ML 320 CDI Sport
might be tight but not for
everybody. Business users and
affluent retail buyers still want their
executive 4x4s, and high on their
lists is a Mercedes M-Class, just
revamped for the 2009 model year...
MERCEDES-BENZ HAS JUST INTRODUCED the mildly revamped and restyled 2009 model
year M-Class 4x4 range to the UK, at prices ranging from £39,735 to £77,455.
The main selling ML 320 CDI Sport model, as tested here, costs £44,285.
Revised, visually refreshed and refocused specification models are the main
points of the new M-Class range. And before anybody thinks big 4x4s are dead
ducks, take note that five out of the 4x4 sector's top ten are heavyweights
such as the M-Class. Of the top ten, the Land Rover Discovery leads the way,
followed by the Range Rover, BMW X5, the Mercedes Benz M-Class and the Audi
Q7. People buying these types of premium vehicles are less troubled by money
worries so far, anyway.
While the petrol-engined ML 350 has been deleted from the range, the V8-powered
ML 500 and ML 63 AMG versions continue even though each accounts for
just one per cent of total M-Class UK sales. The revised engine line-up is:
ML 280 CDI (187bhp V6) which will take around 30 per cent of sales; the 221bhp
V6 ML 320 CDi (the most popular buy, with almost 60 per cent of sales); and
the 302bhp V8 ML 420 CDI that will account for the remaining eight per cent.
The latest updates include a new grille (which differs in colour between SE
and Sport versions), re-profiled front and rear bumpers, new exterior door mirrors,
new projection beam headlights and dark-tinted tail lights. The increased standard
specification includes Parktronic front and rear sensors, Easy-Pack powered
tailgate, automatically-dimming exterior and rear-view mirrors, automatic wipers,
Bluetooth connectivity and redesigned front seats.
SE models have black roof rails, a black grille, twin exhaust pipes, multi-function
steering wheel, leather upholstery and the upmarket Audio 20 sound and Telematics
information system. Sport versions, the expected best selling models, have stainless
steel front and rear underguards, aluminium finish roof rails, side running
boards, privacy glass, 20-inch alloy wheels, sports seats, rubber-studded stainless
steel pedals and an interior lighting package.
The new-generation M-Class retains its predecessor's packaging versatility with
seating for five adults (or four in real comfort) and a spacious 500-litre load
bay that can be extended to a vast 1,830 litres by folding the one/two thirds
split rear seats. A further 220 litres can be achieved with removable cushions
this can be ordered as a £320 option and includes a Load-Securing Kit
and creates a level load surface extending up to 2,100mm in length.
The M-Class benefits from all of Mercedes-Benz the renowned safety and handling
characteristics found in their luxury saloon, coupé and sports models. Included
as standard is the award-winning PRE-SAFE anticipatory impact system along with
NECK-PRO active anti-whiplash front head restraints. The comprehensive safety
package also provides next-generation Anti-lock Braking, Brake Assist, Four-wheel
Electronic Traction Control (4ETS), Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), Trailer
Stability Assist and Acceleration Skid Control resulting in a full five-star
Euro NCAP impact test rating.
All M-Class versions have permanent all-wheel drive and all make use of a 7G-Tronic
seven-speed automatic transmission now fitted with proper gearshift paddles
which are much easier to use than the previous behind-the-wheel buttons.
One of the popular extra cost options is the £1,305 Airmatic that allows the
driver to select from Sport, Comfort or Standard modes. However this system,
even in Sport mode, makes for a 'detached' ride as it floats over the road surface
and induces bodyroll. Nevertheless, a good feature of it is the fact that it
also 'weights up' the steering in the Sport setting for more feedback to the
driver as well as sharpening up the throttle and gearchange point responses.
If your enjoy driving, be aware that the standard non-air suspension provides
better all round handling but not the sharper responses for the steering, throttle
and the auto transmission. A pity that we cannot have it all.
The M-Class may be outshone off road by its Range Rover and Land Rover competitors
but less than it ever was. For brand appeal and quality, however, M-Class
is, I think, superior. Yes, it only has five seats not enough for some
users in this sector but it is a premium package with huge amounts of
Only by testing this vehicle in extremely wet conditions on a circuit and off
road can one appreciate just how good the slalom handling and emergency braking
functions have become using electronics. For a big 4x4, the M-Class sets new
standards. Off road slip-and-slide performance on road tyres is adequate for
most owners but you will get stuck when the going gets really tough.
Having driven most versions of the latest M-Class both on- and off-road, I believe
the ML 320 CDI is, overall, the best engine to choose: thanks to the huge 376lb
ft of torque delivered from only 1,600rpm, the 3.0-litre V6 direct injection
common-rail turbodiesel is strong and very responsive. And there's more than
enough power to tow a braked 3,500kg.
Going on Mercedes' claims, the predicted best-selling model will be the ML 320
CDI Sport a case of 'What's an extra £2,500 when you're paying £41,785?'
I'm not so sure that the extra £2,500 the Sport costs over SE specification
is worth it. Some people obviously do like running boards and 20-inch wheels,
but the SE is better value and it has all the brilliant technology that makes
it easy and safe to drive. Choose the Sport and add in a few more 'must have'
options such as satellite navigation, air suspension and automatic directional
beam headlamps and the price of a well-specc'd 320 CDI climbs to a smidgen
All-in-all, the new M-Class is undeniably a classy act. For your money you get
an imposing, high quality heavyweight 4x4 powered by a strong and responsive
engine, a silky smooth transmission and brilliant, safe-driving technology.
While it's not as sharp to drive when fitted with the optional air suspension,
and it has limited off-road capabilities, I warrant that more than enough customers
will be making the trip to their local Mercedes-Benz dealer to order one. And,
no doubt, a well-specc'd Sport model at that! David Miles
Mercedes-Benz ML 320 CDI Sport | £44,285
Maximum speed: 134mph | 0-62mph: 8.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 24.8mpg | Power: 221bhp | Torque: 376lb ft
CO2 254g/km | VED Band G £400 | Insurance group 17