DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: The 2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec is everything I love about our long-term GL350 Bluetec minus about 400 pounds, the third row of seating…and $11,000. While that hardly makes the ML an economical option, it does net buyers a beautifully appointed SUV with Benz's outstanding diesel V6 and, on our tester, Active Curve Control, which yields almost magic handling for a 2.5-ton truck.
About that lower weight: With the same stout engine as the GL and so much less tonnage, the ML is flat-out fast for the breed. I didn't do any timed acceleration runs, but around 7 seconds to 60 feels right; combined with advertised fuel economy between 20-30 mpg (lower in our tests so far no doubt due to lead feet and all city driving) makes a pretty compelling case.
As with most Mercedes products, the overall driving feel of the ML is one of solidness. The steering has heft and weight to the wheel, and there's no doubt this is a large SUV from the driver's seat. It's a feel that I like in trucks like this, though. Mercedes' older dash layout (as opposed to the newer, more fluid theme found in the C-class and CLA) still works well, even if it is a bit stern and monolithic.
I have yet to drive the BMW X5 xDrive35d, and the Audi Q5 is a half-size smaller than the ML, so I can't make a fair comparison. That said, if you need a luxury SUV and you're ready to take the plunge into a diesel (the powerplant best suited to these large vehicles), the Bluetec ML is as good a choice as our GL350 is -- and that's a very good choice indeed.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: You won't see me turning down a chance to drive an ML -- any ML. I've always liked them, for the most part. As midsize luxury utes go, they're among the best, no matter the powertrain. They're not cheap, but the truck delivers in terms of luxury and comfort.
Like our long-term GL350 Bluetec, there aren't too many SUVs on the market this smooth, creamy and solid, and, with the diesel, this economical. I consistently saw mpg readings in the 20s around town, high 20s on the freeway. There is no diesel-ness here. It's quiet and doesn't smell of diesel fuel, nor is there any turbo lag. Acceleration is just fine.
The chassis is stiff, and Benz engineers tuned the suspension a bit on the soft side--especially in comfort mode, terrific for soaking up our notorious potholes. Power is good, shifts imperceptible. I'd like some more steering weight, but that's it as far as the driving beefs go. That said, if you're looking for sporty, this probably isn't the first choice.
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. It's extremely quiet on the road. Looking back at our previous ML notes, I see the words “quiet” and “smooth” a lot. As I say when I have driven these before, it's a nice car to get into at the end of the day. Involving? Not so much. Relaxing? Indeed. Sometimes, after a hard day, that's all you need.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I don't know that I even checked to see if this ML350 was a diesel before driving it. I just sort of assumed it was. Sure enough, it has a Bluetec badge on the tailgate.
We seem to get a lot of Benz oil-burners in the fleet here. I don't think this is accidental. This is how the automaker chooses to present its vehicles to us, after all. Given the praises we've already sung about our GL350 Bluetec long-term tester, the reasons why shouldn't be surprising.
This V6 turbodiesel is powerful and refined; coupled with an unobtrusive seven-speed automatic, it forms the centerpiece of a smooth and -- yes -- luxurious powertrain. While driving, there's a slight hint of lag when you put your foot down on the accelerator before the full 455 lb-ft of torque are felt. This is most noticeable when accelerating from a stop. But even when power comes on (and it comes on very quickly), it does so smoothly.
From the front seat, this ML doesn't feel much different than our GL. It doesn't look much different inside and out; the family resemblance is clear. And if our time with the GL has shown us much, it's that the pleasant-looking (and feeling) interior appointments are hard wearing.
So the ML is, like the GL, very good. It will certainly serve whoever buys it well. But is it without peer?
Not quite. Anything in this class that's pushing $70,000 is going to have some serious competition. To me, it does a better job being a functional people-hauler-with-presence than the X5, but, like Andy, I haven't driven the X5 diesel.
As you might expect, America does a fairly good job offering some alternatives in this segment. The Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel has similar dimensions and interior capacities (no surprise there, really) and even somewhat similar outputs (torque is down to 420 lb-ft, but horsepower is the same). It might even represent a good value to someone willing to live with a less refined diesel powerplant. It's a little cheaper, too, but only by a mere $10,000.
