Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - M-class - range
7 May 2012
MERCEDES-BENZ officially launched its third-generation M-Class luxury SUV in Australia this week, with a frugal, sharply-priced new four-cylinder diesel entry-level variant, generous levels of standard equipment and dramatically reduced fuel consumption across the range.
In addition to tempting customers away from traditional rivals such as the BMW X5 and Lexus RX, Mercedes hopes the $81,400 (plus on-road costs) starting price will attract buyers considering high-spec luxury SUVs from the next size down – a segment in which it does not compete.
Mercedes-Benz Australia senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy told GoAuto the new M-Class offered the luxury of space and presents customers with an option that shows they do not have to downsize in order to achieve a lower price, better fuel economy (yet higher performance) and attractive equipment levels.
While the aim is to increase sales volumes – at around 180 units a month the long-term average is about 60 fewer than the X5 – Mr McCarthy said supply would be an issue until later in the year due to M-class’s popularity overseas.
“We are starting four months behind the eight ball because we haven’t had stock,” he said.
The two volume sellers introduced to Australia first, the four-cylinder diesel ML250 BlueTec and V6 diesel ML350 BlueTec, are expected to account for 80 per cent of volume.
Next most popular will be the V6 petrol ML350 BlueEfficiency, due to arrive by the end of May, while the flagship V8-powered ML63 AMG arrives in June, followed by the less powerful V8 ML500 in late September.
In addition to the lower starting price (the ML250 is $4380 less expensive than the outgoing ML300 CDI), which comes courtesy of a powerful yet economical four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, Benz has shuffled pricing of the five variants.
V6 petrol and diesel engines continue to occupy the mid-spec ML350 variants, now both identically specified and priced higher at $99,000 plus on-road costs (the petrol previously cost $89,365 and the diesel was $92,425) but Mercedes claims extra equipment worth around $11,000 makes up for the difference.
Two downsized, turbocharged V8s replace the naturally-aspirated units in the top-spec models, the ML500 (down $13,995 to $119,900) and the ML63 AMG (up $2085 to $177,900.
The new entry-level means Mercedes now undercuts arch-rival BMW’s X5 by $10,700 and places the M-Class within sniffing distance of customers tempted by high-end variants of the smaller Audi Q5 and BMW X3 while being roughly level with the Lexus RX350.
Perhaps even those looking at thee top end of Volkswagen’s Touareg or Jeep’s popular Grand Cherokee ranges will be interested – the US-built M-Class shares some underpinnings with the latter as both began development before Benz’s tie-up with Chrysler turned sour.
Benz says the extra equipment on the entry-level model represents around $9500 of extra value over its predecessor.
A long standard safety equipment list includes standard sat-nav, self-parking (enabled by the switch to electric power steering) and comprehensive multimedia equipment, while the frugal new four-cylinder diesel gives little away in performance terms to the V6 oil burner it replaces.
Although lacking two cylinders and 850cc of capacity compared with the engine it replaces, peak power of 150kW and torque of 500Nm match the old unit, but it is peakier, with a narrower torque band, reflected in a 0-100km/h seven tenths slower at 9.0 seconds.
Combined-cycle fuel consumption of 6.4 litres per 100km is not to be sniffed at though, bringing luxury car tax savings and a big improvement over the old ML300 CDI’s 9.5L/100km while offering a theoretical tank range of about 1450km.
Benz claims to have worked hard to improve refinement on the new M-Class, particularly with the four-cylinder, and has applied vibration-reducing technologies to the engine and transmission.
The safety spec is high, with nine airbags, brakes that dry themselves in the wet, tyre pressure loss warning, driver fatigue detection, ‘pre-safe’ accident prediction system and a full complement of electronic stability, traction and braking aids.
Euro NCAP rated the M-Class five stars for crash safety, awarding it 96 per cent for adult occupant protection, 75 per cent for child occupant protection, 60 per cent for pedestrian protection and 86 per cent for safety assist technologies.
All variants come with a seven-inch multi-function display with satellite navigation, and internet, 10GB of music storage, an MP3-compatible CD/DVD player, Bluetooth connectivity and iPod integration with USB and auxiliary audio inputs.
