Mercedes-Benz is an established German automotive brand name in Malaysia. Its presence here is not only limited to passenger vehicles but include commercial vehicles as well. In the passenger vehicles segment, the brand name has been successfully built in Malaysia over the years to be synonymous with prestige and success.
It was ironic that my first review of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle happened in the land of its origin. This occurred after a last minute decision to rent a car. Even then there was some hesitancy as we needed to adjust to driving on the left hand side. Until the day we picked the keys from the car rental company we were unsure what car will be given to us. We had requested for a diesel powered SUV for practical reasons.
We were given keys to a diesel powered Mercedes-Benz ML350. Here in Germany, I observed Mercedes Benz, BMW and VW have a dominant presence on the road. The current trend appears to be going for smaller, fuel efficient cars. Hence, there is quite a number of Mercedes A and B Classes, BMW 1 Series, VW Golf and Polos seen daily on the road. The taxis are predominantly diesel powered Mercedes Benz E Class, some of which are the latest models.
I did not bring all my usual test equipment during this trip and we were also rushing for time. Hence, there was no sound recording or decible testing and I did not manage to shoot the number of desired photos as I would have liked. A photo of the rear was also missing as I delayed the shot due to unwanted reflections. I realized later that I had missed this shot only after returning the car. Being unfamiliar with the car resulted in not being able to locate the lever to unlock the bonnet. So there is no photo of the engine bay as well.
This test car is the second generation ML350 and I have noted that Mercedes-Benz will be launching a third generation of the M Class in the near future. This is not the BlueTEC version seen in some markets. Externally, the design of the vehicle is a good mix of sporty cues at strategic points with an overall businesslike image. In keeping with the times, grilles and the famous three pointed star is prominent at the front. At the rear, there is similarity in design with the B and R Classes.
The car’s overall size is large but I sensed it is slightly smaller than its close rival the BMW X5. Based on the brochure the wheelbase is 114.7 inches, while its overall length and height are 188.2 inches and 71.5 inches, respectively. There were 5 adults in this outing and all of us managed to get into the car without much of a fuss. Both the front and rear offer sufficient leg room for all 5 of us. The leather seats were comfortable with just the right amount of cushioning and did not sag during the entire trip.
There is quality in the materials used for the entire dashboard. At the centre console are two large twin air blowers. Right below this is a prominent 6.5 inch LCD display, a ‘Command’ system which not only controls the entertainment system but also interacts with the driver via a navigation system. Thankfully during our time with this car, it was fitted with a navigation system and had an English language option!
The leather clad steering wheel is of good size with a touch of sportiness and is fitted with multifunction buttons. Paddle shifters are provided with a “+” and “-” on the right and left side. Instrument panel is the usual standard of speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge and time. In between these the large two dials is a monochrome LCD display giving selected information from the car’s on board computer.
Apart from the usual list of safety features which you would expect from Mercedes-Benz, this car is also equipped with the 4MATIC which is Mercedes-Benz’s all wheel drive system. Initially the name did not strike me as an all wheel drive system as it sounded like the number of gears in its transmission. As this sampled unit was more basic it did not come equipped with the other optional extras like rear view camera, power lift gate, sunroof, blind spot assist, power folding side mirrors etc.
The ML350 maintains Mercedes-Benz’s heritage in car comfort. Throughout the short 4 to 5 hour excursion, I felt comfortable as there was more than sufficient legroom and headroom. The gear lever is placed as a stalk on the right side behind the steering wheel while the handbrake is a mix of footpedal and lever release at the lower left side below the steering.
Once we fired up the engine, the car confounded us. We did asked ourselves whether we got the right car as the car was ‘too silent’ for a diesel car both inside and outside. I had to go out and have a look at the fuel cap just to make sure. So its all credit to Mercedes-Benz that they have managed to insulate the noise levels of a diesel car to match a petrol car.
Based on its official German website, the car is powered by a 3.0 litre turbodiesel V6 generating a max power of 170kW @ 3,800 rpm and a max torque of 540Nm @ 1,600-2,400 rpm. During the initial first few minutes as a passenger, the engine performed well as I sensed a smooth delivery of torque at the low end to enable good acceleration. However, I had noted that my fellow driver had a problem trying to keep to the driving line on the road and there was bit of swaying.
