MSRP: $55,000, estimated
WHAT’S NEW: The biggest change is under the hood: Mercedes-Benz debuts their Bluetec diesel technology with the 2009 ML320, an all-state diesel that delivers 20-plus mpg and low emissions ratings. It’s also available in the R320 and GL320. Exterior changes include new treatments to the grille, front and rear fascias as well as other subtle design enhancements. Inside, there are new materials and an upgraded navigation system.
MPG: 23 mpg combined, estimated
EPA AIR POLLUTION RATING: Bluetec not available
EPA GREENHOUSE RATING: Bluetec not available
JD POWER DEPENDABILITY: 4.5 Stars (2008 model)
CONSUMER REVIEWS: 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class from Edmunds
TECHNOLOGY: 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML320 from Technoride.com
VIDEO: 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
BUYING ADVICE: Cars.com
AUTOMAKER: Mercedes-Benz SUVs
MERCEDES-BENZ REINTRODUCES DIESEL TO AMERICA
Let’s face it: we don’t “get” diesel. It feels odd to us, a bit too Euro and cold. Around here, only truck drivers and aged expats drive diesel vehicles, and oh yes – that redneck down the street with the big ‘ol pickup. A long time ago, General Motors tried their hand at a diesel car, and well, that didn’t turn out so good…so why bother?
Try gas prices. And the environment. Those are two excellent reasons why attitudes about diesel are about to change, especially if you’re shopping for a luxury SUV. This October, Mercedes-Benz will debut a new lineup of diesel SUVs to America: the ML320 Bluetec, R320 Bluetec and the GL320 Bluetec. All deliver astounding fuel economy with above average emissions ratings and an experience that will make even the most die-hard diesel bashers change their tune – with a decidedly German tone.
LAST MAJOR UPDATE: Significantly upgraded for the 2006 model year, the M-Class will probably be ready for an all-new version around 2010 or 2011. Built in Alabama, Mercedes-Benz is planning on diesel making a robust 15 percent of sales, so now all they have to do is get the price of diesel down to livable levels.
VERSUS: AUDI Q7 TDI, BMW X5 BLUEPERFORMANCE
Give Mercedes-Benz credit: they’ve kept the M-Class relevant over the years even with an ever thickening crowd of competitors pushing and shoving their way into the faces of luxury SUV buyers. With new interior materials and a slightly revised exterior – mainly the grille – combined with its new Bluetec diesel powertrain, the ML320 remains a serious vehicle to consider for those shopping luxury SUVs and who also want to good fuel economy. Mercedes-Benz will be first to the US with a 50-state diesel, but they will be followed closely by Audi’s Q7 TDI and the BMW X5 BluePerformance – which shares some of the Mercedes-Benz technology. In addition to the diesels, fuel-efficiency minded shoppers may also want to take a drive in the Lexus RX 400h, as both vehicles offer all-wheel-drive, advanced powertrains and get 20-plus mpg. Of course, be aware of the differences between the RX and the ML, starting with price.
IF YOU TEST DRIVE: NUMB STEERING BUT A QUIET, COMFY RIDE
Count on the ML320 being a comfortable and quiet ride, but pay attention to assembly quality and lack of much steering feel. On the other hand, the ML320 gets the Mercedes’ superb seven-speed transmission, and the Bluetec powertrain is seamless to drive: great acceleration off the line and ample power except when passing at speed, when the 3.0-liter V-6 turbo shows some weakness. Hard cornering betrays the 5,000 lb. stature of this SUV, but with all-wheel-drive – and the fact that you’re not buying this vehicle to carve canyons – the ML320 keeps its composure nicely enough. Except for some muted off-the-line diesel chatter the ML320 is whisper quiet, cleaner than its gasoline counterparts and much, much, more fuel efficient. We predict that you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the car you’re test driving is actually a diesel.
ENVIRONMENT AND EFFICIENCY: CLEANER, MORE EFFICIENT THAN GAS
As a 50-state diesel, the ML320 Bluetec is remarkably clean – so clean, in fact, that it generates fewer pollutants than many of its gasoline counterparts. Mercedes-Benz officials claim a rating of Tier 2, Bin 5, which puts it amongst the cleanest SUVs on the road. It’s all thanks to the Blue part of the “tec”: misting urea in the exhaust chamber cleans up remaining NOx and makes for one clean diesel tailpipe. Fuel economy is amazing: we averaged around 23 miles per gallon in all of the Bluetec SUVs, including the R and GL320.
HOT TECH: BLUETEC, UPGRADED NAVIGATION
The most impressive new technology is the one you’re driving: Bluetec. A clean diesel that gives luxury SUV drivers more than 20 miles per gallon, this is technology that makes a difference to the bottom line. In order to get that coveted all-state certification and make their Bluetec clean, Mercedes-Benz added a urea tank component to their system. In brief, the process mists urea – called AdBlue by Mercedes – from an onboard tank into hot exhaust gases. When that happens, the urea turns to ammonia, which then converts the harmful NOx exhaust into nitrogen. Compared to the E320, the urea is an added step in the process. The potential problem is if/when the system breaks, or needs to be filled. Mercedes-Benz officials claim that replenishing urea will be easily handled during normally scheduled service visits, though the rate of usage does go up under load, so people who tow or drive often or under weight may need to have the tank filled slightly more frequently. Interior technology items of note include an upgraded navigation with easy-to-use control and visually crisp and clear graphics. Also available is a media interface that connects your iPod into the ML’s entertainment interface. In back, the ML320 features an optional DVD player with two 8-inch screens.
INTERIOR HIGHLIGHTS: NEW LEATHER, FOUR-SPOKE STEERING WHEEL
Little has changed inside the ML30, though you’ll appreciate the new seat design, upgraded leather and four-spoke steering wheel. This remains a comfortable SUV to drive and be driven in, front seat or back. Cargo-wise, the ML320 is competitive in its class, and we especially like the flat and tall cargo area, as well as the 60/40 folding split seats. Overall, the ML320 is a quiet, comfortable place to spend a commute, especially at 20-plus miles per gallon.
WRITTEN BY: Brian Chee
PHOTOS BY: Greg Jarem, courtesy of Mercedes-Benz