As a premium SUV, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class has always scored very high with us, and its impressive efficiency now has decidedly conquered our hearts altogether.
Indeed, the frugality of our test car was nothing short of astonishing: we consumed over the whole test not more than a mere 5.9 litres on 100 km, where we have to admit that we drove the car with restraint of a “normal” owner/driver, and enjoyed its creature comfort to the full.
Hans Knol ten Bensel
And comfortable, well finished and roomy this car is. It combines indeed saloon car comfort with the characteristics and emotiveness of a SUV. It is undoubtedly the key to its success: of the M-Class, not less than 1.2 million vehicles have been sold, and the customer base of the M-Class is one of the most loyal. Unsurprisingly, with the new BlueTEC diesel units, the future success of this car is warranted – once again.
For the first time, the M-Class chassis with steel suspension features selective damping. The driver is assisted by electric steering, which worked very sensitive and provided the right amount of assistance in any circumstance.
Our test car came with the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive, 4ETS electronic traction control and an off-road button which activates a special off road driving mode.
Furthermore, the start-off assist system makes hill starts easier, while the Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR) automatically keeps the car at the speed which has been set using the cruise control stalk.
The optional ON&OFFROAD package for the new M-Class has six driving modes for optimising driving dynamics and handling safety, as the optimum drive system control is provided for an extremely wide range of on-road and off-road operating conditions.
The driver can select from one automatic mode, two special off-road modes and three on-road modes using a rotary control in the centre console. In terms of "hardware", the ON&OFFROAD package comprises an underguard, a two-stage transfer case with reduction gear, an inter-axle differential lock and enhanced AIRMATIC functionality that allows a maximum ground clearance of 285 millimetres as well as a fording depth of 600 millimetres.
Roll stabilisation in SPORT mode…
Active roll stabilisation in the form of the ACTIVE CURVE SYSTEM can be optionally combined with both the AIRMATIC air suspension with Adaptive Damping System (ADS) and the ON&OFFROAD package.
This system uses active anti-roll bars on the front and rear axles and compensates for the roll angle of the body through bends, increasing agility and driving pleasure in the process. The system has the additional effect of increasing handing stability and therefore safety, particularly at higher speeds.
Further benefits of the ACTIVE CURVE SYSTEM include superb ride comfort both when cornering and driving in a straight line, together with enhanced off-road abilities.
Well, we tested it all, and in the SPORT mode, the car handles with uncanny sure-footedness, and takes a very spirited driving style effortlessly in its stride.
Reduced noise and vibration levels also contribute to keep the driver relaxed and happy. Here the new M-Class scores very well. The Mercedes engineers have done their homework and have made the bodyshell more rigid, and further improved chassis and drive line.
First-class ambience and interconnectivity
In the interior, the luxury of the good star is omnipresent. The interior offers substantially more elbow room than its predecessor (an extra 34 millimetres in the front and an extra 25 millimetres in the rear), thus enhancing the impression of spaciousness. All of the key settings of the seats can be adjusted electrically. New features include rear seat backrests adjustable for angle and the through-loading feature via the armrest for transporting skis. Folding both backrests as well as the seat cushions forward creates a level load compartment with a capacity of 2010 litres up to the roof lining – a record in this segment.
The new M-Class comes as standard with the Audio 20 CD system, which comprises a radio with twin-tuner, a colour display with a 14.7 cm screen diagonal, an MP3/WMA/AAC-compatible CD player, aUSB interface with CD Cover Art display (if saved on the storage medium), an AUX-IN socket in the centre armrest and a telephone keypad.
The Bluetooth interface also allows hands-free telephony and Audio Streaming for the transfer of music. One of the particularly interesting features on offer is the Becker®MAPPILOT, a fully integrated navigation module with a 2-D/3-D map display for Europe. The device is housed in a cradle in the glove compartment and is operated using the central controller for the Audio 20 CD system.
The COMAND Online multimedia system with a high-resolution 17.8 cm colour display provides internet access in the M-Class for the first time. Customers can either browse freely when the vehicle is at a standstill or use a Mercedes-Benz App with pages that load extremely quickly and are also easy to use when the vehicle is on the move.
As an option, COMAND Online is available with a 6-discDVDchanger. This system's standard features include Speed Limit Assist, which recognises traffic signs and displays them in the instrument cluster.
But the real gem remains the powertrain…
The engine has the SCR emissions technology, and the unit is the thrifty four-cylinder already familiar from, for instance, the E and the S-Class. What this engine is capable of in terms of dynamics and efficiency, we amply commented in our report about the celebration and economy run to the Mercedes-Benz museum in the summer of last year with the E-class.
It is powerful enough to catapult the car from 0 to 100 km in merely 9 seconds.
Understandably, as the engine develops 150 kW at 4200 rpm, and has a maximum torque of 500 Nm between 1600 and 1800 rpm. All this power is funnelled through a 7 speed 7G-Tronic Plus automatic gearbox, which is impossible to fault and always reacts as it should in all driving situations. The gearbox has a new fuel-economy converter, friction-optimised bearings and a transmission oil thermal management system. The top speed is not less than 210 km/h.
Of course, the reduced fuel consumption is also thanks to the low-friction axle drives, electric steering, the optimised belt drive with decoupler, the on-demand control of all ancillary components and pumps, and tyres with low rolling resistance also play their part in reducing fuel consumption.
Driving the Mercedes, one notices the efficiency of engine and gearbox, as it pumps the power at low revs, and despite all mechanical refinement the engine never belies that it is a four cylinder, albeit a very smooth and civilised one. The gearbox always changes up and down with silky smoothness, and the noise level is very well muffled indeed, especially at small throttle openings.
With a drag coefficient, or cd figure, of 0.32, the new M-Class (ML 250 BlueTEC) also sets a new best figure for this vehicle class. Intensive simulations were undertaken with the digital prototype, along with final touches added in the wind tunnel. The result is indeed a very quiet and stable car at high Autobahnen speeds.
A quite formidable car it is, setting very high standards in all respects. A car to own and cherish, as your good and faithful star along all roads you might ever encounter…
Hans Knol ten Bensel