The third generation of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class is here - complete with a diesel-burning option known as the ML350 BlueTEC 4MATIC. The ML350 BlueTEC is not new to the M-Class, but the latest model improves fuel economy to 20 city, 25 highway, while significantly increasing torque from 400 to 455 lb-ft, and horsepower from 210 to 240.
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, though, is inspired by Mercedes-Benz's 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 a modern appearance. From the rear, the tail lamps are almost car-like, which gives the M-Class the appearance that it is smaller than it is
As part of the redesign for the latest ML, Mercedes-Benz has made improvements to the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive and the chassis in a way that fairly substantially improves driving dynamics, both on-road and off-road.
The ML350 BlueTEC also saw major improvements to its powertrain thanks to a completely reworked 3.0-liter V6 engine, which meets emissions standards in all 50 states and delivers improved performance and reduced fuel consumption. The efficiency improvements have been achieved, above all, through the use of the TWAS (twinwire- arc spraying) technology - in use since 2005 in AMG's high performance engines. The technology involves cylinder wall coating technology that reduces internal friction in the engine significantly while simultaneously reducing weight by 9.5 lbs.
The net result of this technology alone? Fuel consumption is reduced by around three percent.
BlueEFFICIENCY stands for more than the name of the diesel engine for Mercedes-Benz, it encompasses a collection of technologies that all work together to improve fuel economy - which in this case includes: a new seven-speed automatic transmission with a more fuel-efficient torque converter, friction optimized bearings, a transmission oil thermal management system, low-friction axle drives and electromechanical steering - all of which contribute to improved fuel economy.
Other changes aimed at improved fuel economy include use of lightweight construction techniques which ultimately offset the addition of new content and features to maintain a neutral weight change between generations. The hood and fenders, for example, are made out of light aluminum alloys, while the cross member for the instrument panel is made of magnesium.
The optional Dynamic Handling Package features active roll stabilization using the new Active Curve System combined with AIRMATIC air suspension, Adaptive Damping System (ADS) and 20-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels. This option uses active anti-roll bars on the front and rear axles, which it controls automatically irrespective of lateral acceleration, speed or the switch setting of the ADS Comfort/Sport switch.
Simply put, the system aims to reduce the effect of inertia and body roll through turns and improves handling and ride comfort in those situations. Another added benefit is that of increased vehicle stability - especially at higher speeds - which improves safety, passively, for all.
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All the powertrain in the world still doesn't make a Mercedes a Mercedes - luxury and cutting-edge features do.
The ML350 BlueTEC features 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. Mercedes' iDrive-like COMAND system is fitted as standard. The 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, but 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.
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 desirious 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.
New for the latest model is 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.
Safety features include two-stage adaptive airbags for both front occupants, a kneebag for the driver, side airbags for the driver and front passenger, sidebags for the rear row, windowbags across both rows from the A- to the C-pillar, weight recognition with deactivation for the front passenger airbag, standard Brake Assist (BAS) and optional BAS Plus, which Mercedes-Benz promises can "prevent an accident or reduce its severity."
Newly standard is Mercedes' Collision Prevention Assist, a radar-based system that works to prevent or mitigate collisions. Between 20 and 155 mph, the system monitors the distance between the M and the vehicle in front of it, emitting visual and acoustic warnings and priming the brakes if it senses that a collision is imminent.
The diesel-powered M-Class is up against the diesel-powered Audi Q7, the Lexus RX 450h and Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid.