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A whole new look, inside and out, the choice of 4 peppy and refined powerplants, 3 of them turbocharged, an inviting cabin loaded with luxury, and some heady standard safety features are among the plethora of adornments in Mercedes-Benz's redesigned 2012 M-Class.The Bad
The hefty base price, as well as a continued lack of third-row seating, some disappointing handling attributes, gimpy shifting in the turbo-diesel-powered BlueTEC variation, and some over-reflective interior trim pieces cut the 2012 M-Class luxury liner down to size.
The CarGurus View
Spiffy and freshened, and carrying a few added standard goodies, not to mention turbodiesel power and efficiency, as well as a pair of turbocharged V8s, Mercedes-Benz’s 2012 M-Class is a standard for luxurious practicality, stunted only a little by its continued lack of 7-passenger capacity. Sporty it’s not, but a plush touring-oriented suspension should do the well-heeled family proud, and the boatload of standard safety features only adds to the positives. Yeah, it can get thirsty for gas in its V8-powered iterations, and some of the techno-goodies can be frustratingly confusing, but overall, the latest M-Class does its part to uphold the German automaker’s legendary reputation.
At a Glance
After a complete redo, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class comes out looking better than ever. A relative latecomer to the midsize SUV wars, Mercedes has done it up properly with this high-end 5-passenger sport ute, and for 2012, new sheet metal gives it back its distinctive Germanic profile, while a reworked rear end and wider taillights, each inspired by its E-Class cousins, keep it looking fresh. Additionally, this new-look ute gets some added performance and efficiency tweaks to its normally aspirated V6 powerplant, as well as to its turbodiesel six-banger. Finally, the cabin has been treated to some upgrades in accent pieces and fabrics, while a brand-new electric power steering system is aimed at improving the M-Class’s agility factor.
Look for the M-Class to be offered in 4 trims, the base ML350 4MATIC, the ML350 BlueTEC, the midlevel ML550 4MATIC and the potent ML63 AMG. All trims come with all the expected M-B luxury, 71.0 cubic feet of cargo area with the rear seatbacks folded (36.2 cubic feet to the upright rear seats), and standard full-time all-wheel drive (AWD). The base trim sports a normally aspirated V6 powerplant, while the BlueTEC boasts an efficient and torque-laden turbodiesel V6, with the ML550 and the sport-oriented ML63 AMG each flaunting a twin-turbocharged V8 powerplant.
Again reviewers and owners lament the fact that this midsize ute still doesn’t offer 3 rows of seating, while others still have issues with tepid gas mileage from the pair of turbocharged V8s. For guts plus fuel efficiency, virtually all reviewers point to the ML350 BlueTEC, but if it’s pure power you’re looking for, the ML63 AMG is one scary-fast SUV. Ride comfort is typically Mercedes-plush, though handling, even with the new electric power steering, leaves a bit to be desired.
Needless to say, all this posh and horsepower doesn’t come cheap, so you might want to kick some serious tires before signing on the dotted line. BMW’s X5 remains the closest competitor to the M-Class and is similarly priced. Acura’s MDX and Lexus’ RX, meanwhile, each cost less, yet each provides a comparably refined ride and plenty of performance. Porsche’s Cayenne again runs rings around the M-Class in performance and agility, but will run considerably more money.
The 4 engine choices available to the reworked M-Class start with the 3.5-liter normally aspirated and variable-valve-timed (VVT) V6 that endows the base ML350 4MATIC. Look for 302 hp at 6,500 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque from this peppy six-banger under the management of a standard 7-speed shiftable automatic transmission boasting hill-start assist and descent control. Mileage numbers in this base V6 work out to 17 mpg city/22 highway.
The ML350 BlueTEC boasts a 3.0-liter turbodiesel powerplant that throws down 240 hp at 3,600 rpm and a massive 455 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm. Again, the brains behind all this power is the 7-speed shiftable automatic, with mileage working out to a commendable 20/27.