The multimedia systems are operated via the centre console controller, voice commands or the multi-function steering wheel and an additional 4.5-inch display is located in the instrument panel.
Standard self-parking, a reversing camera and cruise control add convenience and the front seats are electrically adjustable, as are the heated exterior mirrors, while dual-zone climate control is fitted across the range.
All models drive the four wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle-shifters, and the two diesels plus the AMG flagship come with fuel-saving idle-stop.
The V6 diesel ML350 BlueTec and V6 petrol ML350 BlueEfficiency add memory functions for the front seats, steering wheel and exterior mirror positions, heated front seats, self-dimming, automatically folding mirrors.
Also included are an upgrade from 19-inch alloy wheels to 20-inch items, synthetic leather replaced by the real thing (with stitched synthetic leather on the dashboard), adaptive bi-Xenon headlights with automatic high beam and ambient interior lighting.
Driver assistance technology is also boosted to include blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance and radar-based collision avoidance and mitigation technologies, with off-road credentials boosted by the addition of an off-road transmission mode.
The redeveloped V6 diesel engine produces 190kW of power (up 20kW) and torque is up from 540 to 620Nm, reducing 0-100km/h acceleration from 7.6 to 7.4 seconds and returning improved fuel consumption of 7.3L/100km (down from 8.9L/100km).
Benz also upgraded the V6 petrol engine, which now puts out 225kW and 370Nm (up 25kW and 20Nm), meaning the 0-100km/h comes up eight tenths sooner at 7.6 seconds.
Again, fuel consumption is significantly reduced, from 11.4L/100km to 8.5L/100km.
The ML500 – available from August production with a new 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 – adds adaptive, variable-height air suspension, a glass sunroof, keyless entry and start, a powered tailgate and tyre pressure monitoring.
Active stabiliser bars (optional on V6 models) reduce body-roll during normal driving, increase ride comfort and provide increased wheel articulation when off-roading.
With 300kW of power and 600Nm of torque on tap, the ML500 is up 16kW and 70Nm but consumption (of 95 RON premium unleaded) drops from 12.9L/100km to 12.3L/100km.
The hot ML63 AMG flagship, powered by the latest twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 engine from Affalterbach, represents a big jump in additional standard equipment, as befits its $177,900 asking price
Its 386kW of power and 700Nm of torque are good for a sprint to triple figures in 4.8 seconds, representing hikes of 11kW and 70Nm over the outgoing 6.2-litre normally aspirated model, which arrived at 100km/h two tenths later.
What’s more, combined fuel consumption of 11.8L/100km is a massive 28 per cent improvement and betters the less powerful ML500, although it prefers more expensive 98 RON unleaded.
Marking The ML63 out as an AMG product are 21-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, aggressive-looking front and rear bumpers, bulging front wings with ‘V8 bi-turbo’ badges, side skirts and quad exhaust outlets.
Inside, the ML63 gets heated and ventilated AMG sports seats leather throughout with contrast double stitching, a sports steering wheel with aluminium shift paddles for the sportier transmission, brushed steel pedals and aluminium and piano black trim elements.
The instruments get an AMG work-over, with added features including a colour screen and an up-shift indicator.
Extra luxuries include a premium Harman-Kardon Logic 7 surround-sound audio system, upgraded climate control, a digital TV tuner, privacy glass, illuminated front door sill panels and an alarm system.
If $177,900 is a stretch too far, or the fuel consumption is a priority, Benz will offer an ‘exclusive package’ version of the ML250 from June for $92,300.
It adds AMG external styling touches, 21-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, air suspension, memory for the (heated) front seats, steering wheel and exterior mirror positions plus self-dimming, automatically folding mirrors.
Various option packages are available across most of the line-up, ranging from AMG sports styling to additional off-road abilities (with a choice of smaller 18-inch wheels), air suspension, convenience extras and entertainment upgrades.
Safety equipment upgrades are also available and the ML63 AMG can be fitted with a $10,800 performance pack, which boosts engine output by 24kW and 60Nm and adds a sportier steering wheel, rear spoiler, red brake callipers and carbon-fibre engine cover.
Rev-heads can go even further and increase the electronically-limited top speed of the AMG variant to 280km/h for the princely sum of $2600.
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