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Mercedes M-Class SUV is all-new for 2012

By Arv Voss, September 24th, 2011

Mercedes-Benz introduces its third-generation M-Class for 2012. The M-Class takes to showroom floors loaded with new standard features and options, showcasing state-of-the-art safety technology.

The 2012 M-Class is 1-inch longer, 1/2-inch wider, 3/4-inch lower and boasts an improved coefficient of drag while tipping the scale at 22 pounds more than that its predecessor and providing an additional 6.8 cubic feet of cargo space.

The new M-Class has an overall persona and attitude that reflects a bolder, more athletic image, with dynamic character lines, but retains the familiar, signature "C" pillar or sail panel of the original M-Class. There is no visible exhaust outlet and there is a large integrated top rear spoiler along with a winged lower diffuser.

The 2012 M-Class delivers on the expected luxurious ambience with front seat controls located on the doors and with reclining rear seat backs. A 7-inch LCD screen displays navigation, as well as monitoring other vehicle functions, and large polished wood panels accent the doors, dash, instrument panel and substantial four-spoke steering wheel. Cupholders now provide both a heating and cooling function with a temperature range from 56 degrees to 101 degrees. Addressing a long-standing complaint issue, the multi-function stalk and cruise control stalk positions have been reversed and repositioned, eliminating the unintentional activation of one or the other.

strong>Two powertrains are available for 2012: diesel and gasoline.

Powering the ML350 BlueTEC is a 3.0-liter 24-valve diesel-fueled V-6 that produces 240 horsepower at 3,600 rpm along with 455 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,600-2,400 rpm.

Motive force for the ML350 is generated by an all-new 3.5-liter Direct Injection gasoline V-6 engine that delivers 302 horses at 6,500 rpm and 273 lb.-ft. of torque in a range from 3,500 to 5,250 rpm. Both engines are coupled to a revised 7-speed automatic transmission. The transmission meters energy to all four wheels via Mercedes-Benz's 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system.

I spent a full day of motoring in the ML350 -- both on and off-road. Its base price was set at $48,990, but after adding an extensive list of optionally priced extra features and equipment, the final sticker came to $75,615. Yes folks, that's a ton of extra money.

This particular ML350 was loaded to the hilt. In fact, the high-tech safety features represent the strong point of this latest M-Class Mercedes.

Some of the options were the Dynamic Handling Package with Adaptive Damping System; Active Curve System; AIRMATIC air suspension system; 20-inch, Twin-five-spoke alloy wheels; Panorama sunroof; trailer hitch; 3-zone automatic climate control; Night View Assist, Driver Assistance Package with Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist.

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 with the 3.5-liter Gasoline Direct Injection V-6 is an incredibly safe and capable SUV. It performs well in every possible application. Admittedly, most consumers will never engage in off-roading activities more severe than a shopping mall parking lot, but if the urge emerges, the vehicle is ready when you are. It's not an extreme rock-crawler, but it's certainly capable of traversing snow-covered logging roads.

Acceleration is responsive, shifting gears is smooth, and the ride quality is ever changing to achieve maximum comfort. Steering is electromechanical rather than hydraulic, providing excellent handling characteristics.

The ML350 ensures a safe, relaxed and calm driving experience with optimized performance. It is now extremely elegant, but in a bold and athletic way. My test vehicle was priced on the high side of the equation, but it is also built to enjoy for considerably less.

Specifications

Base price $48,990 (as tested: $75,615)
Displacement 3.0-liter
Epa mileage rating 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 24.6 gal.
Horsepower (net) 302 at 6500 rpm
Motor type 24-valve DOHC V-6 w/DI
Overall length 189.1 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 273 at 3500-5250 rpm
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD midsize SUV
Wheelbase 114.8 in.
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