2009 M-Class New Car Test Drive
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class has a new look inside and out for 2009. More significantly, a new ML320 BlueTEC joins the M-Class with state-of-the-art clean-diesel technology. That's in addition to the usual gas-powered models.
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV is just the right size and is set up well for many families. It isn't so large that it's cumbersome or hard to park, but it comfortably seats five and carries plenty of stuff. As daily transportation, it doesn't feel like a truck, and it won't beat its driver or passengers up. Yet it has the potential for some fairly serious off-road adventuring, and it can tow up to 7,200 pounds. The M-Class is more than powerful enough in any of its variations. And it offers the safety equipment, luxury accoutrements, style and smooth finish expected of a Mercedes-Benz.
For 2009, a new ML320 BlueTEC joins the line (replacing the previous ML320 CDI turbo-diesel). BlueTEC is the latest clean diesel technology from Mercedes designed to meet the most stringent 50-state emissions limits, while delivering an EPA-estimated 24 mpg on the highway. Yet, like its predecessor, the 3.0-liter BlueTEC diesel V6 generates 398 pound-feet of torque, comparable to a large-displacement V8.
Also new is a lower-priced, two-wheel-drive version of the V6-powered ML350. Continuing for 2009 is the four-wheel-drive ML350, along with the V8-powered ML550 and the ultra-high performance ML63 AMG. (All of these run on gasoline.)
The ML63 AMG features a 6.2-liter V8 that generates 503 horsepower, with AMG tuning and enhancements to match all that power. Though considerably more expensive than other M-Class models, the ML63 AMG is a true high-performance machine. Its engine is hand-built by a single technician. It bursts from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, according to Mercedes, with top speed electronically limited to 155 mph. Plus, it comes with the full load of luxury features.
With 382 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque, the 5.5-liter ML550 reaches 60 in 5.6 seconds. It sports the same front end look as the ML63, but without all the amenities and super-performance equipment, and starts at roughly $34,000 less.
Since it first appeared for 1998, the M-Class has helped make luxury SUVs a familiar part of the automotive landscape. The second and current generation, which arrived for 2006, is larger inside and out than the original, and also aerodynamically slipperier. Still, the M-Class is strictly a five-seater. You'll want to look at the GL-Class for seven-seat accommodations in a Mercedes SUV.
The current model is built using car-like unibody construction with isolated front and rear subframes, a technique that emphasizes rigidity, decreased vibration and lowers weight. A double-wishbone front suspension and four-link independent rear suspension emphasize sedan-style dynamics. Yet with a two-range transfer case on most models, and a sophisticated control program for the full-time all-wheel-drive, the M-Class can get its driver through some tricky off-road situations. M-Class buyers will pay a premium over many other comparably equipped luxury SUVs, but those who appreciate the cache and engineering strengths of the Mercedes brand will find plenty to like here.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class includes five models. Each is equipped with a seven-speed automatic transmission. Electronically managed 4ETS full-time all-wheel drive is optional in the base-level ML350 and standard on all other models. Beside that, the primary distinguishing feature for each model is its engine.
The ML350, available in 2WD ($45,475) or 4WD ($47,975), is powered by the latest-generation Mercedes 3.5-liter V6, generating 268 horsepower. It comes with cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, automatic headlights, eight-way power seats, sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, Tele-Aid emergency communication, COMAND control interface, an eight-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer, and 19-inch wheels with P255/50R19 all-season tires.
The ML320 BlueTEC ($49,475) is equipped similarly but powered by a 210-hp 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6 rated at 398 pound-feet of torque.
The ML550 ($56,675) gets the latest four-valve 382-hp V8 and shares the more aggressive front end styling of the ML63 AMG.
Option package Premium 1 ($3,850) adds a rearview camera, voice-control navigation, HD Radio, Sirius Satellite Radio with Real-Time Traffic, iPod/MP3 media interface cable (in glovebox), power liftgate, auto-dimming inside mirror, power folding outside mirrors, memory for driver's seat and mirrors, power adjustable steering column, and a 115v power outlet. Premium 2 ($6,600) combines all of the above with harman/kardon Logic7 surround-sound with 12 speakers, Parktronic parking assist, passenger seat memory, and Keyless Go.
The leather package ($1,995) includes burl walnut wood trim, a wood and leather steering wheel, and ambient interior lighting; and a Heating Package ($1,390) that warms the steering wheel as well as the front and rear seats. A Lighting Package ($950) adds bi-xenon headlamps that shine around curves, a headlamp washing system, and fog lamps. Rear-seat DVD entertainment ($1,850) is also available. Airmatic suspension is offered on the ML320 Bluetec and ML550 ($1,600).
The ML63 AMG ($90,975) features a 6.2-liter V8 that generates 503 hp, along with an AMG SpeedShift transmission, Airmatic suspension with AMG tuning, high-performance P295/40ZR20 tires on 20-inch wheels, larger brakes, AMG instruments, premium leather upholstery, and the contents of the Premium 1 and 2 Packages.
Safety features on all models includes two-stage front airbags for the driver and front passenger, side-impact airbags front and rear torso protection, and curtain-style head protection airbags. A rollover sensor can activate both the seat-belt tensioners and curtain airbags if the vehicle senses an imminent rollover. An Electronic Stability Program comes standard along with advanced anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. A tire pressure warning system is also standard.
New for 2009 is Pre-Safe, a system which can actually sense an impending collision. Introduced previously on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans, Pre-Safe automatically tightens the front seat belts and moves the front passenger seat to a position that can provide better protection. Side windows close to provide better support for the curtain air bags. If the system senses an impending rollover, the sunroof also closes.