2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 4Matic and ML350 BlueTec Review and Test Drive
The all-new 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class, which includes the ML350 BlueTec and the ML350 4Matic, refines the Mercedes SUV experience without reinventing the wheel. And despite significant upgrades to the platform and interior, pricing remains the same as the outgoing models.
I spent several days in Missoula, Montana driving the new M-Class models and Mercedes-Benz has clearly built on the strengths of the first two generations while making improvements in certain areas. Just like the previous models as well as the R-Class and GL-Class, the new M-Class is built at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which opened in 1997 specifically to produce the first-generation M-Class.
The M-Class is launching with two versions, the gasoline-powered ML350 4Matic and the diesel ML350 BlueTec. Both are understated and elegant, with sleek, sophisticated lines and a reworked front fascia that now incorporates the vertical corporate Mercedes-Benz grille and 3-pointed star emblem. Prominent design elements include the pronounced hood, the swept-back headlamps, the unique C-pillar design, and the top rear exaggerated spoiler (which is functional). In addition, the rear fascia has been significantly reworked.
While the same basic size and shape as last year’s models, the new M-Class is an inch longer, half an inch wider, and three-quarters of an inch lower than its predecessor. It also has improved storage capacity and a power liftgate is now standard.
INSIDE THE ML350
The new M-Class features many significant improvements to the interior. High quality materials abound, such as fine trim and leather seats. The center display is now larger (7”) and a new 4.5” display between the speedometer and tachometer provides navigation instructions, trip computer functionality, and other useful information. Buttons on the steering wheel provide scrolling as well as function and information selection controls for the display.
Attention to detail is evident everywhere. The steering wheel frames the instrument cluster without obscuring any information. Mercedes’ engineers neatly addressed a problem with the placement of the steering wheel stalks in earlier models. Previously, the cruise control stalk was placed high on the left of the steering column, but in the new M-Class the turn signal stalk is now at 10 o’clock and the cruise control is at 8 o’clock. This sounds trivial but it was far too easy to hit the wrong stalk in the older cars.
Mercedes’ Comand cockpit controller, which controls the central display, has been updated with two favorites buttons, making it more user friendly. For example, you can program them for favorite destinations, such as the doctor’s office or the gym – although for security reasons, I would not recommend programming your home address as a favorite.
One change I’m not a fan of is the relocation of the seat controls to the upper door panel. On the one hand, this makes the controls far more visible, and passengers no longer have to reach down and grope for the controls. However, I found having to reach forward counterintuitive; my hand instinctively reached down to the side of the seat to make adjustments each time I entered the vehicle. But someone driving the car full time should get used to the positioning. I also thought that Mercedes overused aluminum trim in the interior, especially in the center stack.
Other new features include Bluetooth audio streaming, LED daytime running lights, 19” aluminum wheels, heated front seats which are eight-way power adjustable, and aluminum roof rails.
Interior options include open-pore wood, ambient lighting, blind spot monitoring, leather seats and a heated steering wheel. A really cool (literally) optional feature is cupholders that heat and cool your beverage. For the tech savvy, there are optional headrest-mounted iPad docking stations.
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