?Third Generation M Series?In a Class of its own on and off road
?Greenough, MT- Mercedes-Benz introduced its first generation luxury SUV in the Fall of 1997 breaking new ground in the segment. The second generation of the highly successful M-Class appeared on the scene in 2005. Now, with more than one million sold worldwide and14 years later, the new M-Class for 2012 takes to showroom floors loaded with new standard features and options, showcasing state-of-the-art safety technology.
This latest iteration M-Class is 1-inch longer, ?-inch wider, ?-inch lower and boasts an improved coefficient of drag while tipping the scale at 22 pounds more than that its predecessor and providing an additional 6.8 cubic feet of cargo space.
In terms of the exterior design, the new M-Class resembles the GLK in basic form, but with smoother and more contemporary lines. The overall persona and attitude reflect a bolder, more athletic image, with dynamic character lines, while retaining the familiar, signature ?C? pillar or sail panel of the original M-Class. There is no visible exhaust outlet aft, and there is a large integrated top rear spoiler along with a winged lower diffuser.
Moving to the inside, the new M-Class delivers on the expected luxurious ambience with metamorphic front seat controls now located on the doors, and with reclining rear seat backs. A seven-inch LCD screen displays navigation as well as monitoring other vehicle functions, and large polished wood panels accent the doors, dash, instrument panel and substantial four-spoke steering wheel. Cupholders now provide both a heating and cooling function with a temperature range from 56 degrees to 101 degrees, and there are center controls with 2 favorite function save buttons, in addition to an iPod holder for rear seat entertainment with Bluetooth and a USB converter. Also, addressing a long-standing complaint issue, the multi-function stalk and cruise control stalk positions have been reversed and repositioned thereby eliminating the unintentional activation of one or the other.
Two powertrains are available for 2012: Powering the ML350 BlueTEC is a 3.0-liter 72-degree DOHC, 24-valve diesel-fueled V6 that produces 240 horsepower at 3,600 rpm along with 455 pound feet of torque at 1,600-2,400 pound feet of torque. Motive force for the ML350 is generated by an all-new 3.5-liter, DOHC,?24-valve, Direct Injection gasoline V6 engine that delivers 302 horses at 6,500 rpm and 273 pound feet of torque in a range from 3,500 to 5,250 rpm. Both engines are coupled to a revised 7-speed automatic transmission (7 G tronic Plus) with new Blue fluid that reduces friction for longer life. The transmission meters energy to all four wheels via Mercedes-Benz?s 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system.
I was able to experience the new diesel version on the short trip from the Missoula airport to the Paws Up Resort in Greenough, Mt. The ML350BlueTEC diesel began pricing at $50,490, with the as tested price totaling $65,015. I later spent a full day of motoring about in the ML350 in both on and off-road scenarios. Its base price was set at $48,990 but after adding an extensive list of optionally priced extra features and equipment, the final sticker came to $75,615. Yes folks, that?s a lot of money for an SUV, but this particular SUV was loaded to the hilt with state-of-the-art technology ? in fact, the high-tech safety features represents the strong point of this latest M-Class Mercedes. There are not only familiar safety features, but new and innovative ones as well.
My test ML350 gasoline fueled SUV sported an exterior finish of Pearl Beige, with the interior executed in a two-tone Almond/Beige theme with polished Burl Walnut Wood trim. Both the metallic exterior paint and interior treatment incurred extra cost. Optional equipment and features included: the Premium 2 Launch Package ($5,050) with iPod/MP3 media interface and cable, Rearview Camera, Driver memory with power steering column, COMAND with Navigation and single disc CD/DVD, SIRIUS satellite radio, double sun visors, auto-dimming and power folding exterior mirrors, 115V AC power outlet, climate-controlled cup holders, harman/kardon LOGIC7? Premium Surround Sound System, multi-color ambient lighting, rear compartment and KEYLESS-GO; Active Parking Assist with Parktronic; wood/leather multifunction steering wheel; Dynamic Handling Package ($5,150) with Adaptive Damping System, Active Curve System, AIRMATIC air suspension system and 20? Twin-5-spoke alloy wheels with All Season tires; Lighting Package($1,290) with headlight cleaning system, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Bi-Xenon headlamps with active curve illumination and corner illuminating lamps; heated/ active ventilated front seats; Panorama sunroof; trailer hitch; 3-zone automatic climate control; Night View Assist PLUS; Rear Seat Entertainment; Driver Assistance Package ($2, 950) with, DISTRONIC PLUS (with pre-safe? brake), Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist; and Destination and Delivery charge.
SUMMARY : The 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 with the 3.5-liter Gasoline Direct?Injection V6 equipped as my test vehicle was, is an incredibly safe and capable?SUV. It performs well in every possible application. Admittedly, most consumers will never engage in off-roading activities more severe than a shopping mall parking lot, but if the urge emerges, the vehicle is ready when you are. Okay, it?s not an extreme rock-crawler, but it?s certainly capable of traversing snow-covered logging roads with aplomb.
Acceleration is responsive, shifting gears is smooth, the ride quality is ever changing to achieve maximum comfort and should you make an error in judgment or allow your focus on the task at hand, this Mercedes is there to help in maintaining control and your well being. Steering is electromechanical rather than hydraulic, providing excellent handling characteristics.
The new M-Class is built in Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and in virtually every possible driving situation, the ML350 ensures a safe, relaxed and calm driving experience with optimized performance, and as an added bonus, it is much more attractive than before. In fact it is now extremely elegant, but in a bold and athletic way. My test vehicle was priced on the high side of the equation, but it is possible to enjoy a 2012 M-Class for considerably less.