The off-road adventure for Mercedes started in America back in 1997 with the introduction of the original M-Class generation. The model was notable for two things – a factory was built from scrap in Alabama, US, to handle its production and it was the first luxury SUV to feature the ESP system as a standard safety assistant.
Three generations have passed since and the model’s success led to a full range of SUVs and crossovers. Now, the M-Class, written as the ML on the car, because of a clash with BMW’s use of the letter, has a bigger sibling – the GL Class and smaller and younger friends – the GLK and GLA.
But, for the time being, the M Class remains – together with the G Class as a true off-roader – the best-known Mercedes SUV. Its third generation has even jumped from being produced only in the US to assembly in places such as Chakan, Pune (India) or Wanaherang, West Java (Indonesia).
Almost five meters long (4804 / 1926 / 1788 mm, wheelbase 2915 mm), the M Class is a great all-rounder, with enough space to take your family in a vacation, still an off-road capable vehicle and not big enough to become a nuisance when it comes to city usage.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
First revealed back in 2011, the M-Class was a stylish update to the W164 egenration launched in 2005. The model was not as revolutionary when it came to styling as its predecessor, instead concentrating on offering an even more upscale overall appearance. When equipped with the Intelligent Lighting System, the model also gets the “signature” headlight design that has been seen in some of the recent models. Personally I’m not a big fan of the design, but on the M Class it’s certainly more adequate than on the R231 SL Class. Other than that, there is nothing to comment bad design wise, as the model successfully integrates within the brand’s SUV line-up. We could be picky and say the evolution from the previous generation was way too discrete – especially when it comes to the front fascia (equipped with normal headlights). There’s one thing we like Mercedes-Benz kept almost unchanged – the hood orifices close to the windscreen, a visual cue that makes up a little for the loss of the three-star hood ornament in Europe. And they’re not just for style, the vent on the passenger side is functional, too.
At the back we get the biggest change from the outgoing model, as the brake lights are now massive and horizontally oriented. The side kept the same arching and angle for the C-Pillar. We’re going to be treated to a timely update later on – most likely next year, but as always we can expect the changes to be minor – when you have a successful product you don’t dive into extensive restyling.
Coming inside the cabin, we immediately see a revealing fact about the growing age of the model – the standard display of the infotainment system seems puny by today’s standards, when 5.5 or 6-inch phablets are all the rage. The feeling is intensified by the massive design of the central stack – letting you want to place your seemingly bigger phone in front of the display. It’s not a big thing, but when you come to think that younger buyers spend more time on their smartphone than driving it becomes an issue. Fortunately, the mid-life update of the M Class will address this situation. There’s also a perception that the Command system could use an upgrading as well, with certain functions only available after digging a little inside the menus.
Other than the “younger generation” issues and technicalities, the M Class proves to be a great family SUV, with massive and comfortable front seats – rather lacking in the side support department. Going in the back, you’ll be surprised by the level of space offered to the three occupants – especially since the design manages to hide at least in part the imposing dimensions of the car. With room to spare, three adults or two adults and a big baby chair in the middle will have long and comfortable journeys. The 60/40 split backrest is even adjustable, so anyone can find its most comfortable stance. Nothing to comment on the trunk, where you can put all the luggage in the world – there’s 690 liters available and with the backseats folded you get more than 2000 liters of space.
Here, we have a small bracket – the M Class is bigger than the GLK – which is a great SUV offering as well, so it’s not that suitable for people living in crowded cities, but if you have a suburban residence there’s no reason (other than the price, of course) not to choose the bigger offering.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
The ML 250 BlueTEC we tested serves as the entry-level offering in Europe, coming up at 57,418 euros in Romania. It’s certainly not cheap, and if you start checking the optional features you could even approach a six-digit figure before long. But then again, no one said that buying a premium model would ever be…affordable.
Getting back to technicalities, the well-known 2.2-liter in line four diesel engine is churning out 204 hp and 500 Nm between 1600-1800 rpm. It’s certainly not the most stylish engine in the Mercedes line-up, with its voice present in the cabin – even through the thick acoustic insulation – when you perform the usual kick-down maneuver. We would actually go for the more elegant V6 configuration offered by the ML 350, which starts at 60,909 euros.
Nevertheless, the ML 250 is an impressive offering, boasting good fuel economy – for the size and class – even if you won’t be anywhere near the official consumption figures: 7,1 city / 5,7 highway and 6,2 overall. The seven speed dual-clutch transmission does a great job at keeping the engine’s thirst at bay, even if you use the Sport setting. Speaking of the transmission, the ML remains a capable SUV when taken off the beaten track (read asphalt). That’s if you take into account some factors: first off the 4×4 system is electronically managed, meaning the differentials are open and there’s no mechanical lock. The torque will be distributed through brake management – the one losing grip will be tempered. There’s an optional On&Off Road Package that comes with a two-speed dual range Magna Powertrain transfer case equipped with a center differential lock, giving you reduced gearing capabilities. Also onboard are underbody skid plates together with a driver selectable 6-mode terrain system.
The ride is, just like any good and faithful Mercedes, oriented towards comfort, with the steering system not giving you much to do, the suspension system eating away well the potholes and giving you a restrained boat toll feeling. You can exaggerate a little more than you thing though dynamically, as the all-wheel drive can kick in fast and give you more grip. At the end of the day, you can get the adaptive dampers and AMG body styling kit to imagine you’re in the Fast and Furious franchise – but with the ML 250 engine that would be…stupid. When we’ll review the ML 63 AMG we’ll also share many more dynamic histories.
On a sideline note, even the 7G-TRONIC Plus automatic transmission feels at times a bit slow when jumping back gears to unleash the engine’s full potential, and that’s valid even in the Sport mode – a trait that was also present during the review of the Mercedes-Benz E 250 CDI.
Pro: The interior space is even bigger than you can imagine, ride comfort is great and the luggage can hold anything you throw at it. The option list gives you the choice of making your SUV look dynamic or become an even capable off-roader.
Against: The infotainment system feels dated, the engine is noisier than we like and the option list is way too long, meaning you’ll certainly need more cash than the base price to feel satisfied.
Photos by Gabi Gogiu
Starting price – 57.418,20 EUR
Tested Car – Mercedes-Benz ML 250 BlueTEC 4MATIC
Engine: 2,2L turbo diesel (2,143 cc)
Power: 204 HP (150 kW) at 3,800 rpm
Torque: 500 Nm (369 lb-ft) at 1,600-1,800 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Dimensions: length – 4,804 mm, width – 1,926 mm, height – 1,788 mm, wheelbase – 2,915 mm
Weight: 2,150 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 70L
Trunk Capacity: 690L / 2,010L
0 – 100 km/h: 9s
Top Speed: 210 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 6,7L/100 km, highway – 5,3L/100 km, average – 5,8L/100 km
4 / 5