Driven - Mercedes-Benz ML350 CDi 2011 & ML320 CDi 2008

Mercedes-Benz has been making progress with their strong selling ML range. The second shape of the US-built model has been with us a few years now and has been the subject of some mild tweaking. And the results help make the ML an even more enjoyable machine.

The model tested was the sort-of mid-range ML350 CDI, with a 3-litre turbo-diesel engine which produces 165kW and an ample 510Nm of torque. The MLs now start with a 300CDI ($84,700), then the model tested at $91,340 (or $106K for a top spec 350 CDI).

Then there are two petrol engine version offered in Oz - the ML 350 (for virtually the same money as the 350 diesel) and the mighty AMG 6.3 with more mumbo than anyone could ever need, at $175,815.

The ML350 CDI certainly is an easy to live with car. They are pretty comprehensively equipped in terms of luxury appointments. The example tested was kitted out with a nice selection of options too, including very attractive 21-inch AMG wheels, glass sunroof, Distronic, electric lumbar support and dubious running boards. I found the running boards just got in my way, though I understand how many buyers find them useful.

The AMG undertrays front and rear with their blocky-looking styling and matt-chrome finish suit the ML well and come in a package which includes an AMG chrome tailpipe.

The car had height-adjustable suspension which also boasts comfort and sport mode shockabsorbers. In either setting the comfort level of the ride is good. The ML always feels well planted on the road, and occupants never get that feeling of teetering that some tall vehicles suffer from. Maybe that's helped by the chunky wheel and tyre combination, which properly fill the wheelarches.

We went for a country drive which a good many MLs seem to do. The first strong impression that was even on coarse bitumen and at country sorts of speeds, the ML remained very quiet inside. It took some jiggering around of the seat and steering wheel adjustments, but after six hours behind the wheel in one day, at the end, I was very pleased that I felt no discomfort.

The engine pulls very well, the torque making overtaking on country roads quite an easy proposition. Flick the left hand paddle a twice to drop back a couple of gears and it's ready to pounce. The shifts are smooth and seamless at any speed. However it's in town where the biggest bugbear becomes apparent. Taking off from being stopped isn't the ML350CDI's strongpoint. Even if you stand on the go-fast pedal, there's a considerable delay before there's any action. It's a heavy car and the turbos aren't working when it's stopped. You get used to it, but it's frustrating nonetheless. As soon as you've (eventually) got rolling, there's plenty of performance though.

And if I'm being critical, I don't understand why Mercedes-Benz sets their multifunction indicator stalk so low down, stopping a driver's hands adopting the 10-to-2 driving position... Making room for the cruise control stalk above it can't be reason enough for this.

The space in the rear is good and the boot is amply big enough. If you need more seats or more space, of course there's the bigger GL-Class on offer. But the ML is a pretty well-rounded package and once you've found the powerplant and option mix that suits you, it's a machine you would be assured of getting a lot of satisfaction from.

Engine type: 6-cylinder 3-litre turbo diesel
Power: 165kW
Torque: 510Nm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Performance: 0-100km/h 8.6 seconds
Price: $91,340 at time of writing
Text & Photo - Paul Blank (copyright)

ML320 CDi

With the original model ML Mercedes-Benz was breaking into new territory. Their first comfort-based off-roader was very capable, but somewhat uninspiring. Nevertheless, the American-built machines were extremely popular in Australia.

So when the time came for a replacement the question was, would it be an inspiring drive? It would seem so, and with recent updates it makes a pretty compelling package.

We tested the $120,800 turbo-diesel 3-litre V6 version, and took it down into the southwest. Comfort levels are high and it's very car-like to drive. The 165kW motor gives plenty of acceleration whenever required and is mated to Mercedes' magnificently responsive 7-speed automatic transmission. A powerful 5.5-litre petrol V8 is also available, with vast performance. But the diesel model is no slouch, even when loaded up on country roads.

The styling is very much in the current Mercedes look, so mostly inoffensive and quite well balanced, if a bit fussy in some areas. The 18-inch alloy wheels help give a sporting look...
Inside, the steering column-mounted electronic gear selector frees up console space, helping give a spacious feel to the nicely finished interior.

The updates are quite small and mainly visual – most people wouldn't be able to pick them, but the nicest new touch is the beautifully stitched leather upholstered dashboard. All the electronic goodies are there – brake assist, stability and traction assistance, downhill speed regulation, reversing camera, etc, as is a pleasingly high level of luxury features.

This is a vehicle which exceeded my expectations – which is always pleasant…
Engine type: 3-litre 6-cylinder, diesel, turbocharged
Power: 165kW
Torque: 510Nm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Price: $120,800 at time of review
Photo & text - Paul Blank (copyright)