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Merc's facelifted M-Class driven

2008-10-22 08:52
Stuttgart has tidied up the M-Class styling with a

Stuttgart has tidied up the M-Class styling with a new grille, headlights and bumper. Inside you get more standard kit and by month’s end the confoundingly irrelevant 63 AMG will debut at the Johannesburg international motor show.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mercedes-Benz
Model M-Class
Engine 3l turbodiesel, 3.5 V6, 5.5 V8
Power 165kW @ 3 800r/min, 200kW @ 6 000r/min, 285kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 510Nm @ 1 600r/min, 350Nm @ 2 400r/min, 530Nm @ 2 800r/min
Transmission 7G tronic
Zero To Hundred 8.6 sec, 8.4 sec, 5.8 sec
Top Speed 215km/h, 225km/h, 250km/h
Fuel Tank 95l
Fuel Consumption 9.3l/100km, 11.2l/100km, 12.8l/100km
Weight 2185kg, 2135kg, 2185kg
Airbags Six
Rivals BMW X5, Audi Q7

Lance Branquinho

The original German luxury SUV, Mercedes-Benz’s ML, has had a facelift and upgraded interior equipment levels.

Exterior styling refinement

The exterior silhouette still echoes the original 1997 model’s oversized front grille and largesse rear styling cues; thought this second generation ML facelift sees a new front grille and bumper balanced with teardrop headlights to noticeably tidy up the front styling.

Around the rear a new bumper features an integrated reflector strip whilst the indicator repeater lights are coated in a darkened smoke glass finish.

An optional spare wheel carrier (R12 600) housing a full sized spare can adorn the tailgate of the latest M-Class too – if you’re after “Karoo back road peace of mind motoring” or just a pseudo adventurer image. It voids the optional reversing camera though.

Additional interior digitisation

Slide yourself into the command post of the new ML and you’ll immediately notice the new, slimmer, four-spoke steering wheel with C-Class familiar satellite controls.

A welcome addition are selector shift-paddles at the back of the steering wheel for the 7G Tronic gearbox - standard across the range, and infinitely more ergonomic to engage than the GL’s “hide-and-seek” behind the wheel push-button selectors.

As you’re closing the driver’s door before starting up and setting off you’ll notice the new artica leather trimmed door linings too.

Infotainment capability is where most of the newfangled specification is to be found. Bluetooth telecommunication is now standard, keeping you in touch with business partners on the road and on the civil side of the law.

Those buyers who still prefer to slot in half a dozen of CDs instead of jacking up the iPod or MP3 player can now make use of a standard single-slot, facia fed six-disc CD changer. For R2 300 you can specify the Universal Media Interface, which allows the centre console display screen to render iPod graphic functionality controlled via the steering wheel controls.

If you’re willing to part with R21 000 you can have the comprehensive comand APS system which includes an integrated DVD changer, 6.5’-inch display screen, Satnav (featuring pretty tidy SADC region coverage), LINGUATRONIC voice control system, 4Gig music hard drive and a SD card slot to either the 320 CDI or 350/500 petrol models (63 AMG feature standard comand APS).

Alternatively, for R29 000, you can invest in the rear-seat entertainment system featuring two 8’’ monitors, dual wireless headphones and remote DVD control. It’s an obscene amount of money to pay to keep the brats quiet on the way to Botswana though…

Perhaps the most important interior – and clandestine - upgrade is the presence of pre-safe dynamic seatbelt tensioning, which in conjunction with the six standard airbags round off the revised ML interior.

The SUV with an adventurous disposition?

Of the three German luxury SUVs (Q7, ML and X5) the Merc has always been the keener Kalahari bound SUV – especially the second generation, with its optional low-range, off-road package.

Testing the new ML around the Lake St. Lucia area and severely trafficked freeways of Northern Zululand the typical, oversized SUV compromises come to bear though. Ride quality is fair, yet even on sport damper settings it floats around a bit; thought the trade-off here is a remnant of off-road and dirt-road ability the X5 can’t match. The Bavarian is a superior dynamic drive on tar though.

On meandering sand trails and awful secondary dirt roads – about as challenging terrain as the ML owner is ever going to traverse – Stuttgart’s SUV soaks up the punishment. Bar the comically irrelevant 63 AMG, the rest of the range rides on either 235/65 17s or 255/50 19s, which have the requisite amount of aspect ratio to cushion the most jarring of dirt road corrugations.  

All models have DSR downhill speed regulation as standard too, which can slow the ML down to as little as 4km/h when attempting treacherous traction descent conditions.

Mercedes-Benz conjectures approximately half of ML owners will specify the off-road package (R16 800) featuring lockable centre (50:50) and rear-axle differentials. Able to engage low-range on the move – a manifestation of Merc's G-wagon military heritage – off-road pack equipped MLs with airmatic pneumatic suspension (R15 800) benefit from increased ground clearance of 81mm, up from the standard ML’s 210mm to 291mm.

Despite being independently suspended, the adjustable damping, off-road adjustable ESP and optional differential lockability usher in a disconcerting amount of off-road ability if you can tolerate the paintwork damage.

Dynamic diesel

Powertrains continue unchanged on the face lifted ML, which means 3.5l V6 and 5.5l V8 petrol power augmented by the venerable 3l V6 turbodiesel. Though the 285kW V8 present in the ML 500 has great comedy value concerning the rate at which it can deplete the 95l fuel tank, the 320 CDI is still the best value proposition in the range.

Able to blend outstanding range - expect to average between 9-10l/100km, equating to nearly 1000km on a tank – with 510Nm of torque available at only 1 600r/min, it reacts with alacrity thanks to the superb 7G tronic automatic transmission.

Driving the 320 DCI and 500 back-to-back on a typical stretch of heavy transport polluted Zululand freeway the diesel provided the less frantic overtaking experience; though the V8 produces 20Nm more, it only peaks 1 200r/min further up the rev range.

An added boon is the DCI engine not being a fussy drinker either, despite its technological sophistication. It’s able to cope with 50ppm diesel or whatever a friendly farmer has available to help you refuel between Pofadder and Loriesfontein.

With prices staring at R625 000 for the ML 350 the latest ML doesn’t come cheap – though the presence of additional standard kit is welcomed. Mercedes-Benz South Africa’s divisional manager – Eckart Mayer – has warned current pricing would be difficult to sustain with continued exchange rate pressure on the Rand though.

VW’s Touareg is cheaper, better off-road and hardly lags the ML on the highway, but who in their right mind would pitch up at the weekend show jumping event in a VW?

If you like your SUV unashamedly unapologetic in its styling and proportions, with a remnant of off-road ability and the requisite dose of brand snobbery the latest ML is sure to appeal.

ML320 CDI    R635,000
ML350        R625,000
ML500        R725,000
ML63 AMG    R1,080,000 (to be launched at JIMS 1-9 November)






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