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Mercedes M-Class

As if developing one of the world's best luxury saloons hasn't kept Mercedes busy enough, the maker has also been putting the finishing touches to its latest M-Class 4x4. The first right-hand-drive versions have just arrived in the UK, and Auto Express got behind the wheel

The outgoing M-Class wasn't a patch on modern rivals, but the new car is set to shake up the premium SUV sector. It's great to look at, well built and as capable on the road as off it. There will be an engine for all tastes - only the prices detract from what is a potential class leader.

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As if developing one of the world's best luxury saloons hasn't kept Mercedes busy enough, the maker has also been putting the finishing touches to its latest M-Class 4x4. The first right-hand-drive versions have just arrived in the UK, and Auto Express got behind the wheel.

Before you climb in, it's hard not to be impressed by the design. Only from the rear three-quarter view does the big Merc look awkward; elsewhere it's muscular and stylish.

Inside, many parts and dials will be familiar to drivers of Mercedes' other models, but crucially everything feels well built and of a high quality. There's lots of space, too.

Unlike its predecessor, the new M-Class does without traditional 4x4 gizmos such as a locking centre differential and low-range gearbox in standard form. Instead, it relies on hi-tech systems linked to the brakes and stability control to get you through sticky situations.

Our test drive proved this technology still makes the M-Class a capable off-roader. But for those who want to go one step further, a mud-plugging 'pro' pack including low ratios is a £1,320 option.

However, few models will face anything more slippery than a gravel driveway. Where the M really proves its worth is on the tarmac; it rides smoothly, with taut handling that's infinitely better than previously.

Our test model featured Mercedes' refined and punchy new V6 diesel. A lower-output oil-burner will follow, along with a mighty AMG version, but for now the only alternatives are V6 and V8 petrols.

The price of progress is £2,500 - that's how much the M-Class's cost has risen, with the entry-level car £36,710. It's a lot of money, but buyers get a capable, versatile 4x4.

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