2014 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 Bluetec. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush
Every spring the river in my hometown threatens to swell over the banks wreaking havoc on everything in its general vicinity. And just to make good on that threat, every once in a while, it actually does it.
Roads are closed, homes are evacuated and invariably someone paddling their canoe down main street makes the front page.
This was one of those years.
Returning home after a three-day work trip, I rounded the bend only to find the entire road ahead submerged in water. Backtracking would easily add fifteen minutes to my drive, but I was in a $70,000 borrowed press car. What to do?
Well, when that press car is a Mercedes-Benz ML 350 Bluetec, you simply push a button and the mighty beast raises itself up on its tiptoes and easily clears a couple of feet of water. Thanks to the ML’s Airmatic suspension, I was on my way in minutes without getting a soaker.
The M-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s mid-size AWD SUV, originally introduced in 1997, now slotted between the GLK and full-size GL, with a baby GLA coming along shortly.
I’d been on the press launch for the second generation M-Class back in 2005, and while I liked it well enough, I thought the styling lacked definition – it was rather bland.
The third generation arrived in 2012, and with its crisp sheet metal cuts a sharp figure while still adhering to the German manufacturer’s tendency of refined conservatism. In deep charcoal grey, or “Tenorite Grey Metallic”, my ML tester is solid but chiseled, an investment banker in a fitted Hugo Boss suit.
The sense of understated elegance carries over to the cabin. In charcoal and light grey, the ML’s interior is quietly comfortable, yet nicely finished. Dark leather trim contrasts nicely with light grey seats, and both are finished with white stitching. The two-tone dash is a chunky, traditional Mercedes design, although the centre stack is rather busy with its myriad buttons. Gauges too are typical Mercedes – crisp and clean with the look of fine chronography. There’s just enough matte aluminum bright work to be tasteful, not flashy.
Seats are well cushioned if a little flat. The surfeit of extra bolstering is one hint that this SUV leans more towards comfort than sportiness. In a segment that has gradually introduced sports-car handling into the mix with contenders such as the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport – the ML is decidedly on the side of luxurious cruising.
2014 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 Bluetec dashboard, seating, cargo area. Click image to enlarge
As expected from this premium marque, the cabin is well equipped, with an excellent back-up camera, navigation, Bluetooth, Sirius satellite radio, sunroof and power adjustable seats. There’s a host of standard safety equipment too, such as the Pre-Safe braking system, electronic stability control, a battalion of airbags, Collision and Attention Assist, Hill Start Assist, TPS warning, four-wheel traction system, and acceleration control.
Other pampering niceties are available as options, such as multi-contoured seats with massage ($1,200), climate controlled front seats ($1,200), climate controlled cup holders ($250), rear seat entertainment ($2,400), split-view infotainment screen ($900), or optional trailer hitch ($675) and 115V power socket ($150).
Of course, the most notable feature of my ML 350 Bluetec tester is its diesel engine. While it only puts out a rather mediocre 240 hp, this is completely offset by its 450 lb-ft of twist. The ML may not be considered a sporty SUV, but it’s no slouch. Power is available immediately, with the added bonus that the 3.0L six-cylinder turbodiesel is also one of the quietest in its class. So quiet was it in operation, it was easy to forget that the ML was a diesel-powered vehicle at all. There’s very, very little telltale clatter, and no vibration finds its way into the cabin.