Mercedes is going chasing after the cult success of the BMW X6 with a new, sleeker (read less practical) M-class. Dubbed informally the MLC, we'll see this new sporty SUV in 2014.
Project C166 - the codename for the 2014 Merc MLC - was approved at a Daimler board meeting in July 2011. This is no mere fantasy: it has been assigned to the Alabama plant in the US with a firm start-of-production date of March 2014.
Why is Mercedes building the MLC sporty SUV?
The real driving force behind the five-door M-class coupe was of course the BMW X6. Initially ridiculed because of its compromised packaging and villainous stance, the widebody lowrider BMW SUV turned out to be a surprise smash hit which still sells between 40,000 and 60,000 units a year.
After the confirmed Audi Q6 and Porsche Cajun and tentative Jaguar crossover, the Mercedes MLC is already the fourth premium model that targets the same niche as the X6.
Like its rivals, C166 gets a bespoke body which shares no exterior panels with the M-class donor vehicle. Those who have seen the final proposal describe it as sporty and quite aggressive with CLC and T-model estate car overtones.
So will the Merc MLC just be an impractical 4x4 coupe?
Although it is quantifiably lower than the M-class, the MLC does not compromise rear leg- and headroom like the X6, according to CAR's sources. Means to this end include sufficiently wide rear doors, a less radical roofline, adjustable rear seats and a full-length console.
The luggage compartment may struggle to haul tall XXL cubes like refrigerators, but it is commendably flexible, easy to load thanks to a low lip and available with a clever divide-and–tie–down system.
Launching in 2014: MLC and a facelifted M-class
The MLC is due to go on sale in the summer of 2014, only weeks before the faclifted M-class becomes available. It therefore incorporates all the upgrades under preparation for the sister model, like the latest in infotainment, lighting and driver aids.
Characteristic styling elements include bespoke headlights, taillights and indicators; a meaner-looking and more upright trademark grille with enough holes to accommodate additional cameras and sensors required to monitor the road, traffic and the parking environment; and a sportier interior with additional comfort features.
What you cannot specify for the on-road-biased M coupe are the off-road package, a BMW-style active steering and a humble four-cylinder engine. Instead, Mercedes is promoting the so-called Active Curve System which is quite similar to the Dynamic Drive option offered on the X6. The Airmatic air suspension and adaptive damping are standard.
Engines in the Merc MLC
Enginewise, the MLC wants to be sportier and more upmarket than the M-class which is more of an all-rounder. The range starts with a new twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 which develops 333bhp and 354lb ft. One step up, we find the blown 5.4-litre V8 which is good for 435bhp and 516lb ft. The brawny AMG edition, complete with bespoke bad boy make-up, is rated at 544bhp and 590lb ft.
The only diesel is a 3.0-litre V6 which musters 265bhp and 460lb ft. Also on the cards is a plug-in hybrid which combines either 3.0-litre V6 (diesel or petrol) with a 50bhp electric motor and a 8kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The MLC price premium over the base model is expected to be in the region of €4000.