What is it?
It says a lot about the up-market four-wheel drive competition faced by the M-class that it has been replaced after just six years. Renowned for possessing some of the longest model cycles in the industry, Mercedes-Benz has decided to call time on the second generation model a full two years earlier than originally planned.
In shortening the cycle, it hopes to better match rivals like the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg with a more advanced third-generation M-class, which arrives in the UK in April.
What’s it like?
In the metal, it looks disappointingly conservative – more like a large estate car than a full blown off-roader. But that apparently is exactly the reaction Mercedes-Benz designers are seeking.
Here in the UK, the M-class is only going to be sold with one engine, at least initially. A 3.0-litre common rail diesel will power the ML 350 BlueTec 4Matic with 26bhp more than the old ML 350 CDI at 254bhp. It will come mated to the latest version of Mercedes-Benz’s excellent seven speed 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox, complete with an automatic stop/start and brake energy recuperation functions, and a permanent four wheel drive system as standard.
With 457lb ft of torque – some 60lb ft more than old ML 350 CDI, the oil-burner tested here makes light work of the ML 350 BlueTec’s substantial 2100kg kerb weight.
Its best work is achieved on part throttle loads; the new Mercedes-Benz off-roader cruises at typical British motorway speed limits in a relaxed, serene and, given its considerable weight and large front area, extraordinarily economical manner. At 41.5mpg, it betters its predecessor by 9.8mpg on the combined cycle.
The improvements extend to the new M-class’s dynamic properties thanks to the adoption of a heavily reworked version of its predecessor’s chassis and double wishbone suspension, meaning that it handles with added fluidity, improved response and greater feedback.
With all that torque on tap at just 1600rpm and four-wheel drive to apportion it to each corner, the ML 350 BlueTec punches out of corners with great enthusiasm and hangs on exceptionally well when pushed hard.
Performance in the rough stuff has been extended through the adoption of a new six-stage program that comes with an optional On/Off Road Package offering everything from varying ride height adjustment to automatic lock up of differentials and a special off-road calibration for the stability control system.
A long list of merits in other areas – a truly high quality interior, superb looking instruments, nicely damped controls, commanding view of the road from the driver’s seat, spacious cabin with added shoulder room, copious luggage space, state of the art entertainment and communication systems and outstanding quality to name but a few, certainly adds to the overall appeal.
Should I buy one?
The only real drawbacks we can level at the new M-class right now are its larger dimensions, which will make it more of a handful in tight city traffic, the lack of a proper middle rear seat and the decision to sell it without a spare tyre even as an option. Not that many buyers are ever likely to venture too far away from the blacktop, mind you. Suddenly, the M-class is competitive again.