“Build it, and they will come” is most likely what the German automaker from Stuttgart was thinking when they decisively chose to build the M-Class crossover/SUV in 1997 at their then new plant in Alabama. The first generation vehicle was engineered as a body on frame, truck-like platform. The 2005 second generation and the current all–new third generation 2012 M-Class are unibody constructed which is a direct comparison to a car or CUV. But Mercedes-Benz considers the M-Class a true SUV because of it thorough off-road capabilities. However, the U.S. will not receive vehicles outfitted with the off-road package. That’s most likely due to the fact that we butter our SUVs and treat them more like a luxury sedan than a rugged 4-wheeler.
One can say that Mercedes-Benz is on a 2011 world tour right now, continuously introducing new iterations of their most revered vehicles including the world’s first 4-door coupe (CLS). And they have a motor vehicle for every position on the field. You need a QB? They have the iconic SLS AMG. Running backs and receivers are covered with the CL and E; lineman get the GL; DBs compare to the agile SLK; special teams flow with the GL and M; kick returners possess the speed, power and agility of the SL; placekickers and punters get the A and B-Class; while the coach is an S-Class. And when it’s 4th and short and you need the fullback to smash it up the middle, then here comes the G-Wagon!
With almost a half million M-Classes sold in the U.S. and 1.2 million worldwide, Mercedes is elated to keep SUV buyers happy with a reformed M-Class model that appropriated the strengths of its forerunner and improved on performance, efficiency, safety and modern technological conveniences. What did you expect from a company that has been in the auto business for 125 years? It’s in their DNA.
On sale in September, Mercedes will offer two all-wheel drive models (4MATIC) to the American market: the direct-injection gasoline powered 2012 ML350 4MATIC and the clean diesel 2012 ML350 BlueTEC 4MATIC. The ML250 BlueTEC 4MATIC — the most fuel efficient of the crew — will not make its way over. The ML350 4MATIC receives a 3.5-liter V6 with 302-horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque while the ML350 BlueTEC 4MATIC is outfitted with a 3.0-liter diesel engine rated at 240-horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque. A 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission is mated to both engines. Collectively, the redesigned M-Class is 25% more fuel efficient than prior models. The U.S. is not keen on clean diesel yet, but there is no reason for denying it. Forget about the truckers and buses you’re used to. Today’s diesels are clean, powerful and everlasting; sometimes 600 miles on one tank! As of now the hybrid model hasn’t been a subject of conversation; but we’re sure it will be soon.
In December of 2007, Mercedes began the arduous process of assuring the new M-Class was a true off-road adventurer. Virtual test drives were conducted to ensure they had realistic calculation inputs for the chassis and suspension. In 2009, actual endurance testing began in the deserts and dunes of Namibia and South Africa. Mercedes-Benz feels the M-Class must be instilled with true grit because their customers expect it. Therefore, the vehicle can be outfitted with the AIRMATIC air suspension, Adaptive Damping System (ADS) for individual and automatic wheel adjustments, and Active Curve System for both dynamic driving (reduces roll by way of front and rear stabilizer bars) and off-roading which allows for additional suspension flexibility. The ON&OFFROAD package gives the vehicle operator a range of six drive programs for manipulating road and weather conditions. A circular knob on the center console allows the driver to choose between Automatic, Offroad 1, Offroad 2, Winter, Sport or Trailer.
Stylistically, the new M-Class is a bit tougher and stronger on the eyes, has more definitive lines and sexier wheels. Symmetrically designed, the interior is pure luxury and mixes beautiful veneers with aluminum, grade A leathers and classy ornamentation. No longer will you see wide spaces, plain plastics or open areas. A bigger 7” display hosts all of the COMAND system’s operations as well as Bluetooth audio streaming, 10GB music storage, HD radio, rearview camera, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, navigation and more. Rear legroom is good and the seats fold flat for added storage.
A hidden trailer hitch just might be the coolest feature on the new M-Class. Push out a tab on the left of the tailgate (once open) and the hiding hitch flips out from under the vehicle’s frame. It not only keeps the rear attractive but also is easy to handle. But again, the U.S. will not receive this add-on, as our receivers are different sizes opposed to the uniformed receiver in Europe.
Safety and tech-savvy advancements keeps the M-Class ahead of the competition. A highly rigid steel unibody is reinforced with high-strength magnesium cross members and noise reduction materials. Technology enhancements include ATTENTION ASSIST, ADAPTIVE BRAKE, Mercedes-Benz mbrace, Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Distronic Plus, Park Assist with PARKTRONIC, Reversing camera, and Pre-Safe which can estimate the likelihood of an accident and prepare the vehicle for a collision, such as closing the sunroof and windows. As well, the M-Class has an arsenal of airbags including two-stage adaptive airbags, knee bags, side bags with thorax/pelvis protection and rear side bags. “To improve upon the already high level of safety of the current M-Class, we have worked to perfect occupant protection, enhanced active safety and, by adapting various assistance systems, we are drawn even closer to our vision of accident-free driving. And that, of course, also benefits all other road users,” said Professor Dr. Rodolfo Scho?neburg, Head of Passive Safety.
Stay tuned for Automotive Rhythms road test of the 2012 M-Class in Montana next month!