The Mercedes ML320 CDI is an impossible blend of a stay at home mum and an Uzi-carrying, drug-pushing gangster.
It takes a killer mix of style and function to provide for two such different personas and the ML does just that. With a sprinter’s stance, flared fenders and wrap-around side skirts the ML has a sporty elegance that is unisex in appeal. Longer and wider than its predecessor, the ML is slimmed by a raked forward C-pillar and a sloping windscreen that aids efficiency by chopping down drag. The ML shows its bling with a wide silver front grille that hangs like a diamond necklace, with the tri-star badge as its feature stone. Its massive wheel arches remain unfilled even by sparkling 20-inch rims — some 22-inch ones would be a desirable upgrade. The tested model was the ML320 Edition 10 celebrating ten years of SUV production for Mercedes. The Edition 10 is dressed up with special badging, bi-xenon headlights, taillights with blacked out surrounds and a two-tone leather interior.
Gangsters love good booty and the ML delivers with sharp cornered signature taillights and twin rectangular exhausts that hint at wild times ahead. The ML has angular well-sculptured curves that place it aesthetically at the sporty end of the SUV market.
The ML’s interior is as highly styled as its exterior, but function and comfort remain paramount. Soft leathers, wood-finish and high-end plastics swirl together to let your passengers know that they are riding with a true player, or a style-conscious mum. Although, like with all Mercs, the dashboard plastic itself seems over-textured.
Driver visibility is top notch and the seats remain comfortable even on long drives. Instruments and controls are generally well placed but you will mistake the cruise control lever for the indicator arm at least once. There is also the electronic ‘Direct Select’ shift lever on the steering column used for basic Park, Reverse, Drive selection, manual over-ride is available by switches on the back of the steering wheel. The ML’s Direct Select takes some getting used to and is not something we are familiar with here in NZ. It does clear space on the centre console for large sized cup holders capable of 1.25-litre bottles or takeaway cappuccinos.
The ML comes with an arsenal of equipment including an outstanding climate control system and projector-beam headlights that intimidate night into day. The Harman Kardon stereo is easy to master and sounds very sharp playing the Wiggles or Run DMC. The cabin is roomy with a back seat that can fit kids or three henchmen with ease and with a generous rear storage area, pushchairs, golf clubs or ‘people who’ve met with an untimely accident’ can all be accommodated. The ML’s interior really is exemplary; it is easily usable but never up in your face.
When paying over $100k for a diesel vehicle you wouldn’t expect it to be slow or noisy. The ML is neither – it’s an example of just how far diesel motors have developed. With a 0-100km time of just 8.6 seconds it has some skates and even when cold it refuses to let out a rattle. Powered by a 3.0L turbocharged V6 producing 165kW and a useful 398 lb-ft of torque the ML has enough power for pulling a quick get-away and refinement for cruising to brunch. Economy is also very good considering the ML’s 2-tonne kerb weight – a combined figure of 9.6l/100km is achievable. With a 95-litre fuel tank the ML can traverse great swathes of the country before refuelling is required. The 7-speed automatic transmission works hard when ordered and has brains to match brawn by using an adaptive logic to learn the driver’s style and shift accordingly.
Although bulletproof glass isn’t standard, the ML has solid safety credentials. Passengers are surrounded by a central safety cell with front and rear crumple zones. Brake assist, traction control and a full ESP programme are all prepared for trouble.
The handling is very car-like in nature. A light, rigid chassis and fully independent double wishbone front, multilink rear suspension means it stays true in cornering and refuses to submit to body roll. Off-road the ML utilises its full-time four wheel drive system which splits torque 50/50 in usual operation but sends more to the axel that can best use it when necessary. The ride is very subdued and the diesel motor is seldom heard from the cabin, with road noise almost fully blocked out driving the ML is a serene experience.
For gangsters or housewives the Mercedes ML320 makes an offer that is hard to refuse. At first it appears hard to justify the heavy price tag over other current model SUVs, but the ML just does everything so well. It works equally as well for two opposite lifestyles because it’s the complete package and that’s why the ML320 is a worthy kingpin in the SUV market.
Click through to the next page for a full list of specifications.
Price: from $117,900
What we like:
- Tasteful style inside and out
- Compelling diesel performance
- Attention to detail
What we don’t like:
- Odd gearshift positioning
- Oversized wheel arches
Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI – Specifications
No. of cylinders/arrangement 6/V
Bore/stroke in mm 83.0/92.0
Total displacement (cc) 2987
Rated output (kW at rpm) 165/3800
Rated torque (Nm at rpm) 510/1600-2800
Compression ratio 17.7
Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in sec. 8.6
Top speed in km/h, approx. 215
Tyre size, front 235/65 R 17
Tyre size, rear 235/65 R 17
Fuel consumption (l/100 km) Combined 9.6
CO2 emissions combined (g/km) 254
Tank capacity (l) incl. reserve, approx. 95/13
Turning circle diameter (m) 11.6
Words Adam Mamo, photography Darren Cottingham