AutoColumn helps you find out if the new 2013 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 CDI is THE premium SUV you should buy.
SUV. Three random alphabets, which when grouped together have sort of become a status symbol in the Indian society for some time now. Over the past few years, the SUV market has seen a stable rise not just in sales, but also in terms of wider market acceptance. The Indian car buyer now does not associate SUVs with big, inefficient, fuel guzzling, difficult to drive and park vehicles. Instead, they are now viewed as a viable alternatives to sedans, which they are, considering the constant deteriorating road conditions, unpredictable highway development work, and the awesome size to money ratio that very few sedans can match. Also, SUVs in general give out a more commanding and butch stance as compared to sedans. Which statistically works. Manufacturer happy. Consumer happy. A win win situation for both.
Or is it. Moving up towards the premium car segment, the situation gets even more confusing. The car in question here is the Mercedes ML350 CDI. And it has a bloody tough job. It not only has to hold a candle against the other SUV’s, but also against some fantastic, hard to refuse premium sedans, that offer similar comfort, technology, safety and desirability as the ML. Our job now seems just as tough.
Mercedes Benz has had its presence in India for over 50 years now. Starting off as a commercial vehicle manufacturer with TATA, it has now come a long way in associating the Three Pointed Star as a symbol of supreme luxury. For them, the M Class has always been their Premium SUV flag bearer (until the G Wagen and the GL Class was launched). The ML 350 CDI is a big, comfortable 5 seater. It is designed to be equally at home on smooth silky highways or on potholed, out of city limits B-roads. But what else does the ML have, and is it good enough to take that top position amongst some really well engineered vehicles? AutoColumn finds out..
Exterior Design: 7/10
For me, the first generation Mercedes M Class (W163) has been the ugliest Mercedes Benz car to ever go on sale in India. The design, I assume, took inspiration from a melting wax elephant, and this made the car look not only ugly, but out of proportion as well. The front greeted us with a handsome grille but weirdly designed headlight units, a mushy looking hood that was not butch or masculine, something that the typical SUV owner would expect. Its also about road presence, isn’t it? The tail light units too were bland, and made the rear look rather unfinished. But it was supremely comfortable, and like all Benz cars made at that time, built really well. No wonder you still keep seeing these once in a while on the road, doing what it does best, comforting 5 in supreme luxury and still making them feel special. I genuinely prefer the interior designs of the older generation luxury cars, there is an element of timelessness to it, something that just is missing on most newer generation cars.
Things got way better with the next generation ML, the W164. This looked like a proper SUV, with strong lines, muscular wheel arches and sharp features all over. The headlight units looked fantastic, the grille was a piece of art, and those AMG style vents on the bonnet looked sexy. They also gave the ML a young and sporty looking, keeping in time with the wider audience Mercedes Benz was targeting. The front bumper was sporty as well. And the same treatment was carried over to the back. Although the tail lights were slightly boring, the overall design of the rear was way better than the previous generation, and suited the car really well. I still maintain that this car too felt like it was designed properly starting from the front, and then when they reached the back the designers got lazy and unimaginative. And this reflects, the rear of the car definitely does not look like it belongs to the front. But as a package, it was fantastic. It could hold its head high when compared to the BMW X5 and the Audi Q7.
And now welcome to the third and the latest ML, the W166, and here specifically, the ML350CDI. And what a thing of beauty it is! Mercedes has upped their game by many notches, given how stiff the competition has become across all segments from BMW and Audi, and also a little, by Land Rover. This definitely is the best looker amongst all its competition and definitely in itself an amazing looking vehicle. I could not find one weird angle, cut or crease in the entire design, and there is no quirkiness carried on from its predecessors. The designers have managed to make it look imposing, yet classy, sophisticated and young all at the same time, and yet carry over all the family design cues in perfect harmony. The overall car is well proportioned, and although the strong lines from the previous generation are missing, its highly unlikely that negative adjectives would be used to describe its design. The car has also grown in size than the previous gen and now measures 4804mm (23mm longer) and 1926mm (15mm wider). The decrease in height by 19mm (now at 1796mm) has given the car a sportier stance than before. A walk around the car will definitely make you appreciate the design even more, and I came out very impressed with all the finer details.
The front of the car is a blend of well designed individual parts, and they look really good together. They manage to lend the car the right amount of off road muscle as well as enough city cred.
