2012 Mercedes ML350 CDI review: All boxes checked!

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We did this ML350 CDI road test review in a question and answer format, just to make it a tad different from our regular reviews and a little more interesting for you. Do let us know if you like it.

So is it an all-new ML? A complete overhaul of the previous iteration?

Well, the new ML does share plenty of bits with its forebear.  The platform is essentially the same, but Merecedes-Benz have made thousands of changes to make sure that the new version is substantially better than its predecessor. It’s a completely new design, features new engines and drives much, much better than the previous version.

What exactly are the design changes over the previous version?

The new M-class looks more aggressive, athletic and imposing. The face now has the M-B family eyes, the grille is wider, with three slats drenched in finest quality chrome and holding the big three pointed star in the middle. The bumper is where the M350CDI exudes most of its newfound aggression. The big air dam widens in AMG fashion at the bottom to denote performance and power, and is flanked by two smaller air intakes which hold the daytime running LED lights. Along with the air vents towards the windscreen on the bonnet, the front end of the new ML350CDI looks imposing and purposeful.

So the changes have been made only to the front end?

Not at all! The overall exterior dimensions are different. The new ML is bigger, but without looking so. The simplistic profile of the earlier M has been replaced by a tighter, better toned look. Two strong and straight parallel creases appear as though scooped out with the help of a flat bottomed spoon, and endow the M-Class’ shoulder the tension which makes it appear fit for action even with its bigger size.

Tail-lamps, tail-gate and the rear bumper, everything has been given a thorough overhaul. The ML-Class, thus, in its latest form looks contemporary and extremely well proportioned. It carries an aura of muscularity without coming out as a brute.

The new M-class, to us, is one of the best looking mainstream M-B cars today on the road, and also one of the best looking premium SUVs around. Unlike some new contestants on the field, which are the mini-me versions of their elder siblings, the new M-class has a character of its own. In 2012 version, the M-class has grown up to the times, and comes across as a modern machine, while still carrying forth every bit of its design DNA. Mercedes-Benz have pulled off a stellar job with the new M.
The car you see here in these pictures looks even better with those massive 20 inch AMG wheels. It’s the Edition1 special edition car. The normal ML350 CDI comes equipped with 19 inchers.

What’s under the hood?

The much acclaimed Mercedes-Benz 3.0 liter V6 diesel power plant – delivering a heavyweight boxer’s punch in a silken glove. The 2987cc V6 is capable of producing 255bhp of peak power and 620 Nm of intestine wrenching torque between 1600-2400 rpm. The powerplant is mated with the butter smooth 7G-Tronic transmission known to shift gears so surreptitiously that sometimes even the drivers don’t get to know when the ratios get swapped.

With so much power and torque it must be a hoot to drive!

The M-class lineage hasn’t really been the one to please the hooters. It has always reveled in carrying its occupants in utmost luxury. It’s one of the most comfortable cars to travel in, anywhere in the world, and the engine and transmission have been tuned to facilitate that objective.

The V6 on the M-class is silent and delivers its power in an incredibly linear and supple fashion. The M-class won’t lunge forward wildly even if you dug the pedal in the floor, it adheres to the classic M-B tradition of refinement and sophistication. The power is laid down in an incredibly progressive manner, negating any jerks or yanks. The transmission too is on the gentler side, don’t expect this one to hold to revs till the end of the world.

That 620Nm of mammoth torque allows the ML to pull confidently from really low revs, and the ML350CDI makes the most of that reserve, upshifting inconspicuously at the first opportunity it comes across, as long as you are driving at a leisurely pace that is. This maintains the tranquility within the cabin and aids in-cabin comfort. The engine is quite muted for a diesel too. It gets audible as a distant drone as the revs build up though.

Are you suggesting it’s slow and boring?

Not by any measure. The ML350CDI is a potent SUV which has the firepower to pass almost every other vehicle on the road. It does its 0-100 sprint in sub 8 seconds and doesn’t seem strained at even 200 km/h. The ascent up the speedo is rapid with some seriously quick in-gear acceleration. You won’t be thrilled as all that happens though, as the M-Class prefers going about its job silently.