The midlevel ML550 4MATIC, meantime, boasts a twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 engine, once more with VVT and again toting the 7-speed shiftable automatic. This baby V8 pounds out 402 hp at 5,000 rpm and 443 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm, while mileage figures drop to 15/20.
At the top of the M-Class heap, the ML63 AMG flaunts its muscular twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 and, as with its lesser brethren, operates under the auspices of the 7-speed shiftable automatic transmission. Mileage, again with VVT, is actually better than that of the smaller V8 at 15/25, while an available trailer hitch allows up to 7,200 pounds of towing capacity.
The full-time AWD system, meanwhile, offers a 50/50 torque split between the front and rear axles, with torque automatically diverted from the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip in slippery conditions, even if it’s only a single wheel.
Tests of both the normally aspirated and turbodiesel V6 powerplants find a 0-60 time of about 6.8 seconds for each. The 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8, on the other hand, made the same trip in 5.3 seconds, while the potent 5.5-liter V8 did it in 4.7 seconds. Adding the available Performance Package to the larger V8, finally, shaves about 1/10th of a second.
Reviewers generally find the base V6 a little lazy off the line, but becoming stronger as the revs climb, resulting in smooth performance, both around town and on the highway. The V6 turbodiesel, though a tad quicker off the line, according to reviewers, starts to taper off as revs climb, and a few reviews note some occasional balkiness with the automatic transmission. The ML550 4MATIC’s turbo V8, of course, delivers better than adequate power in all situations, according to reviewers, with the 5.5-liter turbocharged V8 delivering some awesome quickness, though reviewers caution that it demonstrates a prodigious appetite for gas. Finally, reviewers note that the ML63 AMG now boasts auto engine stop/start technology, but that it’s not quite up to those systems found in most rivals.
Ride & Handling
All 2012 M-Class trims boast a 4-wheel independent suspension sporting a double-wishbone front end and a multi-link rear end. Front and rear stabilizer bars are complemented by 19-inch alloy wheels on the 3 lower trims, with the ML63 AMG riding on standard 20-inch alloy wheels. All trims roll on standard all-season tires, while the flagship ML63 AMG can be equipped with performance tires in the available AMG Performance Package. Additionally, the ML63 AMG is delivered with a driver-selectable 3-mode suspension tuning system featuring Comfort, Sport and Sport+ settings.
Reviewers praise this big ute for its family-friendly ride qualities, noting that all but the most egregious bumps and ruts are handled with aplomb. Even the ML63 AMG’s stiffer suspension tuning is well compensated by the Comfort setting on the 3-mode dial-in system. Most reviewers do mention, however, that the Sport setting offers the best combination of ride comfort and driving excitement.
Handling, though not among this Mercedes’ strong points, is, according to most reviewers, adequate to its admittedly more practical demeanor. There is a difference of opinion among reviewers regarding this midsize SUV’s steering response and feedback, but all agree that body lean is well modulated and that overall, the M-Class displays at least acceptable handling attributes.
Finally, brakes on this hefty ute are described by virtually all reviewers as powerful and true, with no pedal anomalies. Testing found the M-Class coming to a stop from 60 mph in a very tidy 114 feet.
Cabin & Comfort
For 2012 the reworked ML350 4MATIC and its BlueTEC stablemate boast such standard appearance amenities as a roof rack, skid plates, heated power-adjustable mirrors, a power rear liftgate and a power sunroof. Inside, this entry-level trim flaunts leatherette upholstery, heated, 8-way power-adjustable front seats, split-folding rear seatbacks, remote power door locks and power windows. Convenience amenities include cruise control, telescoping tilt-wheel steering, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and a universal remote garage door opener. The leather and alloy steering wheel has cruise and audio controls and is complemented by alloy and wood cabin trim accents and floor mats, with all of it embraced by dual-zone automatic climate control.
The 100-watt audio system is under the tutelage of M-B’s COMAND system and sports a large hi-res display with video monitor, an MP3-capable single-CD player, 8 speakers, a memory card slot and a USB connection. Bluetooth-interfaced mbrace telecommunications services also come standard aboard the pair of entry-level ML350s.
