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Click for pictures“The ML 270 CDI:
  One of the most
  satisfying prestige
  SUVs both to drive
  and to own”

FINDING A SINGLE WORD to sum up the latest diesel-powered Mercedes ML we recently tested is a no-brainer. 'Classy' fits the bill perfectly.

Our ML 270 CDI arrived, gleaming metallic black from top to toe, with a genuine delivery mileage on the clock — so we were able to appreciate exactly how a 'real' owner would feel having just taken delivery of
one of Mercedes' smart Sports Utility Vehicles. It was an extremely pleasant experience, and one that continued to improve with each of the 800 test miles we added over the course of a very pressurised week's testing.

While the M-Class offers top-notch capability off-road — thanks to a full-time four-wheel drive and state-of-the-art 4ETS traction system — it is primarily intended for on-road use, and as such conforms to all the expected standards of a Mercedes-Benz passenger car. That means excellent on-road ride comfort, particularly over long distances.

And when it comes to everyday versatility its high towing capacity (3,500 kilograms) and cavernous 2,020-litre load space together with foolproof interior adaptability, generous 83 litre fuel tank and impressive fuel consumption together make it hard to better. The ML, in fact, appears to have all the bases covered, being equally in its element on an off-road outing, family holiday or a regular business or shopping trip.

The current ML line-up offers a choice of five-, six- or eight-cylinder engines (2.7, 3.7-litre V6, 4.5 and 5.5-litre V8) that develop from
163 up to 347bhp. The flagship 55 AMG model is a real flyer, hitting 145mph and rocketing to 62mph in under 7 seconds. However, the most popular model, weighing in at a not unreasonable 31,715, is the 5-cylinder 2.7-litre 163bhp common-rail diesel-powered ML. The 270 CDI's muscular 295lb ft of torque will push it up to a perfectly usable top speed of 114mph and the 0-62mph dash is sorted in a brisk 11.4 seconds. It's tested here fitted with Mercedes' excellent 'Tipshift'
5-speed automatic gearbox that also learns your driving style.

To look at, the high-set ML is ruggedly handsome — sculpted would
be a fitting description — with none of the brashness that is so often part and parcel of large 4x4s. Enhanced by the large three-pointed
star sitting proudly on its raked nose, there's a refinement to its sporty rugged air that ensures it appeals as much to men as it does to women.

The deep doors make the ML one of the easiest sport utilities to get
in and out of and they shut with a good old-fashioned quality "thunk". Once inside, the driving position is A1, and the spacious and com-fortable cabin offers a fine view out. Both front seats are electrically multi-adjustable with three memory settings. They're also well-shaped with supportive bolstering and great to travel with. Sun visors are deep and effective with illuminated vanity mirrors. Door pockets are sturdy, a good size and, in common with the numerous storage compartments, are lined to minimise rattles.

A bonus is the wealth of well-sited interior lighting and a foot-operated handbrake with a release handle located conveniently to the right of the steering column. One single sturdy column stalk controls everything most manufacturers use two for — and does so without confusing the driver. Build quality and fit and finish are as good as you would expect from Mercedes and really does endorse that three-pointed star on the grille — something that also helps to warrant strong residuals.

Three large dials take care of water temperature/fuel and outside temperature, speed and revs. Graphics are white on black with orange needles. The fascia is laid out in an orderly style with redesigned centre console housing the SatNav and key switchgear for the rotary automatic climate control dials and the excellent two-stage heated seats. The lower selector console is home to the four window switches (all auto one-shot up/down), master central locking button and the door mirror finger pad providing electric control, heating and auto fold-back. Both consoles are trimmed in attractive Eucalyptus. The neat pop-out cupholders are a cut above the rest.

Standard equipment is comprehensive. Tinted glass, automatic air conditioning, all-round electric windows, smart 17-inch alloys, roof rails, cruise control, six airbags, auto lights and wipers head up a
long list of worthwhile items. The cabin oozes a smart sturdiness of
the kind that not only looks good today but that will retain its looks years down the road.

Twist the key in the ignition and there's little to give away the fact that you're sitting behind a diesel engine. Cruising along at 75mph on the motorway your passengers wouldn't have a clue. With 295lb ft
of torque on tap, the turbocharged in-line five never feels under-powered. Mid-range acceleration is strong, the hearty low-down pull making for a smooth drive. Initial step-off is eager — especially welcome when joining moving traffic — and the 270 CDI feels brisker than the official 0-62mph time of 11.4 seconds would have you believe.

And with a combined consumption figure of 29.7mpg there's scant penalty for two-pedal motoring. The 6-speed manual returns just 3mpg more, at 30mpg. It seems that the more refined diesel engines become these days, the harder it is to make a case for choosing a thirstier petrol engine. Despite a lot of hard-charging during our week-long test, the ML returned an impressive 30mpg overall. Another bonus is the larger fuel tank. Now 18.26 gallons, up from 15.4, it means that 550 miles between forecourt visits is something you can bank on, given the LM's achievable 35.3mpg touring consumption.

Refinement is also good. The ML's tasteful cabin is a relaxing place to be with a spacious, estate car feel. Mercedes has done an efficient job with engine noise, with a suppression shield fitted on the underside helping to make 90mph cruising sedate at 3,000rpm. However, even then the ML is still eager to press on into three figures. A growly, but amiable, soundtrack lets you know when you're really working the four-valve-per-cylinder, common-rail direct injection engine.

Safety is, of course, as high on Mercedes' agenda as is quality. Two-stage 'intelligent' driver and front passenger airbags plus side airbags are standard, along with side impact window bags large enough to inflate across the length of the interior to protect occupants' heads.
In addition there's traction control, stability control, ABS with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution with the added security
of permanent four-wheel drive.

