2012 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class
2012 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class; photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz. Click image to enlarge
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By Greg Wilson

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2012 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class

It’s been awhile since Mercedes-Benz’ ML-Class mid-sized SUV was last redesigned – the second generation ML-Class was introduced in 2005 as a 2006 model – and since then the luxury SUV class has been growing with new and redesigned models like the BMW X5, Audi Q7, Acura MDX, Lexus RX350, Land Rover LR4, Infiniti FX, Volvo XC90, Cadillac SRX, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg, and Jeep Grand Cherokee, all vying for a piece of the pie.

If for no other reason than it’s been on the market for six years, the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class needed a redesign, and the new 2012 ML350 gas and diesel models, which will arrive this September, have been substantially redesigned with help from Mercedes’ customer surveys which indicate that ML owners’ top priorities are fuel economy, manufacturer’s reputation, and safety.

Fuel economy, you say? Who would buy a 5,000-lb mid-size SUV if they’re looking for better fuel economy? Apparently, fuel economy and emissions reduction are the top two reasons why buyers purchase the ML 350 Bluetec diesel model, which represents an astounding 80 per cent of ML-Class sales in Canada. The other major reasons cited are Mercedes-Benz’ reputation for quality and the safety of 4Matic all-wheel drive and all the other safety systems that come with the ML-Class.

2012 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class
2012 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class
2012 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class
2012 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class (U.S. model shown in bottom photos); photos by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

With 240 hp and 455 lb.-ft. of torque, the new 3.0-litre direct injection turbo-diesel V6 Bluetec engine, first seen in the 2012 S-Class, has 20 per cent more horsepower and 14 per cent more torque than the current 3.0-litre Bluetec turbo-diesel. Official city/highway fuel consumption numbers haven’t been announced, but in Europe, where the new ML 350 Bluetec comes with a standard stop/start idle system, fuel economy has reportedly been improved by an amazing 24 per cent. For reasons of certification for North America (which may be another term for ‘red tape’), the stop/start system will not be available here in 2012.

The current ML 350 Bluetec is advertised at 11.1 city/8.0 hwy, so we can expect at least a ten per cent improvement. During my four-hour test drive over secondary roads in the scenic state of Montana, U.S.A., at speeds often exceeding 100 km/h, I was seeing an average of 23.5 US mpg (10 L/100 km) displayed on my onboard fuel consumption readout.

According to Mercedes’ surveys, ML 350 Bluetec owners are genuinely concerned about C02 emissions, so they will be happy to know that this new diesel engine is now the cleanest diesel engine on the market, according to the company. A catalytic converter and a tank of “AdBlue” urea fluid injected into the exhaust system keeps nitrogen oxides at bay while the engine’s greater efficiency and fuel economy helps lower greenhouse gases. There’s also a particulate filter to screen out diesel particulate matter.

With more horsepower and torque and an 80-kilogram reduction in its curb weight, there should be a significant improvement in the current ML 350 Bluetec’s 0 to 100 km/h time of 8.6 seconds. I found its prodigious 455 foot-pounds of torque, which is available at just 1,600 r.p.m., very satisfying when accelerating from rest, or when passing. And this diesel engine is surprisingly quiet. It’s only when it’s idling with the windows down that you notice the familiar distant ‘clatter’ of the diesel engine.

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