The transmission is inclined more towards refinement and subtlety and not outright quickness. Kickdowns are judicious and require the tacho needle to be well below the redline to be facilitated. The transmission itself works in a self-assured, loosened-up manner. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not slow, but it’s not itching to shift at every drop of the hat either. It’ll avoid a shift if it could be avoided, unless you are literally riding the accelerator pedal that is.

How does it feel from behind the wheel?

The steering is uncannily light for a vehicle this size, at slow speeds – makes light work of negotiating urban driving conditions. It stiffens up nicely as the wheels start spinning faster though. On a straight line, the ML class feels planted and unshakeable, even hitting a double ton doesn’t put any doubt in your mind. The steering feel isn’t as true as a Beemer, but it’s reassuring enough for you to make lane changes at high speeds with confidence. Even with its 2.2 ton weight and huge stature the ML350 CD is a well-balanced machine and always puts forth a confident step.

There are two modes to choose from for the Airmatic air-suspension – Sport and Comfort. We chose the sport mode while hurtling the M-class around corners for obvious reasons. Mercedes have ironed out the extra softness from the earlier M in its latest avatar. Unlike the cushy suspension feel on the earlier model this M takes to bends rather well. The body of this machine feels finely balanced and there is no sense of uncontrollable girth. Body roll is well under control and the M-class doesn’t have any of the unnerving wallowiness that the SUVs of this size are notorious for – no pitching or rolling here, loads of grip from the wide Pirelli rubber and impressive turn ins even at high speeds – impressive! Driving the big machine around the windy roads leading up to Aamby Valley was more fun that we had expected it to be.

Knowing the luxury oriented focus of the M-class, it comes across as an exceptionally good handler. It’s no X5 though, and is not meant for an out-and-out assault on the road. You should be looking elsewhere if attacking corners tops your list. And if you are looking at an SUV to do that, then you should be looking at the vehicle I just mentioned.

Does the improved handling have any bearings on ride comfort?

The ride is slightly on the firmer side, but in a good sense. We had our test car riding on 20 inch wheels with 45 profile tyres. This had a marginal impact on the quality of ride. Even so, we didn’t really have much to complain about. The ride quality wasn’t quite as wafty as expected at low speeds. The sound and muffled impact of wheels passing bigger bumps and potholes occasionally managed to barge into the cabin. With speed, however, the ride flattens out really well. Choosing the comfort mode for the air-suspension at low to medium speeds helps improve the composure. The stock M class with its 19 inch wheels and higher profile tyres should offer an even better ride.

There has been a tradeoff as regards ride quality, in favor of a more reassuring driving feel. The M-class still manages to pull off one of the most settled in-cabin experience as regards ride quality. As always, the big M manages to let the occupants walk out fresh from the cabin, irrespective of the length of the journey.

How’s the cabin?

It’s lovely! The stitched leather dashboard, leather wrapped seats with some of the best cushioning and bolstering we have ever experienced, veneered black ashwood inserts in the dash and immaculate craftsmanship – everything is built to astound. The cabin of the M class is comprised of the best quality materials and appointed in the most tasteful fashion. The dashboard, seats, center console and almost every other part of the M-class’s cabin shouts quality and sophistication.  Excellence abounds across the cabin, raising the interior quality and aesthetical appeal of this big SUV a notch above its peers.

There is plenty of room for the back benchers, with the most comfortable seats laid out for their comfort. Head / leg room comes in acres here – nothing to complain about whatsoever. The back seat can accommodate three abreast without any problem, there is enough width. However, the shape of the seats (less under thigh support for the middle occupant) is such that only two occupants would be able to enjoy the luxury in true fashion.

For storage convenience, you have ample cubbyholes and bottle / cup holders. The central armrest features two cavernous sections to keep odds and ends. The boot is a humongous 690 litres, and even without putting the fold flat rear seats to use, is capable of playing a key role in helping you move a house.

Can it off-road?

The M-class comes with respectable hardware to take you off the beaten trail, with the air suspension raising the ground clearance helping further. It’s equipped with the 4Matic permanent 4 wheel drive which is sufficiently capable of pulling you out of a rut. The M-class, however is not the car meant to be taken for a jungle expedition through shallow rivers and slippery marshes. It’s a road going machine which can occasionally do more than normal off-roading for you, if you don’t care for the gloss of your paint that is. If you are, however, an adventurer who goes out in the wild often, you should be looking at other options, including the legendary G-Wagen, if you have the money to spare that is.