At a less severe level the front bumper can absorb parking bumps up
to 2.5mph, thanks to polypropylene impact absorbers which return
to their original shape. Drive-off activated automatic central locking is another plus point, as is the auto-dipping rear-view mirror and the excellent main and dip headlights.

From behind the four-spoke steering wheel, whether loping along in
the outside lane of the motorway or trickling through school traffic,
the ML feels and drives just like a regular passenger car. The 'Tipshift' auto 'box is a pleasure to use and worth every penny of the extra 1,450. Moving the selector lever to the left engages Manual mode, which then allows gears to be changed manually by lightly tapping the lever to the left (down) or right (up). Holding the lever briefly (as opposed to a light tap) in the 'down' position, moves the gearbox down to the lowest available ratio, and provides improved engine braking on downward slopes as well as greater acceleration when overtaking.
The individual gear selected is continuously shown in a display inset in the rev-counter.

Make full use of it and you'll discover that the ML is more than capable of providing a good measure of driver satisfaction on winding B-roads. In spite of its 2,175kg kerb weight and accommodating proportions, it feels usefully agile and stable from the commanding driver's seat. The rack and pinion steering is nicely-weighted and allied to a tight (11.9m) turning circle. Even running massive — and grippy — 275/55 Continental 4x4 Contacts on the 7-spoke 17-inch alloys, tyre noise is notable by its absence.

Anti-lock brakes, ventilated at the front, have good feel and modul-ation and are decisive (we had occasion to be very thankful for that at 70mph) and the car always feels safe and user-friendly. The ride comfort from the independent suspension set-up is comparable to that of a Mercedes saloon car and although it is a diesel, the ML 270 CDI is certainly far from dull to drive!

Despite 'city' looks the M-Class is a competent 4x4, complete with a 'proper' low-ratio transfer case. Unlike conventional off-roaders, the
ML eschews locking differentials to distribute torque to all four wheels, relying instead on Mercedes' advanced Four-wheel Electronic Traction System, 4ETS — an ABS-derived, electronic traction control system. Any wheels losing grip are immediately braked and the torque re-directed only to the wheels with traction.

The result: the ML copes admirably off-road. Preparation is simple: select Neutral, hit the Low Range button next to the radio and turn off the Electronic Stability Programme. The ML will happily clamber over challenging terrain climb 1-in-1 slopes, fording 50-centimetre deep water and clearly has more off-road ability than most owners will ever require or use.

Decent cabin space means there's easy access and ample room for
real adults in every one of the ML's seats. Front and rear head- and legroom are generous. Long (are-we-there-yet?) trips confirmed that the large, leather-covered seats are designed for comfort. The centre stack houses all manner of switches, logically arranged. A supplem-entary stalk on the steering column operates the standard-fit cruise control and speed limiter — helpful if your New Year resolutions included retaining a clean licence. Discerning trim includes Eucalyptus wood.

Rear passengers also enjoy their own dedicated air vents and ventil-ation controls, as well as a wide, comfy central armrest. The two outer rear seats are well-contoured with a good backrest angle that makes them particularly comfortable. The 1/3:2/3 split rear bench accomm-odates three, providing a three-point seatbelt and head res-traint for all of them. Folding the standard second row seats directly into the floor is quick and easy and opens up an intrusion-free level load space with a 695kg payload and capacity of 2,020 litres measuring 1,651mm long x 1,112mm wide x 1,015mm high.

Even more useful, both seat sections can be moved — separately or together — up to 80mm fore/aft to instantly increase legroom or luggage space. Loading couldn't be easier. The full-width top-hinged tailgate swings up and out of the way effortlessly, and the floor is conveniently at knee height.

Although the ML measures just 4.64 metres from bumper to bumper — 18cms shorter than the E-class estate — it offers its passengers more room to move. Also worth noting is that the rear seat backs are reinforced with sheet metal, not only to provide protection from flying objects in event of an impact but principally to make for a stronger load platform when the rear seats are fully folded. Should you have
the need, then an optional third row of seats will turn your ML into a working seven-seater.

The ML's luxury cabin conceals some serious workhorse capabilities —
a braked-trailer towing capacity of 3500kg. With its prodigious torque peaking at between 1,800 and 2,600rpm, the ML is an ideal choice for owners who want to pull a boat, horse-box or substantial trailer.

When you first set eyes on an M-Class there's no mistaking that it is, above all, a luxury SUV. Equally evident, after having racked up over 800 miles in a week experiencing the ML's unruffled calm as it goes about its business, is that a very capable workhorse lives beneath the imposing veneer, imbued with a lot of thoughtful touches that go a long way to making ownership something special. It's reassuring to know that like all other Mercedes-Benz cars, the M-class is covered
for 30 years by mobilo-life cover. This effectively gives lifetime protection and breakdown recovery for all new Mercedes cars. UK customers also benefit from a three-year unlimited mileage warranty cover.

Mercedes recently announced the next generation M-Class, due in Europe this summer. And, knowing Mercedes, it will undoubtedly be even better — offering, as it will, a choice of three powerful new engines, a standard-fit 7-speed automatic transmission, a 4ETS four-wheel drive system that is more effective than ever and air suspension.
However, if you've bought one of the still-current models as reviewed here then you've absolutely nothing to worry about. It's still a damned fine piece of kit.
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Mercedes-Benz ML 270 CDI | 31,715
Maximum speed: 114mph | 0-62mph: 11.4 seconds
Overall test MPG: 30mpg | Power: 163bhp | Torque: 295lb ft

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-------------------------------------------------------- Mercedes-Benz ML 270