Since making its debut in 1997, the Mercedes M-Class has always been a desirable choice in the large SUV class. The MkIII version of the rugged off-roader promises to be even more attractive, thanks to a boost in efficiency and slashed CO2 emissions.
There’s a choice of four and six-cylinder BlueTEC diesel engines, while UK models are only available in a single trim level: Sport. We test the ML 350 CDI model – and it faces Porsche’s Cayenne Diesel. The MkII car looks sleeker than the original and has a cleaner engine. It sets the benchmark for driver appeal and interior quality.
The other contender is our current large SUV favourite: the Land Rover Discovery 4. Refined, practical and unbeatable off-road, it’s a talented all-rounder that’s recently benefited from a host of updates, including a new eight-speed automatic gearbox.
So, will the brand new Mercedes sail to a simple victory in its first road test? Or will it endure a rough ride at the hands of a pair of tough rivals?
Land Rover Discovery 4 ★★★★
Despite recent improvements, the Discovery isn’t as clean as its rivals, but standard equipment is generous and residuals are strong. The Land Rover’s unique blend of utilitarian functionality and upmarket class still stands out, plus it’s hugely comfortable, spacious and very relaxing to drive.
Porsche Cayenne ★★★★
Porsche has combined a high-class interior with agile handling and a superb diesel engine. The Cayenne strikes the best balance between sporty dynamics and luxury, and edges the Mercedes into third. It’s the choice for those who don’t need the Land Rover’s off-road prowess and space.
Mercedes M-class ★★★★
Third place seems harsh for the new M-Class, because in reality it doesn’t do a lot wrong. It just lacks the all-round versatility of the Land Rover, while it’s no cleaner than the Porsche and doesn’t ride any better. Crucially, the Mercedes isn’t as engaging to drive, plus it’s more expensive.