The M-class also comes with an optional off-road package, allowing the driver to choose from six various drive modes, suiting various terrains and weather conditions. The system is operated using a rotary control on the centre console, which adapts the AIRMATIC settings and the drivetrain to suit the specific requirements. Our test car was NOT outfitted with the system. The drive maps available in the optional off-road package include:

  • Automatic – covers the wide operating spectrum of everyday driving
  • Offroad 1 – light terrain, tracks, driving over fields
  • Offroad 2 – challenging off-road terrain with climbs
  • Winter – for driving in wintry conditions on roads affected by freezing rain, snow or ice, or with snow chains
  • Sport – for serious driving along winding roads
  • Trailer – optimises start-off, manoeuvring and braking characteristics when towing a trailer

How long is the feature list?

Like all Mercedes cars, the M350 CDI is loaded to the gills with features, and then it has a few more. To start with, it’s equipped with a micro hybrid ECO start/stop function along with brake energy recuperation. There is no manual transmission, and the 7G-Tronic auto tranny comes as standard across the range. A fully electric steering system means that the M-class is capable of parking itself, with the Active Parking Assist tech. You also get Attention Assist, which would warn you in case it detects that you are too weary to drive safely.

Other equipment includes cruise control, reversing camera, Airmatic suspension with dual modes, dual zone Thermotronic climate control, an electric parking brake, electric sunroof and adjustable seats with memory.

You also get Comand Online interface, which is the latest Mercedes vehicle information / infotainment system. The Comand online system uses some M-B developed apps to keep you connected on the go. These apps which include Google Places and Facebook help you find directions and stay connected while on the move

All that jazz apart, the usual army of Mercedes active and passive safety aids are all there in the new M-class.

So what’s your verdict?

There are a dozen other premium SUVs in the market today to choose from. Most of them, especially the new, less expensive ones, compromise on key factors such as space and features to bring luxury to you for cheap. But to be very honest, as we have experienced over the years, these smaller vehicles are, well, compromised – and it’s quite evident when you spend some time with them.

The M-class stands tall as a true, unadulterated Luxury SUV brand which offers everything that the segment really stands for. It is undoubtedly one of the most luxurious and comfortable vehicles in its class across the world. It’s a genuinely impressive driving package in its latest form, is laden with features and makes no compromises in terms of the luxury feel of the interior either. It looks great, has enviable road presence, proudly carries the three pointed star on its grille, and last, but not the least is a fairly capable off-roader too.

At the price point of Rs 57.2 lakh, comparing it with the price and equipment of the competition, we have to say that the M350 CDI is an absolute no-brainer. The deal is sweetened further with the recent introduction of the smaller engined ML250CDI, which is being offered at a mind boggling Rs 47 lakh, making it an absolute steal!

If you are looking at a premium SUV with a Rs 50 lakh budget, there is absolutely no way you can ignore the ambidextrous ML – it’s an absolute all-rounder.

Check out the rear view camera above the rear license plate

Tail-gate is electrically operated.

Sunroof is always a great feature. We would have loved to see a panoramic unit as a standard equipment on this one though.

Rear door panel

Leather wrapped dashboard – now that’s sheer indulgence

Glove box

Front door panel

The seats are absolutely mind-blowing. Comfortable, well cushioned, well bolstered, and just look at that finish – wow!

The spare tyre is a space saver. Doesnt allow you to drive at more than 80 km/h


Technical specifications

Engine    V6, 2987cc, turbo diesel
Power    255bhp at 3600rpm
Torque    620Nm at 1600-2400rpm
Gearbox    7-speed automatic
Length    4804mm
Width    1926mm
Height    1796mm
Wheel base    2915mm
Tank size    70 litres
Fuel efficiency 9kmpl (city + highway)

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  • Jagadish says:

    Exceptionally well covered review and nice to see it on a different one… The pics are excellent aswell…
    Liked this.. Look forward to more such reviews on new cars.. thanks & cheers

  • Deepak says:

    Thankfully MB have made the ML looks fresh…and yeah it does look handsome! And amazing pics and a mindblowing review as always! Cheers!