 2006.

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