Once I took over, I had to quickly accustom myself to driving on the left hand side. One of the more tricky parts is at a roundabout/circus/circle where the entry point is now anti-clockwise and coming out from an intersection you need to join up on the right lane. Thankfully, there were no untoward incidents thorough out this entire drive.
At urban speeds, with a lot of stops and starts, the car had more than sufficient low end torque and power to accelerate convincingly. On the Autobahn the car was more than happy to cruise at high speeds. One area which I think has room for improvement appears to be the handling. Since this is a rental, I can’t be completely certain but understeering appears quite prominently especially when driving on the twisty German B Roads (trunk roads).
Somehow a bit more effort is required on the driver to steer the car to ensure that you are able to keep to the driving line. This resulted in a bit of discomfort for my fellow passengers as they must have wondered why there was so much gravitational force pushing them around! To compound this, German B Roads are narrower than the trunk roads back in Malaysia but are of better quality.
The steering felt like a drive by wire system and at times felt a bit detached from the road. At lower speeds it was easier to predict how the car would steer but some acclimatisation is required for higher speeds, especially on twisty roads. However, it is a very light and easy to steer system that should please those looking for a more relaxed drive.
The car is equipped with a 7 speed automatic transmission known as 7G-TRONIC. Gearshifts were smooth. I sensed through out the entire trip that the gear ratios are fairly close to each other. To improve its response, I had occasionally used the pedal shifters just behind the steering wheel. One disadvantage is that the car centre monochrome LCD display (on the instrument panel) does not indicate which gear you are on. This was especially crucial during mid to higher speeds drives as I was not sure how many downshifts I needed to built up the sufficient torque for overtaking maneuvers.
Noise, vibration and harshness levels are good for this car. Wind noise in the cabin is not really apparent until you hit about 130km/h. The familiar engine growls were heard during harder acceleration but were expected since this is a diesel powered car. The car could easily maintain high speed cruises up to 180km/h, but I sensed anything more is probably risky on a car with a full load of adult passengers.
The car came equipped with only 17 inch tyres which I felt was bit undersized for a car of this size and power. All four wheels are 17 inch Continental 4×4 Contact tyres (235/65 R17). Tyres performed within expectations but were not really tested since we did not do any off road excursions and that German roads were typically in excellent condition.
Two other prominent features of this ML350 is the 4 wheel independent suspension system and the 4MATIC all wheel drive system. Ride quality and balance were excellent through out the entire trip and my fellow passengers enjoyed some good doses of comfortable ‘zzzz’ along the way. The all wheel drive system was again not really tested as road conditions were excellent but for any SUV such feature is a welcome addition as it improves traction.
Upon returning the car, the on board computer showed an average fuel consumption of around 9.1 litres per 100 km. This was quite good for a car of this size and displacement. We had traveled close to about 300km and only had to top up the tank (which dropped about two levels if I can recall correctly) before we returned the car. The built-in navigation system was quite easy to set up and comprehend. It had a split screen system and gave clear voice directions. There were other features like the entertainment system, cruise control, etc which I did not have sufficient time to test out fully.
Overall, the ML350 CDI 4MATIC excels in its excellent ride quality, balance and good fuel efficiency. Mercedes-Benz also did a great job in insulating the diesel clatter that is usually prominent for diesel powered cars. Perhaps this is also contributed by the better diesel fuel in Germany. So far I have only seen a similar ML350 once on the road here in Malaysia (right hand drive of course!) but it was not the diesel powered version of this car.
|Engine:||3.0-litre turbodiesel V6|
|Max Output:||170 kW @ 3,800 rpm|
|Max Torque:||540 Nm @ 1,600-2,400 rpm|
|Top Speed:||220 km/h|
|Acceleration 0-100km:||7.6 sec|
|Fuel Consumption:||8.9-9.4 litres per 100 km (combined)|
Source: Mercedes-Benz brochure and Mercedes-Benz Germany website
Note: Please reconfirm the above specifications with an authorized Mercedes-Benz dealer