The headlights on the car are curvier units than before. The double barrel design consists of a projector with xenon setup for the low beam, and a multi-reflector halogen setup for the high beam. The indicators occupy the bottom of the headlight.
The grille on this one too is a work of art. Its a mix of three horizontal black slotted lines, each with its own outer chrome lining. The three pointed star takes center stage, but is not too big as seen on some other models. It blends in just right, commanding the perfect amount of attention.
The front bumper consists of three XL size air dams. The two side ones house the DRLs and the center one has a large slotted chrome insert which runs down to the bottom forming a classy sump guard. The DRLs themselves are surrounded by a chrome casing, and this perfect mix of paint and chrome gives the front a dual personality that the car is all about. The sporty theme continues on the bonnet. It is angled and chiselled at the right places, with two leading to the AMG style vents. The vents lend the bonnet an even more sporty touch.
The increase in length and reduction in height have resulted in the ML looking more city-centric than all out off roader. The large 20” AMG wheels (we were testing here the Edition1, the first 100 cars with the AMG body, and wheels) fill up the wheel arches really nicely.
The wheel arches are large yet subtle. The lines that run along the sides of the car define the car well and also make it look sporty. The window behind the C pillar wraps around the body well.
The roofline slopes towards the back slightly, adding to the overall sporty intent. The spoiler too adds a much needed chink to the rear curve, and it works well to make the rear look sharp. Roof mounted Ski racks with usable hooks not only look good, but they work well too.
This has always been the weakest department of the ML. But now, just look at it. This has been the biggest improvement, designwise. The wide tail light units, with LED strips, look brilliant. And they work well too. The tail light is a split unit, and spills on to the tailgate. The tailgate is chiselled well and looks good even after losing the visible 5th wheel mounted on it.
The tailgate also now has the one touch button closing, because ofcourse, you deserve it. Also because shutting the tailgate otherwise would take some effort, as the tailgate does feel well built and heavy. The tailgate also opens up nicely enough to get it as much luggage as you want (all 690 litres of it) with ease.
The rear windows wrap around well.
The rear bumper, like the front bumper, feel like the perfect blend of paint and chrome. The chrome strip with the mesh look works well to give it a sleek look.
Overall, I think that the rear looks manly yet sleek, and gives a very robust feel to the car.
Sitting inside any Mercedes Benz car, the first thing you would notice, is how luxurious it looks. And feels. And the story here is no different.
And about the sitting part, the special ‘Designo’ seats that came with the test car were classy. White leather, cross stitched with black piping, more like a well designed fasion accessory.
The package also extends to the arm rest, door cards and the dashboard, and makes the interior feel more special.
And the seats not only look good, theyre very comfortable too. They fit around the body with a nice snug feel, and the electric adjust takes makes sure you get the perfect seating position.
The car is also equipped with 3 memory settings, that you can individually set to get your perfect seat and steering wheel position.
The 4 spoke steering wheel is of the right size and chunk, and is a good mix of leather, wood and plastic. It does have many buttons on it, to control the telephony as well as the COMAND system, but still manages to look clutter free. Behind the wheel, one can find various stalks including the DIRECT SELECT gear selector amongst your regular ones.
The meter console looks sporty and simple, and the display in the middle of the speedo and tacho displays a variety of information. Its good to see a premium car still carry the full temperature dial (rather than just an overheating warning).
The dashboard also gets the wood and leather treatment, and it looks fantastic. The Edition 1 gets black wood with the black leather (with white stitching).
The center console and the air vents, which are now trapezoidal (the older car had circular ones) get a touch of silver, which not only breaks the monotony, but looks sporty as well. The 7 inch colour screen displays everything from the COMAND as well as the infotainment system that plays from DVD, USB, SD cards and also an onboard 10GB hard disk. The ML also gets COMAND Online, where you can access the internet as well as use mobile services from Mercedes Benz.
The USB socket can be found by opening the front center armrest. The center armrest has individual pads for the driver and front passenger, and opens in a nice split arrangement.
The car also comes with a wide angle reversing camera, which displays feed to the COMAND screen, and makes parking a hell lot easier. I cannot imagine parking this car alone without making full use of the camera.
The car is also equipped with THERMOTRONIC automatic climate control, which in addition to the two-zone climate control, adds a display and temperature control for the rear seats via an individual unit AND provides seat cooling/ heating for the driver and front passenger.
