OUR TEST CAR: MERCEDES-BENZ ML350 (W166) 4Matic BlueTEC 2012

MERCEDES-BENZ ML350 - Page - 1
Back in 1997, when Mercedes-Benz introduced the first ML, the world - the vehicle was a global product- was pretty confused about SUVs, with this segment being still in the growing process. This means that customers didn't know what to expect from these off-roaders that had moved into cities and automakers were not sure about the right way to design these vehicles.

The ML was fitted with a body-on-frame chassis, a feature destined for serious off-roading, even though hit was obvious that not many customers would use it too far away from the tarmac. However, it also used Electronic Stability Control, a first for its segment and brought together a list of assets that turned into a complete car, so it was very well received on the market.

Even though the first generation of the ML-Class had a lot of bright sides, it also came with enough dark colors to leave a lot of room for improvement and the second generation came to fix that in 2005.

The car moved to a unibody construction and increased in size, in order to better cater for the premium needs required by Mercedes-Benz customers. Due to the same reason, the vehicle also fixed certain quality issues of the first generation and was enrolled into the gadget army.

Last year, the German automotive producer surprised by introducing ML The Third, two years ahead of the company's standard life cycle, with the move coming as a result of the fierce competition in the segment.

Now that the SUVs have become a very important part of the automotive world and people know exactly what they want when buying such a car, the ML has a difficult mission: to prove that it has what it takes to make you spend your mornings, evenings, weekends and family time inside it.

For a few days, We became the masters of what should be the range's best-selling versions on the European market, the ML 350 BlueTEC, with our test car trying hard to generate attention with a hefty amount of optional extras.

The new ML-Class is a Mercedes to the last screw, being extremely conservative in design, but this doesn't mean that its not appealing, especially when using AMG apparel like our test car.

One day, your son, who has now grown enough to create questions that manage to puzzle you will show up in the living room and ask you "Daddy, daddy, what's an SUV, how does it look?". You're in front of all your friends, so while you want your little one to be up to date with all things automotive, you must also find an explanation that's not hilarious.

Well, try not to use the 2012 ML as an example - the vehicle looks rather as a beefier station wagon than an SUV and while many might be bothered by this, we think it offers it an aura of sportiness that nobody would expect from a Mercedes SUV.

Of course, the AMG styling package, which not only includes sexier lower body lines, but also a set of 20-inch rims that remind you of high speed testing facilities.

The angular lines come together in such a way that the car gives you the impression of motion even when stationary, but its size immediately takes you mind away from any sporty thoughts.

Surprisingly, one of the best angles to view the car is from above: if you do this, the windshield and the optional double sunroof will appear as one single panoramic element borrowed from a flying machine.

However, the "chromed" details are something we really don't see as necessary - it's like Mercedes is trying to hard to show that it IS a premium automaker by these details.

The generous glasshouse, together with the aforementioned double sunroof and the size of the aforementioned panoramic sunroof lead you to believe that the car has been gifted with a generously-sized and well-lit interior. This is true, with the cabin being one of the top assets of the car.

The German SUV offers you for ways of accessing its most valuable asset - its cabin (the panoramic sunroof can also be used to access the car, but only if your resume includes positions at the circus).

Thanks to the increase in size, both the passengers and the luggage can now stretch all their extremities further - all the parts of the cabin are now more generous.

Mercedes has gone to great lengths to cover all that space with quality materials and, in the case of your test car, this meant an extensive leather finish that brought Mercedes' Designo finish to the seats, door panels and dashboard.

The brown shade of the leather was matched by the (actual) wood trimming, with this aspect, together with the fact that the first came in a quilted form, offered a luxurious feeling.

The designers also payed a lot of attention to the interior lighting, not only fitting the car with large windows and an optional panoramic sunroof, but also wist strips of light placed on the dashboard and doors that bring a cousy feeling at night.

However, we did find the seats a tad too firm, but this was not enough to bring any pain during a long ride, so we can't really complain. The ergonomics are well thought out, with the exception of the arm rests on the front doors, which are placed too low.

As for the rest of the elements, we can't ignore the buttons shared with multiple other models, albeit of excellent quality., but at the same time we have to admire the way in which Mercedes found a balance between a crowded layout and a minimalist but annoying one-button-controls-all pathway. Since we're here, we'll also mention that the optional COMMNAD infotainment system now uses a new display, which has migrated to the upper side of the dashboard.

The vast interior space is filled with quality materials and offers a commands layout that allows you to focus on the driving: this really helps in the urban areas, where one needs all the assistance he can receive to tackle the heavy traffic.

The exterior might be conservative as a whole, but we can't deny the fact that it comes with ultra-modern details that make a perfect fit for the contemporary urban landscape.

However, this contemporary urban landscape is also getting more and more crowded and the fact that the ML follows the American recipe for an SUV doesn't really help with this.

Our test vehicle was fitted with parking sensors, but didn't come with a rear view camera, which made certain parking maneuvers extremely difficult, so we really recommend ticking this option box.

The generous luggage space is more than enough for any shopping trip - in fact ,the boot is so generous that you might be tempted to use the vehicle for utilitarian purposes, such as moving the furniture for your friends.

The 7G-Tronic Plus has been specifically tweaked for the ML, so the vehicle does manage to tackle the urban requests in prompt way, but you really can't ignore its size. Fortunately, the commanding driving position gives you a good perspective of the city traffic, whether you're using this to evaluate your travel time or just capture the city's feeling.

As far as the attention part is concerned, the new ML is a mixed story: it's large and it's got a huge three-pointed star up front, but the conservative styling cues bring you enough privacy.

However, the air suspension and the 4Matic all-wheel drive seem to be constantly trying to persuade the navigation system to trick you into using routes that go outside the city and we listed to this call in the end.

Despite the fact that the ML has grown in size, the vehicle managed to stay relatively unchanged on the scales. However, the 350 diesel version now brings serious extra pulling power, so we were really determined to hit the open road and see how this was translated into forward momentum.

If you use trees to make paper, then the new ML is significantly faster than the one it replaces, but if you pass by the trees sitting behind the wheel, you won't actually feel any speed. In fact, the ML wasn't built for this purpose.

The car has no problem in covering distances regardless of the journey's length and speed, but the attitude is relaxed, so it's best if you use the same language.

The revised suspension and the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system offer predictive handling and while they don't return a natural feeling when being asked to deal with great speed, they can do this while keeping the car balanced.

Use the ML as a cruiser and you'll be happy with it - we're oscillating between "very happy" and just "happy" as the air suspension seems to have troubles getting along with some types of roads.

The spacious and luxurious - if the list of optionals is visited- interior will allow you to relax, the engine and gearbox can sustain any speed you like and the handling is there to keep you going, mainly thanks to the Active Curve system, which plays with the stabilizer bars to mimize body roll.

The ML hasn't changed too much, it's only enhanced its long distance travel abilities, but if you feel the need for any driving emotions, you'll have to look elsewhere.

What's that? a cliff that seems to hide a road to a river? let's see where it leads to. Off the road, the vehicle feels capable, but not all that pleased with being pushed hard on rough terrain.

We have to mention that our test vehicle didn't come with on & off road package that offers six driving modes and thus it lacked the locking center and rear differentials.

Now that we got the car all wet and covered in all sorts of natural body treatments, it was time to return to the road, have it washed and see what's it like when the "chauffeur" mode driving is used.
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autoevolution Feb 2012
In the city
Open road
Tech facts
57user rating 83 votes
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