2013 MERCEDES-BENZ M-CLASS SUV REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Large prestige SUV
Price: $101,400 (plus on-roads), $110,500 (as-tested)
Engine/tyransmission: 3.0 litre turbodiesel V6/seven-speed 7G-tronic automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.3 l/100km | tested: 9.3 l/100km
Mercedes-Benz now has an SUV worth bragging about.
While previous generations of the M-Class were saddled with an underwhelming interior and lacked for quality feel compared to other models in the Mercedes stable, the new ML is vastly superior in virtually every metric.
It’s grown up, gone to finishing school and adopted a more polished persona. It’s classy, sensible and very, very refined.
It’s so refined, in fact, that we were constantly reminding ourselves that our ML 350 Bluetec tester was, indeed, a diesel. Toorak tractor? Toorak: yes. Tractor: not at all.
Quality: Tight shutlines, premium plastics and solid switchgear abound in the ML’s interior. It’s solid, that’s for sure, and the only negative we could find was a slightly squeaky lid on the centre console box.
The use of leather is also a highlight. Not only is the seat upholstery supple, but the application of stitched leather to the upper dash and door trims imparts a premium feel to the cabin.
Comfort: No complaints about the driving position. Many drivers will welcome the deletion of the foot-operated parking brake (it’s now electrically-actuated by a small toggle button to the right of the steering column), and the seating position is high and gives a commanding view of the road ahead.
The instruments are clear and easily legible, and the migration of the 17.8cm infotainment display to the top of the dash makes it easier to keep an eye on things like the sat-nav and radio.
The electrically-adjusted front seats (standard) are a little lacking in side-bolstering, but are comfortable and offer good lower back support.
There’s plenty of space for two adults to sprawl in the back. There’s also space for a third person, but the sculpting of the rear bench means it’ll be less comfortable for whoever’s sitting in the middle.
However, with generous legroom, plenty of headroom, a big fold-down centre armrest and a pair of rear air outlets, the back seat of the ML is certainly accommodating.
Equipment: As standard on the ML 350 Bluetec, you get powered front seats, a power-adjustable steering column, folding electric wing mirrors, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, cruise control, a speed limiter, trip computer, parking sensors and a reversing camera.
Bi-xenon headlamps with automatic high-beam are also standard on the ML 350 Bluetec.
The COMAND APS infotainment system incorporates a radio, CD/DVD player, sat-nav, internet functionality and a 10GB onboard music storage drive. Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming is also standard, as is a USB audio input for portable music players.
COMAND, it must be mentioned, is starting to look a little dated and is missing the outright intuitiveness of systems used by Lexus, BMW and Audi. It is perhaps the one aspect of the M-Class’ interior that could still do with improvement.
Storage: Space is not a problem in the ML 350’s boot.
Seats up, there’s a sizable 690 litres of available luggage room. Flip up the rear squabs and fold the backrest down, and you get a flat-floored area measuring in at a huge 2010 litres.
You also get a retractable cargo blind with in-built cargo-net.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The ML 350 Bluetec’s 3.0 litre turbodiesel V6 is perfectly suited to hauling around a 2.2-tonne SUV.
Laden with torque (620Nm) and with 190kW of power, the ML’s diesel six is muscular enough to take it to triple digit-speeds in just 7.4 seconds.
Like many diesels there’s a bit of turbo lag to contend with, but there’s plenty of urge once the tachometer passes 1800rpm.
The seven-speed 7G-tronic automatic is a slick unit too. Shifts are smooth and slur together seamlessly during normal driving, and the ratios keep the engine well within its comfort zone.
There’s a pair of shift paddles behind the steering wheel should you feel the need to take control of the gearchanges, but don’t bother. There’s no point trying to second-guess this transmission, it’s that good.
Refinement: We were surprised - nay, amazed - at the refinement of the ML 350 Bluetec’s powertrain. Modern diesels are rapidly getting quieter and smoother, but this V6 is less coarse than even some petrol engines.
From the cabin and with the engine idling, there’s only the scarcest hint that there’s internal combustion happening on the other side of the firewall.
Give the engine some revs and there’s no gravelly note either.
But what’s most surprising, is that it’s a similar story outside. Lots of modern luxury diesels are muted from within the cabin, but trucklike when heard from outside. The ML is quiet both inside and out.
Wind noise and tyre noise is also well-suppressed; also impressive considering the ML has the frontal area of a hayshed and rolls on 20-inch alloy wheels.
Suspension: Our tester was equipped with the optional AIRMATIC air-suspension package ($3300), and in normal or comfort mode the ride was smooth and pliant. Whether on the highway or on cobble-paved back alleys, the ML ironed out the road surface and was well-isolated from harsh bumps.
But that also means there’s a certain disconnect between the driver and the chassis. Although grip from the 20-inch tyres is commendable, there’s lots of body roll through corners and little in the way of steering feel.
The Airmatic suspension can be tightened up by accessing Sport mode, but that introduces a sharper edge to the suspension’s initial bump response and makes the chassis just a bit too firm than you’d want.
Braking: A slightly soft pedal, but good stopping power from the ML 350’s all-disc braking hardware.
ANCAP rating: Five stars
Safety features: The ML 350 Bluetec has an impressive suite of standard safety equipment. There’s the usual stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist, but it’s augmented by active cruise control, lane keep assist and blind spot assist.
All occupants get three-point seatbelts, and Benz’s Pre-Safe system is able to sense of loss of control and pre-emptively tightens seatbelts, closes windows and moves seats to best protect passengers in the event of a crash.
A total of nine airbags are standard as well - dual front airbags, side airbags for both front and rear, full-length curtain and a driver’s knee airbag.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Service intervals are set for every 25,000km or 12 months, whichever occurs first. Consult your local dealership for maintenance pricing.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
BMW X5 xDrive30d ($92,600) - The BMW X5 has quite a few things going for it. Not only is it substantially cheaper, but the X5’s on-road handling is much sharper.
The xDrive30d’s 180kW/540Nm turbodiesel inline six isn’t quite as grunty as the Benz’s engine though and the ML 350 has the edge in outright refinement. (see X5 reviews)
Audi Q7 3.0 TDI ($90,000) - The Q7’s interior looks a bit old-hat in comparison to the X5 and ML, but it reeks of quality and offers plenty of sprawling space.
With 180kW and 550Nm from its 3.0 litre turbodiesel V6, the Q7 is down on both power and torque compared to the ML 350 Bluetec, but its significant price advantage of $11,400 makes up for it.
If you’re after seven seats, the Audi should also be at the top of your shopping list - the ML and X5 are only five-seaters. (see Q7 reviews)
Range Rover Sport SDV6 ($100,400) - With 180kW and 600Nm, the SDV6 variant of the Range Rover Sport doesn’t lag all that far behind the ML 350 Bluetec.
However, with an average fuel consumption of 9.2 l/100km, it’s a much thirstier beast.
It handles rather well for a vehicle its size, but the Range Rover Sport feels much tighter inside. At just over $100k the Range Rover Sport SDV6 is at the pricier end of its segment. (see Range Rover Sport reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
In diesel form, it's as laden with torque and driveability as it is with refinement.
For day-to-day driving, it’s hard to fault the ML 350. With a spacious cabin and an enormously practical boot, it certainly ticks the important boxes for luxurious family travel.
While it is relatively expensive compared to most of its peers, you get what you pay for.