Buyer's guide: Mercedes M-Class
THE Mercedes M-Class is a vehicle about which many dyed-in-the-wool Mercedes fans have mixed feelings. While it established the company in a very lucrative market niche and sold huge numbers in America, the place of its birth, the model is often held up as the car that started Mercedes' slide to mainstream build quality.
One of the defining changes in the company's culture has been to improve build quality right across the range and to drive a second-generation Mercedes M-Class shows how successful it has been. Used buyers will be glad to know that the good old days are back.
WHAT YOU GET
The M-Class's lines have worn so well that the second-generation model kept the same sporty stance and raked forward C-pillar but added more pronounced wheelarches and a rising swage line along its flanks. It marked a definite swing towards the sports end of the sports utility market and differentiated the Mercedes nicely from cars like the Land Rover Discovery and the Volkswagen Touareg.
The tape measure shows just how artful its stylists have been. It's 150mm longer than its predecessor, 71mm wider and the wheelbase grew by 95mm. It is also 7mm lower. Aerodynamics were improved, giving fuel economy savings of as much as ten per cent.
The dashboard features a pair of cowled main dials with a digital information panel between, while the centre console retains the styling of the upmarket E-Class models.
WHAT YOU PAY
The biggest selling M-Class has been the ML320 CDI and prices for these are now settling at around £21,900 for a 2055 55 plate in SE trim. Sport will tack on another £500. Don't overlook the excellent 3.5-litre petrol engine fitted to the ML350 though, especially if you're covering relatively few miles. One of these can be yours from £19,600, again on a 55 plate. The ML500 is a real beastie and an SE trim model kicks off at £20,900 with Sport trim adding another £1,000. The entry-level diesel is the ML280CDI is only around £1,000 cheaper than the ML320CDI. Go for the more powerful car.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Aside from checking the structural integrity of some of the internal fittings, there's not a great deal to worry about with a nearly new M-Class. Check the underbody and the undersides of the front and rear valances for damage, as the M-Class's modest ground clearance and wheel articulation does not match up to an equivalent Range Rover.
M-Class parts prices aren't as expensive as the premium image suggests. Spend a lot of time crawling down muddy slopes and your fun will cost around £90 for a new set of front brake pads. A shopping trolley through a headlight will cost you £200, a new alternator is £350, and a new starter motor around £275.
ON THE ROAD
We'll concentrate here on the mainstream models, starting with the ML320CDI. Unlike old five-cylinder Mercedes diesels, this engine is a creamy V6 with four valves per cylinder. Rated at a healthy 224bhp, it's got more than enough muscle to haul the 2,110kg Mercedes around. In fact, its torque figure of 510Nm is even beefier than the V8 ML500 version.
The switched-on will realise this makes the ML320CDI an extremely adept tow vehicle. This engine has quickly proved a winner for the Daimler Chrysler Group and it's being plumbed into all manner of Mercedes and Chrysler models .
Slotted beneath the bonnet of the M-Class, it will punch the car to 60mph in a smidgeon over nine seconds and on to a top speed of 130mph. Combined fuel economy is rated at 30.1mpg, little short of astounding. With a 95-litre tank, the ML320CDI therefore excels as a long-distance cruiser, capable of notching more than 800 miles between refuelling stops.
The best petrol alternative is the ML350, which will get to 60mph in just 8.1 seconds and only let up at 134mph. A combined fuel consumption figure of 24.6mpg may well be this car's Achilles heel and you'll be grateful for the massive 95-litre fuel tank that allows a serious range between pit stops. With 272bhp on tap, the ML350 is rarely lacking in go and the 350Nm of torque gives it decent overtaking ability.
The M-Class has established itself as the sort of luxury 4x4 Mercedes should be making. It's long overdue, but now we do have the second-generation M Class, it's cemented itself as a decent used buy.
The sensible engines make the best picks and a low-mileage ML320CDI with metallic paint has to be the plum choice.