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Mercedes-Benzís foray into the midsize luxury crossover segment is the M-Class, a two-row vehicle with plenty of cargo space and an available clean diesel engine.
On paper this family-friendly utility checks all the right boxes and it certainly looks the part, with chiseled, if conservative styling and a giant three-pointed star in the middle of its grille. But moving beyond these superficial observations, how well does this vehicle work in the real world and more importantly, does it have the performance to match its styling?
Sliding inside, the ML350 BlueTEC 4Maticís cabin is certainly nice, but itís not one of Mercedesí best efforts. Donít get me wrong, itís decently luxurious, though it does fall short of the companyís newer products (cough S-Class, cough, cough).
Overall this carís interior looks and feels a little dated. Some of the textures could be better and the leather on the seats and door panels seems a little low rent.
Speaking of chairs, a friendís wife thought the contrast stitching on the lower cushions was way too coarse. She said that if she were wearing shorts or a dress they would actually hurt the skin on the back of her legs. She also thought the leather looked cheap.
In addition to these gripes I was not a fan of the climate controls. They work fine but look like they belong in a Sprinter commercial van, not a high-dollar crossover. The large, plastic click wheels that control temperature as well as the alarm clock-style readouts look pretty sketchy.
When it comes to hauling, cargo, not ass, the ML is ready for action. There are more than 38 cubic feet of space behind the second-row seats. Now, when you fold the back bench down that number more than doubles, topping 80 cubes.
If youíre curious (and we know you are), the ML350 has a maximum payload rating of more than 1,700 pounds, so feel free to load it up with a few hundred kettle bells or an overweight manatee.
On the subject of weights and measures, the ML350 BlueTEC weighs more than 5,000 pounds.
Heart of Diesel
Thrust is provided by a 3.0-liter compression-ignition engine. In todayís automotive world a vehicle that doesnít have at least 300 hp seems hardly worth driving and the ML350ís V6 provides ďjustĒ 240 ponies. Making up for this perceived shortcoming is torque and lots of it. This family-friendly crossover thunders with a V8-beating 455 lb-ft of twist! Thatís 45 more lb-ft than you get in a Ram 1500 pickup truck with a 5.7-liter Hemi.
In operation this engine is mostly smooth and overall itís surprisingly refined given the internal-combustion mayhem thatís taking place just ahead of the firewall. Occasionally small amounts of clatter and vibration can be felt but theyíre really well attenuated. Aside from a sound initial design Mercedes-Benz engineers must have wrapped this engine in a stack of comforters to keep the ruckus down; hopefully the polyester filling doesnít ignite when things get hot.
The engine is matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission, a staple of Mercedesí lineup. It boasts improvements and refinements that supposedly make it smoother and more responsive. A newly designed torque converter and lower-viscosity fluid improve efficiency.
Thanks to these changes and of course the thrifty engine, Mercedesí ML350 BlueTEC stickers at 20 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 on the highway. Combined it should deliver 23 MPG.
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