More like this:

Mercedes ML320 CDI Sport facelift (2008) review

Published:28 October 2008

Mercedes ML320 CDI Sport facelift (2008) review
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche

Huntsville, Alabama; where the back of every single neck is a dead ringer for 'Volcanic Splash 4' from the Dulux colour chart, where family trees have only one branch (‘yew kin divorce me, but yawl alwehs be mah sister…’) and where Mercedes took the ostensibly baffling decision to build the very first M-class back in 1997. Odd decision. After all, Deepest South, US of A has never exactly been renowned as hotbed of Teutonic engineering excellence.

Except, of course, it has. Because, in the hope that no one would notice, it was to post-war Huntsville that the Americans hastily spirited the Third Reich’s finest rocket engineers, and the business of enabling Neil Armstrong’s famously small step got under way in earnest. Indeed, even today you’d be hard pushed to find a local hotel without either a sheet steel-origami Lockheed SR-71 on the front lawn or a supine Saturn V rocket, in its toppled entirety, sprawled beside the swimming pool.

Assured, then, of both an enduring engineering pedigree and a workforce happy to be paid in venison, beer and pick-up truck accessories, the only mistake Mercedes made was in not emulating BMW. Up the road in Spartanburg, those responsible for the X5 insisted that all their key suppliers built factories surrounding the main plant. In not following suit, Mercedes condemned those first M-class efforts to, amongst other mild horrors, a life of the worst quality plastics ever to adorn the cabin of a prestige German car.

With unseemly haste, a shift in production of all Europe-bound cars to Graz in Austria saw quality improve no end, and since then the M-class has gone from strength to strength. Even today, with arch foe Range Rover Sport sales plummeting like a banker off an EC1 window ledge, the M-class boasts the segment’s highest sales figures.

So is this a new Mercedes M-class, or just another facelift?

Very much the latter, merely designed to add jaunt to the next couple of years. Mild external changes include a restyled front with a re-profiled bumper, new headlamps and jazzier grille, whilst the stern gets tinted tail lights, a revised bumper and a range of exhaust pipe end profiles more varied than Playschool’s windows. It's handsome enough though.

On board the 'new' M-class is even harder to distinguish from its predecessor, though a new seat design proves extremely comfortable, and I’d forgotten just how good rear seat accommodation is in the M-class. Oh, and a new, man-made leather called Artico joins the upholstery options range. Man makes leather, I’m told, out of plastic, doubtless at enormous cost and inconvenience, so that it looks, feels, breathes and even – presumably through the judicious misting of mashed cow juices – smells like the real thing.

Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mercedes M-class facelift first drive

So what has Mercedes really done to tide the current car over until a new M-class appears?

Boost the standard equipment specification. Goodies such as an electric tailgate, parking sensors, automatically dimming mirrors and Bluetooth connectivity are now standard, whilst Merc has also engendered warm feelings of value by bumping up the price to a far lesser degree. A nice marketing person has just taken us through numerous 'price walks' explaining this, but the only one that sank in is the news that 320CDI SE models now boast £2,100 worth of extra standard equipment, but the price has only gone up by £250.

Any changes to the mechanicals?

Not so as you’d notice. Mercedes has simply dropped the ML 350 from the range, leaving us with a choice of 280, 320 and 420 CDI turbodiesels, the ML 500 and the hilarious ML 63 AMG. The briefest of mentions was afforded to minor engine revisions, which award V6 engined SE models an 8% reduction in CO2. I drove the ML 320 CDI Sport, which will account for some 60% of all M-Class sales.

At least, that’s what they told me, but I find it hard to believe that so many will opt for the Sport version. Firstly, because I simply cannot climb out of a muddy car sporting running boards without soiling the back of my britches. Come to think of it, I can barely bring myself to climb into a car sporting running boards in the first place. And, secondly, because the ride is biltong tough.

What is this endless obsession with making a tall 4x4 handle like a saloon car? I recently ran an R-Class for 6 months and I’m an absolute convert. It may have adopted the attitude of a famous tower in Pisa through the bends, but it was a sublimely comfortable place to be over a prolonged period, and never elicited so much as a fleck of toddler puke.

This M-class, by contrast, utterly negates the added comfort of new front seats by shoulder shrugging along the road in a typical-Parisian-waiter manner which, unless you actually have the steering wheel in front of you to hold onto, is often positively uncomfortable. I can almost guarantee that the gently bewildered horse inevitably towed a few feet behind Sport versions of the car will be getting a better ride.

Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mercedes M-class facelift first drive

Do non-Sport models ride any better?

A brief flurry in an SE version suggests that the conventional suspension set-up is barely more forgiving. This is a pity. The 3.0 litre V6 turbodiesel’s a fine, lusty powerplant capable of urging the heavy M-Class along with surprising alacrity, the automatic transmission’s entirely adept at slushing changes senseless and the steering’s adequately accurate and nicely weighted. Who’s going to be impressed by an admirably flat cornering stance at the sort of velocities that will catapult your thoroughbred so far into the undergrowth that Sanyo Music Centre III will be in instant need of re-christening Glue?

Verdict

Restyled to eke out a few more years of life and, in the case of this Sport version, aspiring to bring the average age of buyers down from about 50 to something nearer 40, the M-class is now easily long enough in the tooth that Mercedes should have it absolutely spot on. Certainly, in most departments, including off-roading to a degree it will rarely experience, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Quite why, then, the ride remains so enforced-tough is a mystery. Perhaps those that won’t settle for anything else have got used to it. Or they simply don’t notice. Then again, considering horses to be dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle, I’m never going to be in the market for an M-Class. Call me new fangled, but if I wanted a four-wheel drive, family Mercedes with load lugging ability, I’d buy an R-Class with a tow hook.

Click 'Add your comment' below and have your say

Specs

Price when new: £44,285
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 2987cc V6 turbodiesel, 224bhp @ 3800rpm, 510Nm @1600-2800rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Performance: 8.6 sec 0-62mph, 134mph, 30.1mpg, 246g/km
Weight / material: 2185kg / steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4781/2127/1815

Rivals

Mercedes-Benz M-Class Cars for Sale

View all Mercedes-Benz M-Class Cars for Sale

Photo Gallery

  • Mercedes ML320 CDI Sport facelift (2008) CAR review
  • Mercedes ML320 CDI Sport facelift (2008) CAR review
  • Mercedes ML320 CDI Sport facelift (2008) CAR review
  • Mercedes ML320 CDI Sport facelift (2008) CAR review
  • Mercedes ML320 CDI Sport facelift (2008) CAR review

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche

Comments