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Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2009 Review

What am I? I have a lineage stretching back to the beginning of my species, am highly regarded by my peers and am decidedly wealthy thanks to keeping ahead of the pack in mechanical and electronic technology.

Though I am embedded in my heritage, I constantly think of tomorrow.

What am I? I am, of course, a Vacheron Constantin watch.

Silly you. You thought it was a car, didn't you?

The company was founded in 1755 in Geneva by Jean-Marc Vacheron and has since remained in constant production.

The problem here is that you can't derive any pleasure from driving a watch. It won't take you places though, once there, it will impress people in the know.

Too hard? Buy a Mercedes.

It too is the world's oldest — in this case, the car maker with uninterrupted production since inception — and will take you places you may dream about.

Even more places if it's an all-wheel drive ML320 turbo-diesel.

And many will grovel at your impression of wealth because Mercedes-Benz products are for those who still have superannuation and a credit limit.

Or so I thought. In fact, the good looking, high riding pretend off-road adventurer is relatively affordable at $87,500. But why settle for entree when you can buy the Sports Luxury model, as tested, for $97,000.

It's a diesel so while oil companies aren't exactly giving away the smelly fuel, it will take the ML320 up to 1055km between filling stations. That could produce quite a saving compared with using petrol.

You would expect great things from a vehicle such as the ML320CDI. Unfortunately, driving pleasure isn't one of them.

This is a big machine with styling influenced by Tonka that is purposeful and even bullish in appearance.

It has big wheels so they fill out the fender arches, a definite wedge shape enhanced by a crease along the flanks and an abrupt tail.

At 4.8m long, it's not into the gross dimensions of some rivals. However, its bulk — and you'll really pick up on this when your parking or on narrow streets — is mainly in its width.

That gives it a big cabin which easily seats five adults and there's a huge boot area as well, overlaying a space-saver spare that won't take you and your friends very far.

The cabin is from the Mercedes instrument cloning factory which makes it easy for model-hopping owners. But it adds a couple of its own special annoyances.

The foot park brake yells America — incidentally, where this model is made — and in practice is a double-handed effort that gives the driver no sensitivity to park brake conditions, especially off the road.

Then there's the right-hand gear lever. It is a stalk from the steering wheel column and only has four modes — park, reverse, drive and neutral.

The problem is it easily gets knocked or mistaken for an indicator lever. The good news is that it defaults to neutral. The bad news is the traffic behind you while you reactivate drive.

Driving

Sitting so high gives a wonderful view of the back of all the other SUVs on the road.

But it is very comfortable. The seats are broad and infinitely adjustable, as is the steering column.

The gearshifter has some lag which frustrates the impatient but at least it's as simple as pressing down to engage drive. Paddle shifts on the steering wheel activate the manual access to the seven cogs.

The transmission extends its lag to include acceleration, where there is some disparity between pressing the accelerator and actually proceeding forward.

No complaints about the acceleration. There's 510Nm on tap here and it's used to brilliant effect. This thing literally jumps off the starting blocks and will shred the reputation of many sports cars.

It's amazingly quiet and, even after some brisk driving, rarely went beyond 12 litres/100km.

You may be one of the quickest away from the lights but you may be coy about keeping the pressure up through the bends.

Though the body is taut and the suspension nice and firm, this is still a near 2.1-tonne dry-weight vehicle that stands almost 1.9m high. Bodyroll isn't as bad as the perception.

On the road it's quick and quiet but in the dirt you know this is going to take a long time to dig out.

But it went through soft black sand reasonably well, all attributable to the big, fat tyres and the gobs of low-end torque.

The lack of a low-range gearbox and the only passable 218mm of ground clearance should keep enthusiasts away from softer areas. Yes, the traction control works perfectly but there is always the occasion where nothing but a low-range transmission will help.

Mercedes has its Off-Road Pro Engineering option on the ML320 and, for $6500, it's worth considering. The pack includes the additional gearbox, air suspension, underbody protection and lockable differentials.

As much as I like the concept of this vehicle, there are better SUVs around.

That's basically because the ML320CDI doesn't do anything special.

It's not a memorable vehicle. It drives well, is smooth and comfortable and well equipped.

But it is very insular and lacking expression and character, so that you end up feeling like the whole experience of driving is as interesting as sitting in the back seat of a bus. Alone.

The Mercedes ML320 costs from $87,500. A Vacheron Constantin mans watch starts from about $16,000.


MERCEDES-BENZ ML320CDI SPORTS LUXURY

Price: $97,000

Engine: 3-litre, V6 turbo-diesel

Power: 165kW @ 3800rpm

Torque: 510Nm @ 1600-2800rpm

Fuel economy (official): 9.6 litres/100km, tested): 10.9 litres/100km

Transmission: 7-speed automatic, sequential; constant 4WD

Pricing Guides

$21,999
Based on 39 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$15,750
Highest Price
$41,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
ML350 (4x4) 3.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $18,920 – 23,980 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2009 ML350 (4x4) Pricing and Specs
ML63 AMG (4x4) 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $36,990 – 41,990 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2009 ML63 AMG (4x4) Pricing and Specs
ML320 CDI (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $19,580 – 24,750 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2009 ML320 CDI (4x4) Pricing and Specs
ML280 CDI Luxury (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $23,210 – 28,600 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2009 ML280 CDI Luxury (4x4) Pricing and Specs
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$14,000

Lowest price, based on 8 car listings in the last 6 months

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