• Image Credit: Autoblog

Mercedes is billing the third-generation of its M-Class, which pioneered the luxury SUV segment back in 1997, as a rugged off-roader with amped up intelligent safety features. But the increasingly uniform luxury SUV segment has spread across the auto market like thrush: the same garden variety models have the curvaceous noses and contours with all brands copycatting each other.

But does that mean that the M-Class can’t distinguish itself?

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What Is It?
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What Is It?

A four-door luxury SUV. It’s the third generation of the vehicle that sits about 3/4-inch lower than the previous model. It’s also an inch longer and half an inch wider (in case you hit a growth spurt or gorged yourself). It has a bold front grille with the typical Mercedes peace sign. It has a chrome skid plate that curves from the front bumper up toward the grille. Its angled C-pillar distinguishes the M-Class from the competitors that are increasingly uniform in appearance.

It comes in three models:

-Base ML350 4dr All-wheel Drive 4MATIC
-Base ML350 BlueTEC 4dr All-wheel Drive 4MATIC
-Base ML 350 BlueTEC 4dr All-wheel Drive 4MATIC

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How Much?
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How Much?

MSRP: $48,990-$50,490

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Key Stats
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Key Stats

-4MATIC all-wheel-drive system
-ATTENTION ASSIST driver-drowsiness monitoring and adaptive brake technology, plus an available Driver Assistance Package featuring DISTRONIC PLUS adaptive cruise control with PRE-SAFE Brake and new Active Lane Keeping and Blind Spot Assist technologies
-Steering wheel paddles for shifting the transmission manually
-Seven-inch COMAND display -an optional hard-drive-based GPS navigation system with a 3D display, a compass overlay, and dynamic route guidance
-Heated and cooled cup coolers
-2012 ML350 V6 engine with direct fuel injection and multi-spark ignition. Piezo ceramic crystal-electric fuel injectors spray gas directly into the combustion chambers
-Sirius-XM radio
-Parktronic’s advanced Parking assist
-The ML350 BlueTec 3.0-liter V6 Diesel Engine is less wussy and produces 240 hp and 455 lb.-ft. of torque.
-7-speed automatic transmission
-Built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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What's The Competition?
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What's The Competition?

The competition for this car is a bit variegated. There are, of course, the luxury German crossovers and SUVs that could tempt the consumer away from the M-Class: the Porsche Cayenne, the BMW X5, Audi Q5. To some extent, the Lexus RX 350 and Cadillac SRX could poach buyers away from the pioneer in the luxury SUV segment. But the reasons for staying with the M-Class abound...

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What We Like
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What We Like

Potential Mercedes customers will be glad to know they can fit a set of golf clubs (Ping driver and all) in the trunk without having to angle or bend. As a left-over from the Daimler-Chrysler legacy, this car's platform contains vestiges shared with the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It felt rugged enough to take on the Montana terrain--dust, rocks, mountainous roads and all.

Drivers will delight in the great versatility for passengers and cargo, with the cab seats folding down for more storage room.

In terms of aesthetics the Mercedes still maintains a unique quality in its shape: an angled C-pillar and the smooth rear lip spoiler distinguishes the SUV from competitors. Other cars appear strange evolved amphibians--larger outgrowths of their sports car iterations. The M-Class carries on the Mercedes curvature and oval-eyed headlights without compromising its singular essence.

In terms of off-road vehicles, the Gelandewagen and Unimog are probably tougher, but who cares? This car is more at home taking the kids to tennis lessons than driving through the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

That said, a direct-injection V6 engine, gives this car power, and the diesel gives it a little more vavoom. The electro-mechanical rack-and-pinion steering unit offers fuel savings without the need for a hydraulic power pump.

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What We Don't Like
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What We Don't Like

The gas M-Class gets 17 City/22 Hwy mpg while,  the two BlueTEC diesel iterations nab 20 City/25 Hwy mpg. Though the margin may seem trivial, the differential is substantial. Peppy this car is not in the gas version. The ML350 BlueTEC Diesel Engine is less wussy and produces 240 hp and 455 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s a 3.0-liter V6 and, in our mind, the only true choice for this vehicle.

On the bumps, the car pitches a little more than AOL Autos would like like with its double-wishbone front suspensions and its four-link rear suspension.

The safety technology in the car is expansive and at times borders on the excessive. The Distronic Plus is a sophisticated system of radar technology that includes ATTENTION ASSIST, which gives vibration feedback on the steering wheel if you cross the center or outside line, and PRE-SAFE, which senses an impending accident and takes measures to slow down or stop the car before impact. Optional Lane Keeping Assist directs the driver back into the lane if there’s a swerve or divergence from path.

As much as AOL Autos appreciates the instinct behind this safety feature, we'd opt out at the dealership because of its invasiveness on driving control. If a small drift brings you away from the road, you may be perfectly content turning the wheel with my own two hands.

One more small gripe. The AOL Autos test driver is not barrel-chested, but the seat belt came in with a little too much of a Heimlich tug. It’s nice to feel secure, but a man’s gotta breathe.

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Bottom Line
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Bottom Line

It’s a great buy for a luxury SUV with enough room to tote around your kids, your gear, and your luggage. From a tech standpoint, it’s incredibly advanced--down to the award winning cup heaters and coolers. The handsome cockpit makes for a supremely deluxe driving experience and performance in the diesel drive trains will not disappoint.

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