For 2006, the second-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class is an all-new model, replacing the first generation of 2005. Two variations are offered, the V6-powered ML350 and the V8-powered ML500.

The engines are new and so is the styling: clear integrated headlamp lenses, larger hood, new grille, revised body lines, new taillights, and redesigned fenders. The inside is equally new, with a four-spoke multifunction wheel, new air outlets, extra padding in the rear seat cushions and backrests, automatic climate control, a residual warm air circulation function, and revised instrument panel and console design.

Both models use permanent full-time four-wheel-drive, with a single-speed transfer case and centre differential that splits the torque 50/50 front to rear.

The ML350 uses a 3.5-litre V6 with improved fuel economy over 2005’s 3.7-litre engine, mated to a seven-speed automatic with Direct Select shifter and Touch Shift wheel-mounted manual mode shifter buttons. Standard features include eight-way adjustable front seats with power height and recline, aluminum trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight standard airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, power windows with one-touch express up and down, trip computer, 17-inch alloy wheels, and anti-theft alarm system. Available options are a Trim Package including privacy glass, roof rails, heated leather seats and leather-wrapped wheel; Premium Package, including garage door opener, Burl Walnut wood trim, ambient lighting and sunroof; and Appearance Sport Package, including 19-inch wheels, blue-tinted glass and sport instrument cluster.

The ML500 uses a 5.0-litre V8 mated to the Direct Select seven-speed automatic transmission, and includes heated ten-way power driver and passenger seats with three-position memory, auto-dimming rearview and driver’s side mirrors, cargo net, Burl Walnut wood trim, garage door opener, 18-inch alloy wheels, blue-tinted glass, power folding mirrors, power sunroof, privacy glass, roof rails, rain-sensing wipers and speed-sensing variable-assist power steering. Available options include rear parking assist, power liftgate, trailer hitch kit, keyless start, multi-contour front seats, and air suspension package.

In the face of quality rivals from the likes of Lexus and Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz has softened the M-Class’ appearance while still maintaining its functionality. The new unibody design has a longer wheelbase than its predecessor, making for a smooth, car-like ride while still maintaining a certain degree of toughness, especially if you order the optional air suspension. For its size, it feels nimble, and steering is light but precise. The same architecture slips under the equally-new six-passenger R-Class, but if you don’t need the two extra seats, this relatively smaller version is just the ticket.

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