If the Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon hold up as well to wear and tear as Benz's offerings seem to, they should give non-dieselhead, non-brand loyalists something to consider -- especially if getting a traditional SUV, rather than one that merely looks and feels like one, is a priority. It doesn't hurt that they give the ML a run in the looks department. Unfortunately, they give the Benz a run in the sticker price department, as well. The 2015 Yukon we just saw was pushing $65,000. At that point, I suspect many will stick with the Germans. It'd be tough to blame them.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: It's difficult to dispute that the Germans know how to build great diesels. Our long-term GL350 Bluetec has been flawless in covering the miles and not once missing a day of service throughout our year with it. Torque and range are great things to have in any vehicle, but they're especially nice in a three-row luxury SUV. Should we expect anything different when you take that drivetrain and stick it into a smaller SUV? Nope, it's still makes for a stellar vehicle.
As others have pointed out above, the 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V6 is exceptionally smooth and perfectly matched for a luxury vehicle. There's the slightest lull in power from idle before the engine picks up and gets this ML moving down the road quick and effortlessly. Benz's seven-speed automatic gearbox offers crisp upshifts and is quick to downshift when you squeeze the throttle harder, looking to unlock some extra muscle when needed.
With the Airmatic suspension in comfort mode, the vehicle glides around broken streets well, absorbing shocks from road imperfections. There's some weight tuned into the steering wheel with descent response to steering inputs for a SUV. Put the air suspension into sport and the ML does feel lighter on its feet when rounding corners--for a 5,000 pound vehicle with a higher center of gravity.
Another thing I respect about Mercedes' SUV lineup is that they all maintain a blockier and more truck-light appearance as opposed to something like the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne, which are more of a tall station wagon/crossover. Interior surroundings are simple, too, in trucky fashion, to make it easy to navigate through with nice build quality and materials throughout.
If you're shopping for a two-row, diesel-powered SUV, there are a few good options out there. The aforementioned Q7 TDI starts at $53,795, but it's a bit long in the tooth with a cabin layout that feels a bit dated. The Porsche Cayenne Diesel begins at $57,595 and is the sportiest handler of the bunch, but you'll have to be OK with a very button-heavy interior. And then over at BMW, you can have the run-flat tire-shod X5 xDrive35d and its $57,525 base price. Knowing that, the ML350 Bluetec's starting price of $52,715 looks like the bargain of the bunch, leaving you room to add an option package or two before you're in Porsche and BMW price territory.
What's the best one for you? If you want the tightest handling ride, you'll want the Cayenne or the X5. But if you value comfort the most, you'll want to take a close look at the ML.
The only small nitpick I had in regards to our particular test vehicle is that it somehow didn't have xenon headlights even though we had more than $16k in options on it. I would gladly trade the parking assist and surround-view camera system for the better headlights.
2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec
Base Price: $52,715
As-Tested Price: $69,085
Drivetrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V6; AWD, seven-speed automatic
Output: 240 hp @ 3,600 rpm, 455 lb-ft @ 1,600-2,400 rpm
Curb Weight: 5,038 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 20/28/23 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 20.9 mpg
Options: P01 package including drivers side and interior auto-dimming, power folding mirrors, COMAND including navigation, mbrace2 including Mercedes-Benz apps including trial period by Verizon Telematics, voice control, media interface, memory drivers seat, steering wheel, mirrors, rear view camera, SiriusXM including six month of service, 115-volt AC outlet in second row ($3,920); 468 package including active curve system SPC ($2,910); 321 sport package including sport body styling front and rear bumper, 19-inch AMG five-spoke wheels, all-season tires ($2,500); 996 parking assist package including Parktronic including active parking assist, surround view camera system ($1,290); 993 lane tracking package including blind-spot assist, lane keeping assist ($875); 810 Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 surround sound system ($850); 890 lunar blue metallic paint ($720); 872 heated rear seats ($620); 550 trailer hitch ($575); 443 heated steering wheel ($250); SPC special order ($250)
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