Meet the big SUV with small bills. In an effort to undercut the running costs of its BMW X5 rival, Mercedes has introduced a frugal four-cylinder turbodiesel to the new M-Class line-up – and it will go on sale next April.
The super-economical ML 250 CDI joins the revised 3.0-litre V6 diesel ML 350 CDI in the range. The newcomer has a 2.1-litre powerplant, with a healthy 201bhp power output and 500Nm of torque. That matches the punch of the previous entry-level V6 model – an impressive feat. Even better is the fact that the ML 250 CDI is the most frugal car in its class, with fuel economy of 48mpg and CO2 emissions of 158g/km.
But can it cope on the move? Four-cylinder units are generally noisier and rougher than their V6 counterparts, yet Mercedes has done a fantastic job of muting the diesel engine. Motorway driving is also a relaxing affair, thanks to an impressive absence of wind noise and tyre roar.
The ride is very comfortable, especially with the optional air-suspension. Body roll is kept in check reasonably well, too. The M-Class doesn’t have the agility or steering precision of an X5, but it’s much more enjoyable to drive than its predecessor, and still covers great distances in a very relaxed manner – as a large Mercedes should.
Performance isn’t staggering, with 0-62mph taking 9.0 seconds, but the only time you really notice a slight lack of shove is when you try to overtake at high speeds – the ML 250 CDI needs more time to gather momentum than the more powerful ML 350 version.
Off-road ability is great, though, and Mercedes offers a hill descent system, lockable differentials and several traction settings as part of an option pack. We tried a route full of steep inclines, loose rock, muddy tracks and deep water, yet the four-wheel-drive M-Class didn’t struggle once.
Cabin quality was already excellent in the previous version, but this new generation is another step forward. The leather-covered dash and unvarnished wood are the highlights of a
luxurious and solid interior.
Space won’t be a problem, either, with huge amounts of room for all occupants. The boot can swallow 610 litres of luggage with the rear seats up, or 2,010 litres with them down.