Several years ago big, gas-guzzling naturally aspirated V8 SUVs were common place on highways and byways the world over, but the global environmental epidemic has forced manufactures to look at less abrasive means of propulsion – enter the downsized turbodiesel. The third-generation Mercedes-Benz ML is not only 23mm longer, 15mm wider and its roof 90mm lower than the previous ML, it now boasts the greenest line-up in its 14 year history with a 23-28 per cent improvement on fuel efficiency. This doesn’t mean the ML is any less a status symbol; in fact, driving a greener SUV is probably more appealing now than ever. The four-cylinder 2.2-litre turbodiesel 250 BlueTEC is the most astounding – yip, that’s no mistake it’s a four cylinder. It’s no slouch either putting out 150kW and a monumental 500Nm of rotational thrust. On the launch drive from OR Tambo airport to Legend Golf and Safari Resort we achieved an impressive fuel figure of 8.5l/100km which, although substantially lower than the claimed 6.5l/100km, was still impressive given the amount of enthusiastic overtaking the ML endured.
Visually, it retains muscular SUV proportions but makes use of the company’s new design philosophy comprising new headlights with LED park lights, DRL strips in the intake apertures, a high scuttle line, a grille-mounted star badge, side skirts with chrome strips and the choice of 18- to 21-inch wheels. There are also a number of optional enhancements such as panoramic sliding roof, running boards, various paint options and exterior trim packages to further spruce up its appearance. The slightly larger proportions have culminated in a roomier cabin that features a newly designed dashboard and center stack layout – all customisable depending on the package option. You’ll also notice that the foot brake has been replaced by a more conveniently positioned electronic park brake. The ML is also big on practicality and, as such benefits from an impressive load capacity of 690 litres (seats up) and 2010 litres (seats down).
The ML is adept off-road, too; a brief gravel course demonstrated the off-road ability particularly over sand and inclines. There’s also an optional on/off-road package or AIRMATIC package that ramps things up to another level.
If you’re after more oomph the bigger-endowed 350 BlueTEC, 350 BlueEFFICIENCY, 500 BlueEFFICIENCY and the range-topping grandaddy ML63 AMG are also available.
Pricing starts at R683500 (250BlueTEC) but can become a costly exercise once you start ticking options – our 250 BlueTEC model was specced with R120000 worth of extras! As with all Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, the M-Class range comes standard with MobiloDrive maintenance plan of 6-years/120 000 km.