Mercedes-Benz has added a new engine, updated the technology and thrown in a bit of a facelift to improve the M-Class in its battle with BMW’s X5 in South Africa.

Mercedes-Benz has added a new engine, updated the technology and thrown in a bit of a facelift to improve the ML range in its battle with BMW’s X5 in South Africa.

The M-Class is available with a choice of four engines, with output ratings from 120 kW for the ML 270 CDI to 255 kW for the ML 55 AMG. The V6 engine in the ML 350 offers 7,5 per cent increase in power and torque.

The six-cylinder engine now bears the model badge ML 350. Mercedes claim the new V6 M-Class accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 8,8 seconds, which is 0,2 seconds faster than the previous ML 320. The ML 350 has a claimed top speed of 205 km/h, compared with 195 km/h for the previous ML 320. Despite the increase in power and performance, Mercedes said the fuel consumption of the new ML 350 of 10,5 litres is slightly less than the ML 320, of 10,7 litres per 100 km (NEDC combined consumption).

The proven V6 engine of the M-Class has been further enhanced to give a substantial increase in power and torque. The piston bore has been increased from 89,9 to 97,0 millimetres, thereby increasing the displacement to 3,7 litres. This results in an increase of approximately 11,6 per cent in peak torque, to 346 N.m at 4 100 r/min. The V6 engine is a six-cylinder version of the V8, sharing block configuration, connecting rods, pistons, and a stroke of 84 mm.

Besides other obvious differences between a V8 and V6 engine, the ML 350 is equipped with a balance shaft to smooth vibrations to V8 levels.

The four-wheel traction control system has also been improved. Mercedes-Benz’s 4ETS operates without conventional differential locks. A microprocessor controls the distribution of the drive torque by briefly braking the spinning wheel or wheels. 4ETS uses information supplied by the ABS wheel speed sensors. If these sensors report that one or more wheels have lost their grip, 4ETS automatically brakes them, thereby altering the distribution of the drive torque.

The advantage of 4ETS is that it transfers torque more smoothly than the previous system thereby reducing the likelihood of traction loss.

The power sent to the wheels with good traction increases in direct proportion to the amount of brake pressure applied to the spinning wheels. The vehicle continues to maintain traction on loose or slippery surfaces.

The M-Class transfer case is equipped with two planetary gear sets, which allow a low off-road ratio to be engaged. When the Low Range button on the instrument panel is pressed, the transfer case switches from the normal on-road ratio (1:1) to an off-road ratio (2.64:1), which allows the M-Class to consistently maintain traction in difficult off-road terrain.

Automatic braking also allows the M-Class to proceed downhill at a steady speed without any intervention on the part of the driver. The automatic brake pressure control begins at speeds below 20 km/h when the low transfer case range is engaged.

The exterior has also been updated slightly with front and rear bumpers now colour-coded. Projection-type headlamps have a clear glass look and the front fog lamps have been integrated into the bumper.

Inside are a centre console with additional stowage compartment, ventilation outlets for the rear passenger compartment, rear compartment ashtray, rear compartment cup holder and 12-volt power socket for rear passengers.

Safety-wise, there are adaptive driver and front passenger airbags, driver/passenger front and rear side airbags. Full side curtain windowbags are standard. There is also a newly developed, standard-fit automatic climate control with sensor control and additional blower for rear passengers.

One or both sections of the rear seat bench, with its 1/3:2/3 split-folding seat cushion and backrest, can be folded forwards. Optionally two additional, single, seats are available in the rear, seating up to seven people comfortably.

According to Mercedes-Benz, the ML range conforms to all the customary standards of a Mercedes-Benz passenger car, with good on-road ride comfort over long distances. It has a high towing capacity of 3 500 kg and a large tank capacity of 83 litres.

Mercedes admitted, however, that only seven per cent of buyers of the range will actually take it off-road.