Engine is star in SUV with luxury at heart

Wed, Jun 20, 2012, 01:00

ROADTEST MERCEDES-BENZ M-CLASS:MERCEDES-BENZ proudly boasts a legion of fans from all walks of life, from despots to democrats, from dour-faced businessmen to cherub-faced celebs. Its models reflect the diversity and the ambition is to expand its grasp.

In terms of SUVs, the king of the crop is the G-Wagen. If Armageddon arrives there is only a handful of vehicles you would want on the drive and this sturdy box of metal is among them. Tracing its roots to the turmoil in the Middle East in the late 1970s, it has military DNA in its genes as well.

The G-Wagen is a truly Germanic SUV, extremely practical with only a nodding acquaintance to the traditional Mercedes S-Class clique. But if you reside in a world where Armageddon is on your doorstep, then it’s probably a smart move to have a G-Wagen to hand. Built like a tank by an Austrian firm under orders from Mercedes, it’s favoured by folks who know a little bit more about the darker side of life – and afterlife – than the rest of us. The Papacy, presidents in perpetuity and Russian henchmen form the bedrock of its customer base.

If the G-Wagen was built to serve those with a divine grip on power, the M-Class is more for the democratic masses. Initially penned as a potential replacement for the G-Wagen, instead it serves a different customer base; the middle classes who seek a bulked-up family car that boasts off-road credentials, even if largely unused. Whereas the G-Wagen is welded and assembled in Austria, the M-Class has it’s natural home across the Atlantic, where it rolls off a production line in Alabama.

The first generation sold well and established itself in the Mercedes market, but the most common complaint from owners of the original M-Class – even now – is that it never quite felt or drove like a car worthy of the three-pointed star.

Mercedes took some of this to heart and by the middle of the last decade, the second generation became a big improvement. Where it lacked some aplomb was on the road.

This third generation aims to iron out these foibles while at the same time bringing the M-Class up to speed on the massive technology leaps made by the brand of late.

This is meant as a luxury SUV, rivalling the likes of BMW’s X5, Volvo’s XC90 and Audi’s Q7. In such a crowded market and with so much focus on the US, it’s hardly surprising that it lacks the presence of the rest on European roads. Its engine line-up didn’t help. However, as the US customer base finally begins to realise that oil is not an unlimited resource, their renewed focus on economy is making the M-Class a more viable proposition.

The ML250 Blue Tec now offers a 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel that manages a relatively respectable Band D emissions level, carrying an annual charge of €481, while achieving a respectable six litres per 100km (47mpg). In terms of a car of its size and stature those are commendable statistics.

On paper it seems it would be very underpowered for a car of its size, but it’s remarkably capable of casting this car along at pace. The most impressive feature is the spread of torque, stretching up to 500Nm and smoothly spread by the seven-speed transmission.

It may lack the punch of its 3-litre rivals but that’s only really noticeable in a head-to-head sprint, and that’s not something M-Class owners would ever consider. Drive this car with a sense of ease and there’s a graceful feel to its ability.

In keeping with its customer base, the new M-Class boasts an interior more akin to the E-Class than a G-Wagen. It’s comfortable and well-equipped, perhaps lacking in some of the regal charm of the rival Range Rover, but there’s a host of creature comforts to hand.

Cabin space has increased on the previous version, particularly in the rear. As a school-run taxi, it still lacks a third row of seats, while the rear is styled as a two-seater with a middle booster rather than a three-seat bench.

The ML250’s price gives it an advantage over its rivals even if the rest all feature more powerful engines. It rides comfortably, has a pleasingly solid-feeling cabin and boasts all the gadgetry you can afford from an options list that wouldn’t be out of place on the S-Class.

It might not be the ideal Mercedes to rescue you from a coup d’état, but it’s the best M-Class so far – and for those who rank comfort and efficiency ahead of performance, then this ticks all the right boxes.


M250 Blue Tec 4Matic

ENGINE2143cc four-cylinder turbo-charged diesel engine putting out 200bhp @ 4,200rpm and 500Nm of torque @ 1,600rpm with seven-speed automatic transmission

PERFORMANCE0-100km/h in 9.0 seconds (top speed: 210km/h)

ECONOMY6.0 L/100km (47 mpg).

EMISSIONS170g/km (Band D - €481 motor tax).

FEATURESStandard features include: 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive; Eco start-stop; LED daytime driving lights; auto climate control; dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee air bags; Mercedes Pre-Safe with ESP, brake assist; Attention Assist; adaptive brake lights; multimedia entertainment system with 14cm colour display; radio and six CD changer; Bluetooth connection.



Finally an M-Class that’s up to its rivals


BMW X5 3.0d SE– €78,190 (motor tax – €1,129);

Audi Q7 3.0 TDI– €75,220 (motor tax – €630)

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