The third-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class - released in South Africa this week - comes with a raft of chassis and handling developments, as well as fuel-saving technology that the maker says will reduce fuel consumption by a claimed 23-28 percent across the range.
The new entry-level ML 250 BlueTec 4Matic is quoted at an average of 6.5 litres per 100km (165g CO2/km), which should give it a range on its standard 93-litre tank of close to 1500km.
Denis Droppa, editor of our sister publication Star Motoring, drove it at the media launch.
“We didn't get anywhere near those optimistic numbers,” he said. “The onboard computer showed more than eight litres over a route that comprised mostly cruising the freeway at the speed limit.
“But the power output of that turbodiesel is pretty impressive, and 150kW and a gutsy 500Nm of torque are quite lofty for this four-cylinder engine's comparatively modest 2.2-litre capacity, and it's good for a 210km/h top speed and 0-100km/h in nine seconds, according to its maker.
“At altitude there's some initial turbo lag even though that maximum torque's already on tap at just 1600rpm, but the problem should mostly disappear at sea level.
“Effortless cruising ability is the 250 BlueTEC's real forte and, like the other two ML models I drove, it all takes place in a hushed manner.
“The pick of the range, in my opinion, is the other diesel model, the 350 BlueTec, which packs 190kW and 620Nm of lag-free punch in its silken boxing glove.”
This extensively-revised three-litre V6 runs the 0-100 sprint in 7.4 secs and tops out at 224km/h. Fuel consumption is quoted at just 7.4 litres per 100km - 24 percent less than the outgoing ML350 CDI. For the record, Droppa managed “a still-decent 9.2”.
The petrol models are the V6-engined ML350, V8-powered ML500 and the range-topping ML 63 AMG V8 which fires out 386kW.
The ML 350 4Matic V6 petrol is good for 225kW and 370Nm, thanks to third-generation direct fuel-injection and new piezo injectors with an injection pressure of 200 bar, multi-spark ignition and a new stratified combustion process, giving it a quoted fuel consumption of 8.8 litres per 100km.
The ML 500 has a new V8 direct-injection engine boasting 300kW and 600Nm, while warming the planet at only 287g/km of CO2.
The range-topping ML 63 AMG's V8 engine is tuned for 386kW and 700Nm, with CO2 emissions of 276g/km.
“Of these only the 350 version was available to drive at the launch,” said Droppa. “It offered honest, plucky performance from its normally-aspirated 3.5-litre engine, along with a fuel-consumption figure of 11.2 litres per 100 (compared to the 8.8 litre claim).”
VERY MILD OFF-ROAD COURSE
For the first time, the M-Class chassis with steel suspension has selective damping.
The very mild off-road course we drove didn't reveal much about the ML's dirt-duelling capability,” said Droppa, “except that it has a class-leadingly small turning circle. But it does have the necessary traction-enhancing toys should owners wish to scratch that nice paintwork out in the bundu.
“Permanent all-wheel drive, hill descent control and an off-road driving mode come part of the standard package while for extra money you can specify the Airmatic height-adjustable air suspension.
“There's also an optional On&Offroad package that offers six driving modes (one automatic mode, two special off-road modes and three on-road modes, at the twist of a rotary knob on the centre console) to suit varying terrain, along with low range, an centre differential lock, and the ability to raise the maximum ground clearance to 285mm.”
The package also includes an underguard and a two-stage transfer case with reduction gear.
Also optional are active anti-roll bars that compensate for the roll angle of the body through bends; they're not available on the ML 250 but are standard on the ML 63.
Standard safety kit includes drowsiness detection, the Pre-Safe anticipatory safety system, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive brake lights and brake assist. Active assistance systems such as lane keeping assist and blind-spot assist options.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS
The front treatment is “the same, but more so”, with a bold, chunky grille and a big central three-pointed star.
The signature ML C pillar takes its cue from earlier generations, but the roof line slopes more smoothly down to the tailgate for a more sporty look.
There's no visible D pillar; the rear side window melds into the tailgate glass, mirroring the wrap-around, two-part LED tail-light clusters.
The rear bumper, has a chromed load-sill guard in a new 'wing design' that defines the characteristic appearance of the SUV's rear end.
Available rims range from light and aerodynamically optimised 18-inchers through to elegant 20” hoops. Optional 21” AMG rims are available for the ML 63 AMG.
EVERY PASSENGER GETS AN UPGRADE
The gently sloping contours of the dashboard in the front passenger area afford an outstanding sense of space, and the new M-Class has considerably more elbow room than its predecessor - an extra 34mm in front and 25mm at the rear.
The seats have been designed, says Mercedes Benz to offer long-distance comfort and optimum lateral support. All key settings can be adjusted electrically and the rear-seat backrests are adjustable for angle. 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.
Droppa noted: “Noise, vibration and harshness in Merc's luxury SUV have been quelled to the extent that you could hear fleas fornicating in the cabin.
“There's been an improvement in the look and feel of the now even more spacious passenger quarters. The switchgear and layout of the controls will be familiar to existing ML owners, but the new design has a sportier and more modern ambience, especially with the optional Sports package.”
“This goes hand in hand with an exceptionally solid feel and supple ride, making for a vehicle that wafts along in that grand Mercedes way.”
The new M-Class comes with a twin-tuner radio, an MP3/WMA/AAC-compatible CD player with 6-disc shuttle, a telephone keypad and a USB interface with CD Cover Art display on the 147mm colour display.
There's an auxiliary socket in the centre armrest, while Bluetooth connectivity allows hands-free telephony and audio streaming.
The optional Comand Online multimedia system with high-resolution 178mm colour display provides internet access in the M-Class for the first time. Occupants can either browse freely when the car is stationary or use a Mercedes-Benz App with pages that load Extremely quickly and are also easy to use when on the move.
ML 250 BlueTec 4Matic - R683 500
ML 350 BlueTec 4Matic - R778 000
ML 350 4Matic BlueEfficiency - R752 000
ML 500 4Matic BlueEfficiency - R935 900
ML 63 AMG - R1 380 000
The M-Class range comes standard with a six-year or 120 000km MobiloDrive maintenance plan.