This new ML is about an inch longer and a half-inch wider, and it squats 0.8-inch lower than before. Cargo capacity behind the rear seat has grown seven cubic feet.
The baseball bat of a turn-signal/wiper stalk thankfully has been moved to the 10-o’clock position on the steering column, and its cruise-control function has been relegated to a second stalk at 8 o’clock. Unfortunately, you’ll still find yourself flicking at the column-mounted gear selector whenever you desire wipers. It’s annoying.
On road, we drove a gas-powered ML350 with the Dynamic Handling package. That $5150 option includes the Active Curve System (ACS), which decouples the anti-roll bars both off-road and during straight-ahead freeway slogs. We never felt it coupling or decoupling. We never felt it doing much of anything, to tell the truth, although body motions were satisfactorily controlled in the hills. But body motions were also satisfactorily controlled in a non-ACS ML we sampled, and that one didn’t max out at a cosmically startling $73, 055. As the ML negotiates turns, you can still feel huge lateral load transfers, and the seats’ weak bolsters further suggest that this SUV might possess grand ambitions, but handling is not among them.At least interstate tracking is flawless. /p p The seven-speed transmission’s upshifts and kickdowns are supremely gentle, and engine roar is reduced to a velvety hum seemingly emanating from an adjacent ZIP Code. Fit and finish are of a quality that should make assembly workers in storm-smacked Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, proud. For two riders, back-seat legroom is excellent, kneeroom superb, headroom vast. /p table border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="0"x">
We nosed an ML350 BlueTec diesel off-road, through sippy holes, bogs, and ugly ruts. Over hill and dirty dale, the long-travel suspension, the silky dampers, and the rock-solid platform conspire to improve the experience. You’ll find that the road-biased M+S rubber, however, is not your ally in the mud. The diesel engine definitely is an ally—it’s among the most velvety oil-burners ever installed in a passenger car. No clatter, no soot, no odor, no tactile evidence to reveal its baser origins. The driver notices only a slightly delayed throttle response, an added half-second of laziness at step-off.
Eight-cylinder MLs will arrive in the first quarter of 2012. Two-wheel-drive models will follow, as will a more off-road-biased version with a terrain selector and a two-speed transfer case.
Mercedes says the new ML is only a few pounds heavier than its forebear, but the vehicle feels massive, a little slow-witted, and somewhat resistant to course corrections. If you’re looking for driving gratification or personality, well, it will have to derive from the M-class’s luxurious fittings and from its soothing soundlessness. Ten minutes after climbing out, you’ll remember the awesome stereo more than any dynamic merits. Sometimes progress smells like waffles.