AC vents can also be found on the B pillars, and overall, the ML has a really good climate control system. Its silent and cools the large cabin well.
The rear seat in the ML is honestly designed for two. You may want to squeeze in the third one in the middle, but he/she will miss out on the supreme comfort that the other two enjoy. The seat is constructed in a way that two passengers get their individual bucket seats while quietly sipping on their drinks held securely by the center arm rest (also known as the middle passenger seat back rest). This provides maximum support and comfort for the people who MB knows actually buy this car. Why they have missed out on audio controls in the rear armrest really puzzles me.
Behind the rear seats is a humungous 690 litre boot, which can be increased to a whopping 2010 liter by folding down the rear seats.
The ML has a variety of spaces/ cubby holes to hold everything that you can think of. It also comes with the roll out privacy screen for the boot, to keep your exclusive stuff away from prying eyes.
Engine and transmission: 9/10
The ML350 CDI comes with a nice sounding 2987cc V6 engine thats so smooth and refined, you would forget what this powerhouse is capable of doing. This is actually where things begin to get exciting for the ML350. The 350 holds its own right over the 250, and this is definitely the version i would suggest you to buy. A part of this advice is down to this engine, the other part I will get to later. Lets first look at the figures. Horsepower fans: you will be happy- 257PS at 3600 rpm. And if rotational force is your sort of a thing, you will explode with happiness. Because this engine produces a monumental 619 Nm of torque, right from 1600 rpm to 2400 rpm. This is a massive increase from the numbers the previous car made (231 PS and 540Nm). The result is, as you can imagine, quite impressive. Because for a car that weighs nearly 2.2 tonnes, a 0-100 time of 7.4 sec is very quick. No where while attempting this will you feel the actual weight of the car, or realise that the engine sitting in front of you is a diesel. Its that refined. And it stays like that till 4 really comfortable individuals sitting in it reach its claimed top speed of 224 kmph. Even at speeds above 200 kmph, the car hardly feels stressed or noisy.
The 7G-TRONIC Plus transmission comes standard on the ML. This seven speed automatic is a highly advanced gearbox, like every automatic gearbox from MB has made. MB claims that the 7G-TRONIC Plus offers better performance, more drivability, better fuel economy, smoother gear shifts and lower emissions. And I find no reason to not believe them.
Over a 600km test day, the 2.2 tonne ML350CDI returned 10.6 kmpl and that is superb considering the fact that the car saw everything from heavy traffic to the twisties to the high speed expressways to the crawly off road tracks. A small badge reading BlueEFFICIENCY denotes that the car in totality is finely tuned to deliver the best fuel economy and the lowest emissions. A MB vehicle sporting this badge means that the aerodynamics are better, weight saving in possible components has been achieved (eg. Lower windscreen thickness, lighter alloy wheels) and the engine has been fine tuned too. The energy consumed by the car is lower thanks to automatic AC activation/ deactivation, lower rolling resistance tyres, and an ECO start-stop system that turns the engine off (vehicle electricals remain on) when the car is stationary. The ECO system really boosts the fuel economy figures in the city, but it can be turned off manually or automatically (It does that in conjunction with the climate control system). The cruise control system works well, and during an expressway run the instantaneous fuel consumption display read we were getting 13.8 kmpl at a steady 80 kmph. Thanks to the 70 liter fuel tank, we did not need a refill. Overtaking just takes a dab of the the throttle pedal, and the car is duly dispatched forward with an alarming leap in the speedometer. This rage is however not felt, and this is why i think he gearbox is so brilliant. The downshift hardly takes any time, and the torque is converted into forward motion in a quick yet smooth whoosh. All of this adds well to the comfort quotient of the car.
Ride and Handling: 8/10
A good car is a good mix of good individual components and systems. But I think the suspension, the steering system and the chassis here have a big and very important task on hand. A double wishbone set up at the front and a multi- link set up at the rear is responsible for making this 2.2 tonne SUV comfortable AND sporty. With help from the air suspension (AIRMATIC) and fully automatic adaptive damping adjustment (ADS), the car does manage to feel sorted. You do get the feel that the car is continuously changing suspension setting according to the road you are driving on, and that is a feeling you will like. The car feels comfortable on small bumps and undulations, but larger potholes filter through with a thud. Ride quality is consistently comfortable, but if you raise the body using the AIRMATIC, the ride will get slightly rolly.
