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2013 Mercedes-Benz ML350 AMG

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Published on Apr 20, 2012

On Sale Date: September 2011

Price: $48,990--$50,490

Competitors: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Land Rover LR4, Porsche Cayenne

Powertrains: 3.5-liter V6 gasoline, 302 hp, 273 lb-ft; 3.0-liter V6 diesel, 240 hp, 455 lb-ft; 7-speed automatic, AWD

EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 17/22 mpg (gas); 20/25 mpg (diesel)

What's New: Mercedes-Benz left no stone unturned when it updated the M-Class SUV. Incrementally longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, the M-Class's chassis also has been thoroughly updated with more high-tensile steel. Aluminum components help the Benz shed 55 pounds from its axles and suspension. New direct-injected gasoline and diesel engines offer more power and fuel economy, while the optional Agility Control air suspension system incorporates active damping and roll bars. The interior also receives a more luxurious look and feel. The expanded repertoire of standard items includes a power liftgate, nine airbags, attention assist and every safety item you'll find on Mercedes-Benz's S-Class flagship.

Tech Tidbit: To smooth the vibrations inherent to its diesel mill, the ML350 BlueTEC 4Matic uses active engine mounts that track engine rpm and vehicle speed, stiffening when the vehicle picks up speed. The optional Agility Control suspension uses speed and lateral acceleration readings to automatically engage or disengage the antiroll bars via hydraulic actuators.

Driving Character: As one Mercedes-Benz designer mentioned during a tech briefing at design headquarters in Sindelfingen, Germany, "Our interiors aren't only focused solely on the driver; we leave that to other brands." That may be true, but several hours in the driver's seat of an ML350 BlueTEC 4Matic were not nearly as involving as if the time would have been spent in, say, a Porsche Cayenne. The diesel ML runs quietly and smoothly at idle, thanks to the active engine mounts, with a barely discernible knocking sound coming from the exhaust pipes which are cloaked by the rear bumper thanks to clever bodywork. Refined headlight shapes and improved engine airflow helps the ML achieve a drag coefficient of .32—making it the most aerodynamic SUV on the market.

As we cruised from 65 mph up to triple-digit speeds on lonely Montana roads, the diesel ML felt quite insulated from road and wind noise, offering a pleasant cocoon of peace. But when the path grew twisty, our $65,015 tester seemed a bit reluctant to turn, despite its $5150 Dynamic Handling Package. The system's active damping allowed for a smooth ride and stiffer settings during more aggressive driving, but our ML still felt more like the plus-size GL model than we would have preferred, with vague turn-in and discernible body roll. The 240-hp diesel engine produced decent acceleration, and was most responsive when its torque peaked at 455 lb-ft between 1600 and 2400 rpm. By contrast, an afternoon drive in a $58,365 gas-powered ML offered more giddyup and go, and the gas SUV managed a light off-road trail with several bumpy sections that would unsettle other, more road-focused SUVs.

Read more: 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class Test Drive - Mercedes-Benz M-Class Review - Popular Mechanics

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