by J.T. Hills
SGN Contributing Writer
- Updated styling for 2009
- Elegant interior appointments
- Hybrid MPG with a diesel engine
- Navigation system isn’t exactly intuitive to use
- Finally has Bluetooth connectivity – and it truly sucks
- Radio and navigation controls are awkward and small
The M-Class is Mercedes Benz’s midsized luxury SUV, and for 2009 it has received some updates – automotive Botox, if you will – and now features a larger grill, restyled headlights, new stainless steel skid plates, larger side mirrors and a wider rear bumper with inset reflector to the exterior design. The interior received a new seat design, four-stage power lumbar support for the driver, a four-spoke steering wheel with gearshift paddles, and new door trim. The ML320 BlueTEC for 2009 takes diesel engine technology to a higher level with a system that lowers the nitrogen-oxide emissions that green consumers had found so objectionable, and is clean enough to be offered in all 50 states. After a week with the 2009 ML320 BlueTEC I’ve compiled a brass-tacks list of highly technical scientific data based upon observations, experimentation, tabulations, inspections and so forth. Here we go:
It’s a green SUV from Mercedes. This calls for a road trip to Mount Baker!
Actually, I’m not outdoorsy enough to intentionally come up with a day trip to Mount Baker all by myself. My true intention was to go up to Bellingham to do some work, meet up with a friend, and hit a tribal casino. The Mount Baker thing happened only because it was on the same road as the tribal casino, and it happened to be a sunny day – oh, and because I got tired of losing money. The buffet was fabulous, though. So anyhow, the ML is a great freeway car. It does all the standard things one would expect from a Mercedes Benz; it’s very refined and clicks along a 70-plus miles per hour just fine. The 3.0-liter diesel V6 has plenty of punch with 210 horsepower and a kick-in-the-pants 398 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600 rpms. The gas mileage is pretty decent also; getting an EPA estimated 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, although I got 26. The EPA estimates are comparable to the Lexus RX 400h, and while the Lexus does better in the city, it’s a far less sophisticated SUV to drive.
Where the Mercedes ML320 BlueTEC really stood out, though, was on the tight, curvy, steep, and scary – yes, scary – road to the top of Mount Baker. Think snow, ice, gravel, shear cliffs without guardrails, an intense fear of heights, and a lead foot. The not-so-noticeable adaptive damping system on the interstate is worth every penny once you get the ML onto a mountain road; combined with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive transmission, it performed like a sports sedan, preference to the sport mode. With a variety of road conditions, it’s the most fun I’ve had in the Cascades outside a tribal casino.
The interior of the ML320 is again what one would expect from Mercedes Benz: excellent fit and finish, fine attention to details, and a generous amount of space. The ML feels, looks, and smells very high-end. What I didn’t get, though, was the DVD navigation system. The interface was designed by engineers for engineers and was far too complicated to use. It makes the BMW I-drive system look like the second coming. The buttons are small (it really should have been a touchscreen) and you could drive off the side of a cliff figuring out how to find the application to locate your iPod. Another weird and freakish thing was every time I started the car and the Bluetooth connectivity system searched for my phone, the audio system stopped working. Then I would have to go through three or four different screens on the driver interface to turn back on the music. I’m sure there’s a simple fix, but there’s far too many cars out there for less money where this isn’t even a problem you have to think about.
OK, for a dealer MSRP of $58,165, what do you get?
The Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTEC comes fairly equipped for a base price of $48,600, but all the most popular options definitely come at a fairly substantial price. Here’s a quick look at my favorites.
- 3.0-liter 210-hp 24-valve V6 diesel engine
- Seven-speed driver adaptive automatic transmission
- 4-matic permanent all-wheel drive
- AdBlue exhaust injection for 80% reduction of NOx
- Approved for use with B5 biodiesel
- Unibody construction
- Speed sensitive power assist steering
- Independent suspension:
- Front; double wishbone
- Rear: Four-arm multi-link
- 19” five-spoke wheels
- Driver-activated downhill speed regulation
- Driver-activated off-road driving program
- Hill start assist
- Tele Aid system
- Steel reinforced cabin with front and rear crumple zones
- Front dual stage airbags with front knee bolsters, front and rear side airbags, front and rear curtain airbags
- Electronic stability control
- Tire pressure monitoring system
Comfort and convenience:
- Glass sunroof with one-touch open/close
- COMAND system with 6.5” HD color display
- Bluetooth interface for hands-free calling
- In-dash six-disc DVD/CD changer
- Eight-speaker audio system
- Dual-zone automatic climate control
- Hill-start assist with down-hill regulator
- One-touch power windows and door locks
- Adaptive dampening system ($1,600)
- Rear seat entertainment system ($1,850)
- PO1 Package: Rear view camera, 40GB hard drive with GPS Navigation, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, HD digital radio, iPod/MP3 media interface, Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 surround sound system with Dolby digital 5.1, power liftgate, 115V AC power outlet ($3,850)
- Heating package: heated leather multifunction steering wheel with shift paddles, heated front seats, heated rear seats ($1,390)
- Destination and delivery ($875)