"The ML is a luxurious and capable SUV that can compete alongside the class leaders from Audi, BMW and Porsche."
The latest generation of the Mercedes M-Class was introduced in late 2011 as Mercedes lifted its game against rivals that have emerged in the decade since it spawned this segment: the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5. The M-Class is nearly four-metres long and has a massive load area, regardless of which of model you choose. The ML 250 starts the range with a 202bhp 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, then there's the volume-selling ML 350 with its 255bhp V6 turbodiesel. If it's power you’re after rather than efficiency, there's the ML 63 AMG complete with 518bhp 5.5-litre twin turbo V8 – the most powerful Mercedes 4x4 ever sold. All offer luxurious equipment levels, fit and finish as well as an imposing road presence.
The M-Class offers a lot of choice when it comes to engines and chassis: the ML 250 offers great efficiency for such a well-equipped, large car, while the ML 350 adds more power as well as the more comfortable air-suspension. Of course, the ML 63 is the fastest of the range, with so much power that its acceleration figures can match many performance saloons. Even the lightest version of the ML is more than two tonnes, yet the M-Class doesn’t feel as heavy as you’d expect. There's modest power from the ML 250, with a supercar-like 518bhp from the ML 63. The steering is well weighted, making it easy to position on the road and the M-Class is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre around town and in tight spaces. All models have Park Assist, too, which automatically reverse-parks for you and makes the M-Class even more urban-friendly.
Cabins don’t get much better than this, especially for the money. The M-Class has excellent leather seats which are comfortable and supportive, with a heap of adjustment as well as heating and cooling. There are superb finishes, great materials and solid-feeling switchgear while the dash layout is clear. One useful option is the Comand system, which controls the sat-nav and stereo, while the optional panoramic glass roof brightens up the cabin. Optional rear-headrest displays and multi-zone air-con with rear controls (dual-zone is standard) are available, too. If you’re after a plusher ride, there's air suspension available as well.
The M-Class has come a long way since its introduction, where the US-built 4x4 was hampered by build quality problems. The maturing of the segment has seen rivals such as Audi and BMW force Mercedes to lift its game to remain competitive, so the ML is a much more reliable car than before. The 2.1-litre is also fitted in the C-Class and E-Class saloons, so will benefit from software and servicing improvements garnered from the popular saloons. Warranty is three years with unlimited mileage.
A massive 2,010 litres of boot space makes the ML one of the roomiest in its class. And while that's with the second row folded completely flat, with not compromising lips and grooves on the floor, it's still 690 litres with them folded up. There's a key operated electronic tailgate, too, which makes loading that bit easier. Around town, it's 11.80m turning circle (on the standard 19-inch wheels) means it's more manageable to park in small spaces, while there's electronic kit such as the already mentioned Active Park Assist which reverse parks the car for you. The M-Class, even in based form, can tow up to 2,950kg with a braked trailer, with the V6 diesel the most capable with an ability to pull 3,500kg. There are also some clever options to make it even more practical, such as the availability of the ML 63's larger 93-litre fuel tank on the lower spec model's 70-litre version.
Value for money
The Mercedes M-Class is more affordable than a lot of its rivals, with the entry-level ML 250 offering great value and efficiency yet without a compromise in terms of comfort and luxury. Standard across the range are LEDs, a body kit, and privacy glass. Active Park Assist is standard, and we’d add the Reversing camera and the DAB radio to the options list. Even with these fitted, the M-Class is still more affordable the BMW X5 3.0d, as well as being more efficient, but it costs more than the Audi Q7 diesel. The Audi has seven seats, too, but is more expensive to run and has less space.
This M-Class range offers both class-leading efficiency and power. The ML 250 makes a strong proposition as it's the most affordable yet also has excellent efficiency, with a combined 44.8mpg and CO2 of 165g/km. This outperforms the 245hp BMW X5 3.0d's 38.2mpg and 195g/km, while the 201bhp 3.0 TDI quattro Q7's best is 29.3mpg and 189g/km. The figures are class-leading and even outperform the more expensive VW Touareg Hybrid. The ML250 is one of the most affordable luxury 4x4s to run. The ML 350 is the mid-range model, with added power from its V6 engine, returning 39.2mpg and 189g/km. The ML63 is the high-performance model that focuses on luxury and power, hence its 23.9mpg and 276g/km. The benefit is a 4.8-second 0-62mph time if that's what you’re after. An extended warranty is also available, while service levels are set at every 15,000 miles or once a year.