Sporty driving however is not what the ML is built for. I mean, you can go moderately fast through corners, but the combined effect of the weight and height of the car means your fellow passengers will not appreciate it much. The steering is also a little too light, and provides little feedback. The ESP and 4ETS (4 wheel Electronic Traction System) will always kick in if your driving gets a little too sporty for the car, and brakes are applied automatically to keep understeer and thus the entire car safe and within control. This kills the fun, but ensures that the car remains within its projected lines. The car will definitely remind you that it was made more for smooth flowy corners and straight lines, rather that fast and quick twisties.
Features and Safety: 10/10
The M Class is a properly loaded car when it comes to features and safety. Mercedes Benz has made of some amazingly technical systems to add to the comfort and safety of this car, and at every moment of your spirited drive you will know that there is an electronic brain taking care of the car by itself. And most of them work so well, that when the system does cut in, you do sort of thank the brain for doing that because you know that it would have been a difficult task to do all by yourself. Here is a list of few systems that help achieve that:
ATTENTION ASSIST – The car uses a set of sensors to individually map drivers, and then warn them about increasing fatigue and decreasing attention levels by displaying a coffee cup sign. This particularly helps during long drives or night drives. The system displays alerts at speeds between 80 and 180 kmph.
ESP – Electronic Stability Program – You will definitely feels how this affects your drive during hard cornering. The program reads what speed and turn input is given to the car by the driver, analyses the actual capability of the car within the laws of Physics, and then applies brake or engine torque to the individual wheels as per their requirement. The result of this is a car that cuts itself into shape everytime you try to cross its dynamic limits.
AIRMATIC – This is the term MB use for their air suspension system. But its not as simple as it sounds. In conjunction with the Automatic Damping System, the AIRMATIC makes sure that the car will always deliver maximum comfort to its occupants and will even continuously adjust itself to adapt to the ever changing road condition. It can also be used to raise the car if you plan to take the ML off road. The difference in the ride quality between a car that has AIRMATIC that a car that doesn’t is quite massive. This is the second part of the reason why the ML350 is the one to go for.
DSR – Downhill Speed Regulation – And if you do decide to take the car off road, downhill or up a steep incline, turning on the system adjusts the engine, gearbox and brakes to maintain a constant speed (can be set manually using the cruise control lever between 4 and 18 kmph). The braking force and hence speed will be kept constant over varying angles of incline/decline automatically.
PRE-SAFE – This system recognises the driving conditions and if it predicts a mishap or an impact, it will adjust the seat, tighten seat belts, decide on airbag inflation pressures so that even in the event of an impact, the occupants in the car have maximum safety. And if the mishap does not occur, the systems return the individual parts to their original settings and theyre ready to go again.
The ML comes standard with 7 Airbags, 2 (adaptive) at the front, 4 large window bags which cover all the side windows, and a knee bag for the driver. The ML is also very safe for pedestrians who may be unluckily a part of an impact.
VERDICT- 42/50 – Excellent
The ML comes across as a well engineered, very comfortable, safe, technically advanced, classy SUV. It has all the right ticks going for it. The difference between the ML250 (Rs. 49.9 Lacs) and the ML350 (Rs. 60 Lacs) is slightly over Ten Lakh Rupees, but the ML350 is still the one to go for. The ML250 does not feel special, and if you do ever ride in a ML350, you can never be happy with the fact that you went for the 250. The ML is a definitive option even if you’re looking for a premium sedan, offering all of its advantages with an added ground clearance, better ride and road presence that matters oh so much. If you’re in the market and looking to spend close to 60 big ones on your next car purchase, the ML350CDI should definitely be on your options list!
|Engine and performance|
|Arrangement/number of cylinders||V/6|
|Total Displacement (cc)||2987|
|Rated Output (kW/hp @ rpm)||190 [254.7] @ 3600|
|Rated Torque (Nm @ rpm)||619 @ 1600 – 2400|
|Acceleration (0-100 km/h, sec)||7.4|
|Top speed (km/h)||224|
|Fuel and consumption|
|Tank Capacity (I)/reserve approx.||70/11|
|Chassis (standard) and wheels|
|Tyre Size, front/rear||255/50 R 19|
|Quantity, dimensions and weights|
|Boot Capacity (I)||690|
|Turning Circle diameter (m)||11.8|
|Kerb weight (kg) ||2175|
|Permissible gross vehicle weight (kg)||2950|