"The Mercedes M-Class is a luxurious and capable SUV that can compete alongside the class leaders from Audi, BMW and Porsche."
The Mercedes M-Class is currently in its third generation, having been one of the first premium SUVs, which inspired the likes of the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 when it first appeared on the market. The latest model has bigger dimensions than ever before, being nearly four-metres long and sporting a massive load area no matter which model you choose. The M-Class comes in three main specifications – entry-level SE, mid-spec AMG Sport and top-of-the-range AMG. The ML 250 starts the range with a 202bhp 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, then there's the big-selling ML 350 with its 255bhp V6 turbodiesel, which is fitted with Mercedes’ BlueTEC technology and is the car we’d recommend as the best blend of everything that's good about this car. If it's speed that you’re after rather than efficiency, however, the ML 63 AMG is a real performance petrol car, complete with 518bhp 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 – which is, in fact, the most powerful Mercedes 4x4 ever sold in the UK. All versions are well stocked with luxurious equipment and accessory levels, and superb fit and finish as well. On top of that, it's quite an intimidating presence on the road, if you’re after some real visual impact.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
You can’t expect a bulky SUV to set any efficiency records, but the M-Class does offer surprisingly good fuel economy coupled with great performance. The ML 250 is the most affordable, returning combined fuel consumption of 44.8mpg and emitting 165g/km of CO2. This outstrips the 245hp BMW X5 3.0d's 38.2mpg and 195g/km, while the 201bhp 3.0 TDI quattro Q7's numbers are 29.3mpg and 189g/km. It even does better than the more expensive VW Touareg Hybrid. So, overall, the ML 250 is easily one of the most affordable luxury 4x4s that you can run. The mid-range ML 350's V6 engines returns 39.2mpg and emits 189g/km of CO2. Meanwhile, the ML 63 AMG is the high-performance model, with an emphasis on luxury and power, so it returns a meagre 23.9mpg and emits a sky-high 276g/km of CO2. The benefit is a going from 0-62mph in only 4.8 seconds - if that's what you’re after. An extended warranty is also available, while service intervals are set at every 15,000 miles or once a year.
Interior & comfort
If you can find a better interior than this for the same money, well, you’re a better shopper than us. Inside the M-Class you’ll find excellent leather seats that are supportive and comfortable, with loads of adjustment to find a good position and fitted with heating and cooling systems, too. The finishes throughout are fantastic, with high quality materials and solid switches and buttons on the clearly laid-out dashboard. We’d also recommend getting the extra COMAND system, which controls the sat-nav and stereo, while the optional panoramic glass roof significantly brightens up the interior. Optional rear-headrest displays and multi-zone air-conditioning with rear controls (dual-zone comes equipped as standard) are available, too. If you want even more comfort, you can get the M-Class with air suspension as well. It's generally quiet, with wind, road and engine noise all well suppressed. It's hard to imagine a more relaxing environment to drive in. Well, the current Range Rover, actually, but that's in a league of its own to be honest.
Practicality & boot space
With the back seats in place, the M-Class offers 690 litres of space, which expands to a frankly huge 2,010 litres of space when you fold down the second row of seats completely flat. There aren’t any compromising lips and grooves on the floor, so it's easily one of the most practical cars in its class. The boot tailgate is electronic, too, which makes loading quite a lot easier if you’ve got your hands full. It has an 11.8-metre turning circle, which makes it more manageable to drive around town on its standard 19-inch alloy wheels, and it's much easier to park in small spaces than any car this size has any right to be. There's also electronic equipment such as active park assist, which reverse parks the car for you. The models with smaller engines can pull up to 2,950kg of braked trailer in tow, with the V6 diesel proving to be the most capable engine, being able to pull 3,500kg. There are also some clever options available that help make it even more practical, such as the availability of the ML 63's larger 93-litre fuel tank instead of the lower spec model's 70-litre version. Inside there are assorted storage cubbies, trays and hooks to keep things tidy. The only real downside is the lack of any third row seats across the range, which means larger families are out of luck.
Reliability & safety
You can’t fault Mercedes reliability record, which is not only one of the best on the UK market, it's also one of the best in the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. Coming fifth in the poll's manufacturers list means its jumped up another three places on its 2012 result, a reflection of the premium brand's continued improvements and a full 10 places above arch rival BMW. Only Mazda, Jaguar, Skoda and Lexus scored higher. As the class has matured and added more competition, rivals such as Audi and BMW have forced Mercedes to raise its game to remain competitive, so the M-Class is a much more reliable car as a result. It doesn’t rank in the top 100 cars, but that's because it's hardly a common car and it's come a long way since its introduction, where the US-built M-Class was hampered by some build quality problems. Its 2.1-litre engine is also used in the C-Class and E-Class saloons, so will benefit from any servicing or software improvements that are made to the popular saloons. The warranty is three years with unlimited mileage, and you also get a raft of safety equipment including electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and the full range of airbags, all fitted as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
Even a quick glance at the figures shows you that the ML 63 AMG is by far the fastest M-Class you can get, with so much power at your fingertips that you can probably take on many performance-focused saloon cars if you really wanted to do, which is quite something for a car this big and heavy. In fact, its supercar-like 518bhp engine is capable of taking it from 0-62mph in only 4.8 seconds. Impressive when you consider that even the lightest version of the car weighs in at more than two tonnes, but it never feels that weighty when you’re driving it. You do get a wide range of choice when it comes to engines for the M-Class, all of which are surprisingly efficient for such a well equipped, large car. The steering is equally as solid, feeling well weighted and making it easy to keep the car where you want it to be on the road. It's also pretty easy (within reason, it is huge) to drive around town or to park in tight(ish) spaces. All models have park assist, too, which can automatically reverse park for you and makes the M-Class even more urban-friendly. All engines come with a smooth-operating seven-speed automatic gearbox and permanent four-wheel drive. It's not bad to drive off-road as a result, but is nowhere near as effective as the Volkswagen Touareg and Range Rover Sport.
Price, value for money & options
The good news is that the M-Class has excellent resale value in the UK used car market, so you can expect to get back more than half your money when you choose to sell it second hand. Which is even better news when you consider that it's actually more affordable than many of its competitors already, with the entry-level model proving very efficient without sacrificing any luxury of comfort. LED daytime running lights, tinted windows and active park assist are all fitted as standard, to which we’d add the reversing camera and the DAB radio from the options list. Even with these extras included, the M-Class is still more affordable the BMW X5 3.0d, as well as being more efficient, but it does cost more than the Audi Q7 diesel. The Audi also has seven seats, but is more expensive to run and has less space. Just be careful with that options list or the price can skyrocket in the blink of an eye. You can also expect pretty hefty maintenance and insurance bills, too.