The new Mercedes M-Class has to tackle the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 head-on. Longer and wider than its predecessor, it’s certainly big enough, but this ML 250 CDI has a 2.1-litre four-cylinder engine.
An engine that size in a 2,100kg 4x4 sounds like a struggle, but the 500Nm of torque ensures the ML is no slouch. It belies its weight with 0-62mph in nine seconds and strong in-gear response.
It’s not as quick or refined as the ML 350 CDI, but you can shift between the seven gears using steering-wheel paddles when you want to push on, or leave the box in auto mode for smooth, effortless progress. And while the engine sounds slightly harsher than the larger six-cylinder diesel, it’s never too noisy.
The steering is weighty and a decent amount of lock is needed to turn, while there’s no shortage of stopping power and very little dive under braking for an SUV of this size. Permanent four-wheel drive means there’s plenty of grip and Mercedes’ Downhill Speed Regulator system is standard.
The main benefit of the four-cylinder diesel engine is reduced running costs. The ML 250’s claimed 44.8mpg economy is 5.6mpg better than the ML 350’s and it emits 24g/km less CO2, too, at 165g/km. That’s more efficient than any of its rivals.
Inside, there’s typical Merc quality and class, solid switches and lots of kit, including keyless entry, an iPod connection, dual climate control and Bluetooth. The faux leather seats are quite firm, yet they’re supportive rather than uncomfortable, with a wide range of electrical adjustment, plus heating and cooling functions.
There’s great detailing, with silver dial surrounds and optional textured wood grain inserts. You also get a class-leading 2,010 litres of boot space thanks to the flat-folding back seats.
So although the ML 250 CDI trades power for lower running costs, it’s still an impressively swift, spacious and refined 4x4.