Mercedes-Benz M Class: King of the road
The SUV renaissance
Mercedes-Benz have always taken SUV’s seriously. In the 90s they built a state-of-the-art plant in Alabama to produce them and despite the vagaries of automotive fashion, which saw the sector languish in the mid-2000s, SUV’s are enjoying a comeback.
The M Class is now among Mercedes-Benz’s best-sellers in the New Zealand market. An SUV today is no longer the clunky gas-guzzler of the late 90s — certainly not Mercedes-Benz’s ML 350 BlueTEC which manages a very admirable 100km for every 7.3 litres of fuel. No, this is an entirely different beast — agile for its size, confident and packed with power. The beauty of the ML 350 BlueTEC is that despite its heft it handles like a much smaller car.
And off-road adventures present no problem for the four-wheel drive M-Class (there’s also adjustable suspension at the push of a button). But let’s face it, most of us won’t be using our new Mercedes SUV to cross rivers or career up mountains (though with 190kW of torque — this is entirely possible).
A world of your own
The first thing you notice as you climb into the driver’s seat is the panoramic outlook. The high riding cabin and the large windscreen ensure excellent — movie-like — visibility.
The second thing you notice is the silence. Once that door clicks shut the busyness of the outside world disappears you feel yourself relax.
Look around and you quickly understand why Mercedes-Benz describe this as a luxury SUV — leather seats (heated of course) which can be adjusted electronically, dual zone climate control, a dashboard that dazzles with tech but remains stately and a centre console which hosts all the usual infotainment and navigation features. The look and feel is modern and fresh, exuding luxury rather than shouting about it.
That feeling of security and comfort is continued in the up-to-the-minute safety features on board. Automatically adjusting seatbelts, adaptive cruise control for long highway drives, rear and overhead cameras when reversing.
There are radar based cruise control and collision prevention features, including Blind Spot Assist (amber and red lights in the the wing mirrors alert you to possible problems). The ML-350 will even detect when you’re drowsy by flashing up a coffee icon on the dash - and there are nine airbags ready to launch in the unlikely event of an accident. And it’ll park itself too — but you will need to be in it — simply switch on Active Parking Assist and all you do is operate the accelerator or brake — just don’t forget to pay the meter!
While there’s no center seat in the back it’ll fit three teenagers with ease, and both front and back passengers enjoy plenty of leg room, while the large boot will take all you can throw at it — bikes, strollers, golf clubs, groceries, luggage. Long trips to the ski-field or the bach are about to get a lot more fun.
There’s some fierce competition from other premium brands in this segment and Mercedes have devoted all their engineering and tech resources to the M-Class. That’s resulted in a big car with real style, a 6-cylinder diesel that runs smooth and quiet thanks to a sound-deadening front bulkhead and triple-sealed windows and doors.
Yes there’s plenty of power when needed, but the ML 350BlueTEC keeps things clean, green and fuel efficient (the BlueTEC moniker represents Mercedes effort to lower emissions in diesel cars). It’s really at home out on the highway, especially in the passing lane — one imagines it laps up the autobahns back home — but the car can play the city errand-runner with aplomb.
The ML 350 BlueTEC is an SUV with a conscience — refined, efficient and enormously adaptable – a vehicle as adept at playing the busy city run-around as it is on the highway or off it entirely.
ML 350 BlueTEC
2, 987cc, 6-cylinder, 190 kW 620 Nm
ECO stop/start function
Permanent all wheel drive
7.3 L / 100km
20-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels
Driver assistance package PLUS
Parking package with 360 surround camera
MRRP $121, 900, excluding on-road charges.