Now here’s a model range that’s grown on us. It’s been a couple of years now since Mercedes-Benz launched the third generation of their luxury-SUV ML-Class and if you read our first Test (a ML 250 BlueTEC in September 2012) you would’ve noted we were slightly iffy about it.
We detected a whiff of B-Class about the new W166’s exterior design and thought the 2 143 cm3 turbopetrol somewhat underpowered for a car of this considerable bulk. All in all we felt as the car wasn’t much of an improvement on its more angular and aggressively styled predecessor.
Two years on and having driven more versions of the ML Class we’ve come to appreciate what this car offers in what’s a very competitive market segment. Sure, it can be specced to competently tackle off-road ventures, but the reality is that almost all MLs will be used to ferry people – families – around our roads. It might not be as dynamically engaging as it’s competitors (BMW X5/Range Rover Sport/Porsche Cayenne), but with the solid build quality and space this SUV affords, it does what it does better than most. And now, with this new V6 turbopetrol engine, that ability has improved even further.
This is the first time we’ve driven Merc’s new petrol V6 bi-turbo (it debuted in the E-Class) and it’s really impressed us. Replacing the naturally aspirated V6, the new engine both more efficient (meets EU6 emissions standards) and thanks to the bi-turbo generates a healthy 245 kW and 480 N.m across a wide range of 1 600 to 4 000 r/min.
In fact the engine is so refined and quiet you’d be fooled into thinking you were driving a hybrid. Friction-optimised bearings, low-friction axle drives, electric steering and tyres with low rolling resistance all add to a buttery smooth power delivery that’s further complimented by a seven-speed 7G-TRONIC PLUS auto ‘box.
Whatever noise the drivetrain might make is also blocked out by a build quality that all but banishes NVH. With the previous generation ML, Merc upped their game considerably in terms of cabin materials and, with this new SUV, the levels are up there with its luxury sedans. Yes, base-price spec is always a bit spartan in Mercs and the interior architecture leans more towards the solemn and sober, but tick your option boxes wisely and you’ll have a very comfortable and well-appointed environment.
Cocooned inside, the space on offer when compared to its rivals is similar in terms of width and legroom, but it’s the space of your head that gives the ML a bigger perceived advantage. Where it’s measurably better is in the luggage department, particularly with the seats lowered where you’ll have a whopping 1 512 dm3 to stow baggage.
If you’re looking for an SUV that can occasionally satisfy that little sportscar demon sitting on your left shoulder, then look at the equivalent X5, Cayenne or Rangey Sport. If, however, you’re looking to ferry your family in luxury and refined comfort, then the ML – especially with this wonderful engine – makes a compelling case.
Model: Mercedes-Benz ML400 BlueEfficiency
Price: R849 252
Engine: 2 996 cm3, V6, bi-turbo petrol
Transmission: 7-speed auto
Power: 245 kW at 5 250 r/min
Torque: 480 N.m from 1 600 to 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 6,1 secs
Top speed: 247 km/h
Fuel consumption: 8,5 – 8,8 litres/100 km
CO2: 217 g/km