IT’S A given that the latest version of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class will be effortless to drive. Mercedes customers have always demanded comfort and luxury, but the company’s recent models have also been getting sportier in an attempt to attract younger buyers. As a result, the ML350 is sports-car quick. And it doesn’t stop there: Mercedes has also ploughed its resources into improving this SUV’s environmental credentials, giving the latest ML models improved economy and emissions.
I was driving the ML350 BlueTEC Sport, powered by a 258hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine with seven-speed automatic transmission. The engine develops 20 per cent more power than the one it replaces, but can return 39.2mpg (combined) with emissions of 189g/km of CO2. This is why Mercedes is marketing it as “an SUV with a conscience” – and the figures are particularly impressive for a car this big and with the blistering acceleration the ML350 generates.
It’s worth mentioning the BlueTEC moniker comes from the technology used to convert up to 80 per cent of harmful nitrogen oxide – emitted through the exhaust – into harmless nitrogen and water. For even better economy than this, the entry-level ML250 model has a four-cylinder 2.2-litre diesel engine that offers 44.8mpg and 165g/km of CO2, albeit with a trade-off in performance.
The new ML is longer, wider and lower than the previous generation, and has a lower, sloping roof, wider front grille and LED daytime-running lamps. The result is a more aerodynamic M-Class and one that looks leaner and more stylish, though it has to be said that its looks are still fairly conservative.
The cabin is classy, comfortable and spacious. The cockpit feels well built and is awash with technology – something we have come to expect from a Mercedes-Benz product. There’s plenty of leg and headroom, front and back, and 690 litres of boot space is generous, too.
With a 0-62mph acceleration time of 7.4 seconds and a top speed of 139mph, the ML350 is certainly no slouch. Progress feels brisk and this SUV is particularly good on the motorway, where it feels stable and very, very quiet. The standard suspension has selective damping, so the ride is soft at slow speeds but at higher speeds the shock absorbers provide a firmer ride to increase stability. In terms of agility, there is no getting away from the fact this is a big, heavy vehicle and sometimes it feels it. You can mitigate this if you opt for the active anti-roll bar system, which will improve agility as the car is able to compensate body roll through corners, meaning you feel less of the weight, providing sportier driving.
The optional air suspension and adaptive damping system make the ride even more adaptable and – you guessed it – even more comfortable. Driving this M-Class is also a cinch in the City, thanks to its high seating position. It soon becomes clear why so many are sold in London – it’s so useful when commuting in traffic to sit so high. And you can forget speed bumps; you’ll barely notice them.
It’s clear this M-Class has evolved into a great family car and something of a sensible, luxurious all-rounder. It’s relaxing and quiet to drive and very practical. It even has a social conscience. If you live or work in this city and need a flexible and adaptable car, this is well worth a test-drive.
THE FACTS: MERCEDES BENZ M-CLASS
0-62MPH: 7.4 secs
TOP SPEED: 139mph
CO2 G/KM: 189g/km
MPG COMBINED: 39.2mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ***