2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC 2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC

Vital Stats

Engine:
3.0L V6 Diesel
Power:
240 HP / 455 LB-FT
Transmission:
7-Speed Dual Clutch
0-60 Time:
7.2 Seconds
Drivetrain:
Four-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
4,795 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
71 CU-FT (max)
MPG:
20 City / 27 HWY
Getting Deliciously Dirty With Clean Diesel



Back in July, our man Bowman got his first chance to drive the new Mercedes M-Class in the wilds of Montana, and he came away particularly impressed by the ML350 BlueTEC 4Matic. It's great news that this updated diesel powertrain finally got to the United States in November, but in Montana, we missed out on the new-generation On&Offroad Package and innovative Active Curve System.

Fortunately, we were recently afforded the chance to test all of this goodness over a small paved circuit in Austria, as well as up and down a truly hellacious off-road course. By the end of the day, we were convinced that this ML350 diesel 4x4 thus equipped can finally take it to a similarly optioned BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. And, as Mercedes Germany tells us, North American buyers will at long last get a crack at this On&Offroad harder-core package for 2013. Are they at risk of messing with the winning on-road recipe that has made the M-Class the world's best-selling premium SUV, with over 1.2 million sold?
First off, we just have to say it: We like the looks of this new-for-2012 model a whole lot more than the aging clumpiness of the first two generations. The profile could be more balanced visually, but from every other angle, the new ML is a spot-on looker in what is frankly an aesthetically compromised segment.

2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC side view2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC front view2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC rear view

We first climbed behind the wheel of an ML350 BlueTEC 4Matic without the On&OffRoad package (above in silver), and we can echo what has already been said about this 3.0-liter V6 BlueTEC diesel: It's at the top of its game, and M-Class' revamped air suspension is much more satisfying when either normal cush or sportier seriousness is called for. While 17-inch tires are standard, the optional (and less noisy) 255/50 R19 W Continental ContiSportContact tires are just the right blend for asphalt action. The real new goodness, however, starts when the available Active Curve System is put to work. Active front and rear anti-roll bars actuate instant-to-instant to compensate for lateral g forces, and the added confidence from behind the well-designed steering wheel is clear. As you might imagine, this technology is particularly noticeable when hustling this 4,795-pound bruiser hard through the corners. Off-road, and when selected on road, the ACS can remain "open" – disengaged – to allow for more live axle feel and articulation. Engage it, though, and kinks get straightened out nicely.

As to the On&OffRoad Package we finally got to test in a brown-colored ML350 BlueTEC 4Matic, there are six different ride and drivetrain settings. The one most used is certainly Auto, which capably handles almost any daily drive situations. Then there are Sport, Winter and Trailer modes by turning the console knob to the left, and two off-road modes by turning to the right. The first off-road mode is milder and does not involve the low range of gears, though the suspension does raise slightly. The most extreme off-road setting swells ground clearance to an impressive 11.2 inches (max wading depth is nearly 24 inches and there's a skid plate to avoid disembowelment), and there's a two-stage transfer case and low range lock that helped us climb at will. The revamped COMAND on-board display details all of the system's parameters, showing comfort levels, percentages of angle and traction distribution left-to-right, and it turns the engaged low-range differential red.

2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC center gauge display2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC off-road display2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC ride height controls2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC drive mode controls

We tend to think of the M-Class plying suburban parking lots and at worst plying rutted dirt parking lots at the local apple orchard or yard sale, but Benz officials tell us that added off-road capability was a frequent request from likely customers. The previous system, the Europe-only Off-Road Pro Engineering package, only involved a single on-road setting and one detent for the rough stuff, and the whole setup was simply not up to snuff versus the competition.

During our industrial-strength off-road sessions with the On&OffRoad Package-equipped ML350 BlueTEC 4Matic, we did things that no sane person would have ever tried in a previous-generation ML. Besides proving highly capable when attacking a 45-degree climb consisting of loose dirt and rocks (with a full stop-and-go mid-climb to highlight the hill-hold function that works with the seven-speed dual-clutch), we pulled off almost every textbook Jeep Wrangler trick. Then came the 80-degree descent on rough pavement using the well-calibrated Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR). The Dunlop M+S GrandTrek tires – same dimensions as the on-road Contis but with gnarlier tread – proved up to the task. Our vertiginous descent was actually more of a controlled skid, but nonetheless, the 4Matic system and traction control software managed gravity well while we touched nary a pedal. If we were really going to treat our ML this way on a normal basis, however, a burlier set of treads would be a better fit. But who is kidding whom?

2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package

As we've said before, more than the 240 horsepower on hand, the 455 pound-feet of torque (available from 1,600 rpm) offered by the turbocharged and direct-injected 3.0-liter V6 diesel is the true star here. Deploying the throttle judiciously in any off-road condition (or on) made for effortless work, and when the time came for acceleration, 7.2 seconds for this big boy to reach 60 miles per hour isn't exactly slow. All the while, the AdBlue- and particulate filter-aided diesel drivetrain returns an EPA-rated highway best 27 miles per gallon and pollutes with 25 percent less CO2 emissions than the last ML350.

This is a package that finally gets us authentically geeked about the ML SUV phenomenon for the first time in its long and successful life. Its on-road dynamics and noise isolation have significantly improved, and it's now possible to consider taking the ML350 BlueTEC 4Matic where formerly we would have opted by reflex for a trail-rated Jeep Grand Cherokee – this makes some sense, as the two share a fair bit of DNA.

2012 Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC w/ On&Offroad Package

We're certain that in the hands of most owners, M-Class models will remain caged on flat asphalt, hauling kids and cappuccinos from sunup to sundown. From where we sit, it's a shame that most M-Class drivers will never know the true mettle of their daily drivers, but the M's well-rounded nature means that they won't be penalized by a stiff-legged ride, inhospitable noise levels or loathsome handling – all historic hallmarks of genuinely capable off-roaders.

This, friends, is progress.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 36 Comments
      throwback
      • 3 Years Ago
      An ML with an off-road package seems odd to me. Does anyone, other than journalists doing a review, take these things off-road? I do like the diesel specs though. Diesels make soo much sense for SUVs/CUVs.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @throwback
        [blocked]
        NightFlight
        • 3 Years Ago
        @throwback
        Not in America, but overseas they do.
        wat
        • 3 Years Ago
        @throwback
        Exactly, isnt that what the G-class is for? The unibody is just asking for damage if owners actually did this
          MyID8My Name
          • 3 Years Ago
          @wat
          Grand Cherokee has been a unibody since the start and it is regularly used off road...
        sirjaysmith
        • 3 Years Ago
        @throwback
        Considering this is just a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a Mercedes face and engine, it was bound to retain some of its offroad prowess in the hands of ze Germans.
          NightFlight
          • 3 Years Ago
          @sirjaysmith
          The last gen was capable, and the first generation ML was also incredibly capable. People who don't know any better probably shouldn't talk.
        JaredN
        • 3 Years Ago
        @throwback
        I see them out on the beach here in MA. That's not exactly Moab, but it is offroad.
      Jonathan
      • 3 Years Ago
      Autoblog I want to see an SUV shootout like MotorTrend use to do at death valley to pick their Truck of the Year. I want to see This ML350, The Lexus GX460, BMW X5, Audi Q7, Acura MDX, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR4, Infiniti JX, Porsche Cayenne and the Volkwagen Touareg. I want to know which one is the best of the best. My money is on the LX460, Jeep and LR4
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Jonathan
        [blocked]
      PatrickH
      • 3 Years Ago
      I really loved how you pandered to the environmentalists with your comment about how CO2 is a pollutant. It's much appreciated. BTW I held my breath while typing this so as to "pollute" less.
        Reflex
        • 3 Years Ago
        @PatrickH
        Or they just enjoy objective reality rather than playing political games. ;) Environmental frindliness is important to a lot of us, along with other factors such as capability, price, reliability, etc. Just another factor to weigh against the others.
      BRKF06
      • 3 Years Ago
      Mostly Mall Cruisers in the USA but outside the US people actually do drive MBs and Range Rovers through some rough terrain. And yeah, diesels in SUVs/CUVs make a great deal of sense. I know people with X5 diesels that get 27-28 mpg on the freeway. Dang that's great for a 5000 lbs brick.
        dreadcthulhu01
        • 3 Years Ago
        @BRKF06
        An Explorer (to compare a similarly sized brick) with the 2.0 liter turbo engine will get the same gas mileage on the freeway, and with how much cheaper gasoline is than diesel fuel in the US, no, diesel passenger vehicles don't make much sense, unless you do a lot of towing.
          montoym
          • 3 Years Ago
          @dreadcthulhu01
          And to achieve that mileage, the Explorer is FWD only with a pitiful tow rating. It's pretty much worthless as an SUV (or CUV) at that point. Why not just buy a FWD wagon and get even better mileage with the same engine? The 27mpg hwy you get out of an ML350 BlueTec is for an AWD (4Matic is standard) SUV with a 7,200lb towing capacity. If you want to compare them further, the AWD Explorer with the V6 is capable of only 5,000lb towing capacity and the diesel ML beats it in the fueleconomy race as well (20/27/22 vs. 17/23/19). That's a much closer apples to apples comparison than you made. The EPA even says that the diesel ML will cost less in fuel annually than a V6 Explorer as well, despite higher fuel costs for diesel ($2,577 vs. $2,605). Not much of a difference to be sure, but it destroys your argument that no diesel passenger vehicles make sense. They absolutely do, and especially so if you do a lot of highway driving or have a larger, heavier vehicle (like an SUV).
          BRKF06
          • 3 Years Ago
          @dreadcthulhu01
          If you honestly believe an Explorer with a turbo 4 is equivalent to an X5 in any way, god bless. There's nothing similar between the two.
          SloopJohnB
          • 3 Years Ago
          @dreadcthulhu01
          I would agree that they don't make sense due to the cost premium associated with the diesel option. I also don't like the performance tradeoff...MB tricked me into a sedan CDI test with a bogus 0-60 time (six cylinder something like 3.2L) that was bog-slow 0-60 and not even good 0-30 with all that supposed torque. The increased torque was offset with the final gear ratio relative to the gasser. And MB or BMW isn't about to bring their high-hp V8 diesels to the US for some reason. I did drive a V8 audi diesel...still underwhelmed relative to the 4.2 gas.
      marre
      • 3 Years Ago
      ugly
      IBx27
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just hate the commercials for these. This could be THE MOST ADVANCED SUV EVER from MERCEDES BENZ.
      BG
      • 3 Years Ago
      Well, this seems like a doofy concept. Will anyone really take a $50,000+ SUV off-roading or to the hunting camp or wherever? Who is trying to impress whom?
        sparrk
        • 3 Years Ago
        @BG
        No one is using this to go rock climbing or go through swamps. There are people who like the luxuries of a luxury car, but don't want two cars, like an engineer or architect who occasionally has to visit building sites, someone ( like me ) who goes to the lake during weekends, even during winter , in snow or mud. That's why customers demanded more offroad capabilities.
      SloopJohnB
      • 3 Years Ago
      Yeah, but is it TrailRated?
        Jonathan
        • 3 Years Ago
        @SloopJohnB
        If they can make a Jeep Compass or Patriot TrailRated then this thing can be.
      Jack Westland
      • 3 Years Ago
      TORQUE! that and fuel economy are all you get from a diesel. Not 0-60. And diesels aren't pedal-to-the-floor fast, you have to know how to use the tourque curve. Personally, i would consider a Touareg over this thing, since i'm sure it will be at least $70k with this On&OffRoad package, that will NEVER be used. Mostly because the salesman probably will have no clue how to use it, explain it, or tell you the price of it. Actually, he proably will tell you that all ML's have this nifty thing. Then somehow convince you to change your lifestyle into taking your luxury SUV with all-seasons off road in Death Valley or something.. Sorry, had to vent about salesmen on that.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        SloopJohnB
        • 3 Years Ago
        17" tires refers to the wheel diameter, as usual. Since tires are not marketed by their rolling diameter or rolling circumference there is no confusion except to those few off road junkies that like to refer to their doughnuts as 36" tires...sometimes a tire is just a tire! A wheel cover also hooks to a wheel. There are detachable wheel rims or locking rims that are a structural part of the wheel, i.e., the tire is slid onto the wheel and compressed enough to get the locking rim in place then inflated (in a cage if you please!) to lock the rim in place. A rim is the structural part of a wheel that holds the bead from flying out...it can be an integral part of the wheel casting or stamping or a detachable locking portion. Here's one example. http://i01.i.aliimg.com/photo/v0/351588221/Forklift_lock_ring_wheel_rim_6_00E.jpg
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Avinash Machado
      • 3 Years Ago
      Good for mild off roading.
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