Moving up to the midlevel ML550 4MATIC, meantime, step running boards, adds upgraded 19-inch wheels and a trailer hitch to the list of standard features.
The top-shelf ML63 AMG flaunts its elevated status with such additional standard goodies as premium leather upholstery, sport front seats, keyless entry and ignition, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors and memory for driver's settings. It also flaunts its upper-level perch with a standard 830-watt Harman Kardon sound system that boasts a 6-CD changer, 14 speakers, satellite radio and Surround Sound. Finally, the flagship ML63 AMG additionally boasts standard hard-drive-based navigation with real-time traffic.
The Premium One Package, offered in the 3 lower trims, is one of the more popular options packages and includes a rear-view camera, power-folding mirrors, power-adjustable telescoping tilt-wheel steering, satellite radio, Surround Sound and the navigation suite. The Premium Two Package, meantime, sports all the stuff in the Premium One Package, plus keyless entry and ignition, heated and cooled cup holders, the Harman Kardon audio system and ambient cabin illumination.
The Performance Package is a bonus available only to the ML63 AMG and flaunts some tweaks to the turbocharged V8 that’ll allow it to blast out 550 hp, 590 lb-ft of torque and a top speed of 174 mph. Red painted brake calipers and an AMG sport steering wheel also come with this upgrade.
Standalone options lineup-wide, finally, include a panoramic sunroof, Active Parking Assist, a night-vision camera, tri-zone climate control, cooled front seats and rear-seat DVD entertainment. Additionally, a Piano Black interior trim accent scheme, with unique piano-black lacquer wood inserts and black alloy wheels is also available only to the ML63 AMG.
Reviewers find the interior redo for the 2012 M-Class to be a winner, resulting in one of the quieter cabins on the market, plenty of the traditional high-end luxury touches, tasteful fabrics and accent pieces, and comfy, supportive seats. A few reviews mention that the COMAND audio function control system can be a bit daunting to figure out, while others find the number of curiously marked buttons and switches to be somewhat confusing. A number of reviews also remain skeptical that the optional Piano Black interior trim package is actually worth its additional cost.
While the 2012 M-Class lineup may sport a new look, safety remains a priority in this upper-crust ute. Standard 4-wheel antilock brakes boast electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency braking assist and Mercedes’ PreSafe pre-emergency braking preparation system. Of course, traction and stability control also come standard, as do dual front side-mounted airbags, with rear side-mounted airbags standard on the ML550 4MATIC and the ML63 AMG and available to the two ML350 variations. Then there are the traditional front and rear head airbags, as well as active front headrests and a driver’s side knee airbag. All trims also return with turn-signal-integrated mirrors, daytime running lights, front fog/driving lights and a post-collision safety system, while the standard remote antitheft alarm is bolstered by mbrace emergency communications, alerts and stolen vehicle recovery assistance.
The Lane Tracking Package with blind-spot warning and lane departure alerts comes standard on the ML63 AMG and is an option for the other trims, as are xenon high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlights, while available Active Cruise Control can be integrated with the PreSafe braking system in all trims. Parking Assist and Night View Assist Plus, with sensor-integrated parallel parking help and a night vision system, respectively, also remain optional lineup-wide.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has no data for the latest M-Class edition, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives this high-end hauler a Top Safety Pick nod for 2012, awarding its best score of Good in all testing criteria.
What Owners Think
Build quality issues and some uncalled for arrogance on the part of M-B’s customer service people are among the more discouraging aspects of the latest M-Class editions, according to many owners. Others find the tepid gas mileage inherent in the V8 powerplants to be not totally unexpected, but most keep waiting for improvement. Handling issues, as well as the confusing array of buttons and switches, also have more than a few owners scratching their heads.
On the positive side, a roomy, welcoming and, above all, luxury-laden cabin draws nothing but praise from owners, as do the power and refinement found in the selection of V6 and V8 engines. A plethora of standard and available safety features and the hefty mileage numbers from the base V6 powerplant draw praise from most owners, while virtually all owners remain awed by this top-shelf ute’s princely ride.
Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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