The Mercedes-Benz M-Class, now in its third generation, is a mid-size SUV that counts the BMW X5, Lexus RS350 and Cadillac SRX as some of its key competitors. Heavy and quiet as a bank vault, it serves up high levels of luxury and offers buyers V6, V8 and turbodiesel engine options.
The exterior styling of the latest M-class harkens back to the look of the original model, which debuted in 1997 and was an overnight sales success. The front fascia adds a touch of modernity by incorporating Mercedes-BenzÃ¢tm latest design language, with a jutting-out grille and swept-back headlamps. From the side, angular lines and a blacked-out D-pillars contribute to the appearance. Around back, the tail lamps are almost car-like, giving the impression that the M-Class is smaller than it actually is.
Inside, a sporty, four-spoke steering wheel frames a hooded twin-gauge instrument cluster, while to the left a seven-inch screen display displays entertainment options. MercedesÃ¢tm COMAND infotainment system is fitted as standard. The M-ClassÃ¢tms head unit comes with a ten-gigabyte music storage hard drive, SD card slot, and an MP3 compatible CD /DVD player as well as a Bluetooth interface for wireless audio streaming and hands-free phone operation. Eucalyptus wood trim is standard, and interior upgrades such as leather-like covering for the dashboard and various trims including dark poplar wood, aluminum and matte-finish ash wood are all offered.
Old-school SUV touches include a high center stack and a gear lever located on the steering column to free up central console space for a wide and flexible storage bin. Cargo space is ample, with 38.2 cubic feet available behind the rear seats and a voluminous 80 cubes available aft of the front seats.
The entry-level ML350 model is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 with 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. The fuel-efficient option is the ML350 BlueTEC, which packs a 3.-liter turbodiesel V6 with 240 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque, while those in a hurry can opt for the 402 horsepower, 443 lb-ft of torque twin-turbo 4.7-liter V8.
MercedesÃ¢tm 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system is standard on all MLs save the ML350, which offers it as an option in place of the default rear-wheel-drive configuration. A seven-speed automatic transmission pairs with all three engines.
Fuel economy is rated at 18/24 city/highway mpg and 17/22 for the RWD and AWD ML350s, respectively; 20/28 mpg for the ML350 BlueTEC; and 14/19 mpg for the ML550.
Standard and Optional Features
Standard features on the M-Class include eight-way power heated front seats, a sunroof, a 100-watt audio system with eight speakers arranged in pairs, dual-zone automatic climate control and a power liftgate.
For those desirous of heightened luxury, several options packages are offered on the M-Class. The Premium 1 Package adds a rearview camera, power-folding exterior mirrors and a navigation system. The Premium 2 upgrade brings heated and cooled cupholders, an 830-watt Harman/Kardon audio system and an ambient light system with three different light color settings.
Enthusiasts should note the Dynamic Handling Package, which includes an air suspension system that aids both on and off-road use as well as the Active Curve System that helps negate body roll by tightening up the anti-roll bars in heavy cornering. 20-inch alloy wheels round out the package.
An optional On- and Off-Road Package that better equips the M-Class to hit the trails thanks to a two-stage transfer case, a longitudinal differential lock and six transmission settings for various types of terrain.
Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its safety features, and the M-Class looks to continue that tradition. In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the SUV boasts nine supplemental restraints including two-stage front air bags, a knee air bag for the driver and pelvic air bags which work together with curtain and side air bags to provide extra protection for front occupants in dangerous side-impact collisions.
Also standard is an Ã¢ATTENTION ASSISTÃ¢ system that can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S. A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster.
A new addition to the standard features list for the latest model year is Collision Prevention Assist, which uses a dedicated radar sensor to monitor the distance to a vehicle in front and to stationary objects. If the system senses a risk of an imminent collision, it pre-charges the brakes and alerts the driver with a warning beep and flashing light on the dash.
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV is up against the Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7, Lexus RX 350, BMW X5 and the Infiniti FX35.