This 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 is a sweetie, and if it were not for the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, this, for me, would be the best new truck of the year. The ride and the handling are good, with the air suspension keeping body roll to a minimum. So the ride is much more refined than you'd expect from a large ute. Yep, it rides pretty much like a car--a big, heavy car. But a car, not a truck.
The interior is nicely done with ample amounts of wood and leather. All of the controls are exactly where they should be, although I did have problems with the automatic liftgate. While the power would always close the tailgate, I could not get it to automatically open, either with the key fob or with the button on the dash.
While the fuel mileage I saw was actually good for a gasoline-powered model, I would prefer this with Benz's sweet diesel powerplant. More range, more torque and more fun.
If I had to assemble a short list of outstanding new sport-utes, this would be right near the top.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I have always liked the ML for the most part--as midsize luxury utes go, it's among the best. It would take me a couple more drives to get used to the changes in this new model, particularly in the switchgear areas, but generally it's a fine-driving ute. (I found myself more than once flicking the cruise control when I meant to signal a turn, for example.) It's expensive, but the truck delivers in terms of luxury and comfort.
There aren't too many SUVs on the market this smooth, creamy and solid. The chassis is stiff, and Benz engineers tuned the suspension a bit on the soft side in comfort mode, terrific for soaking up our notorious potholes. Power is adequate, and shifts are imperceptible. The interior is comfortable; I really like the seats. Some here will say they are too flat, but they fit my rear end perfectly.
This is a ute for those who need some space and all-weather ability but still want to be coddled a little--it's extremely quiet on the road. As I say when I have driven these before, it's a nice car to get in to at the end of the day. Involving? Not really. Relaxing? Yes.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: Mercedes did a great job of upgrading for 2012, though you might not see it by looking at it. Exterior changes are minimal--earlier sheetmetal changes eliminated most of the original model's stodgier styling cues.
But there are big upgrades inside that make for a cleaner and more functional interior (look at those massive cupholders, fer garsh sakes!), though I have to disagree with Raynal on the new lower placement of the cruise-control stalk. Mercedes moved the stalk down to eight o'clock because the old 10-o'clock location tended to be confused for a turn signal. The new spot is much handier for a 9-and 3-driving position. That said, I do have concerns that the shifter stalk should be more prominent and illuminated. At one point I shifted into neutral while driving as I attempted to flip on the windshield wipers. Admittedly, this was while driving in the dark in an unfamiliar vehicle. I'm sure an owner would get used to the locations in no time.
Those little nits aside, I agree with Hart that if not for the superb Range Rover Evoque, this new ML would be my top pick for truck of the year. Having driven both gasoline and diesel versions, I can attest that the powertrains are excellent, smooth and strong. The suspension is soft enough in comfort mode and sporty enough in sport mode to provide clear alternatives depending on your driving needs.
Though I complained on an earlier test drive that the lane-keeping assist was too intrusive, on this overnight drive it was generally well-mannered, gently warning and nudging back into the lane when it sensed that the car was drifting. I suspect a lot of ML owners will find that they survive their driving errors because of this system. I could live with that.