Mercedes are good at making big cars, over recent years they've been dogged with reliability issues and build quality problems. However with the recent change back to the masculine bullish square fronts and out and out sports styling, these problems and issues seem to have been addressed. So with all the range restyled and the C-Class selling hand over fist, the E-Class being released as a coupe, with a waiting list longer than Jordan's divorce lawyer, and the SL and SLK recapturing the crowns of King and Queen of drop-top sports cars. Merc were stuck with just one last thorn in its side - the ML. An SUV so pig ugly that regardless of how many spoilers and body kits you fitted to it, the biggest reason to put blacked out windows on one, was so your mates didn't see you driving it.
Sluggish, boxlike, uninspiring, dull, boring and with a gearbox that felt like a spanner being thrown into a toolbox, it drove and sounded like a tractor. Ask a premium SUV driver whether they'd have an X5, Cayenne or ML and the resounding answer was never the ML.
So Merc designers have set about restyling the ML to fit into the rest of it's aggressively and sportily styled range…. Needless to say, they've not only pulled it off, but it's a transformation of epic proportions. The new ML is a stunning motor to behold, it's now the most gangster-esque SUV on the market, the only thing missing is guns behind the headlights!
It's bigger and more aggressive than Jodie Harsh's makeup; it's also morphed into a performance cruiser SUV rather than a trailer-pulling rich farmer's wagon. The 3L turbo-charged engine is powerful and purposeful, 0-62mhp takes 8.6secs, so its not the quickest, but its quick enough to prove a point if needs be. It's also got more torque than Alan Carr and feels capable of pulling small islands out of the sea. The engine isn't the quietest, however it no longer sounds like a tractor. The cabin has been so drastically refined and resigned that inside the cabin the engine noise is non-existent.
Overall it's a huge SUV, long and angular, aggressive and sporty. Outside, it is everything, looks wise, you could ever want. Inside it reeks of class and sophistication, it's the posh totty of motoring. Merc have kept the sports feel in the cabin, the model I tested had plenty of aluminium trim throughout. The boot (being 'gangsta' about it) is big enough to fit several kidnapping victims in, and you're fine to go 5-up to the bank job as rear legroom is massive. So what about that god-awful gearbox? Replaced by the superb 7-G-Tronic 7sp automatic box, which in auto mode is fantastic, but in manual, using the steering wheel mounted shift paddles is even better.
Equipment-wise, it's been a while since Mercedes listed a steering wheel as a cost option, but Merc aren't known for its generosity in standard kit. Which is why the standard spec list for the ML320 CDI SE is so surprising, it's a long, very long list! Now for just over 40k you don't get Sat Nav, but you do get a 5" colour display and telephone pad, single disc CD player and iPod connector and management system in the glove box. You also get tinted glass, oval sports exhaust pipes, dark tinted rear lights, Bluetooth, electric tailgate (opens and closes at the touch of a button, for gangsta's cant open their own boots and you cant have your posse with you all the time!), front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, 18" Alloys, enough airbags to suffocate a herd of wildebeest and so many safety systems and off-road systems that there's just too many to list in this review. It's well worth the £2,300 for the COMAND Sat Nav and cockpit management system. My test car also had the exterior wheel carrier with spare wheel, which I'd advise against. Mainly as I think it spoils the lines of the car, although it does make the ML look butch and off-roadish, it totally hampers vision through the rear window as the spare wheel blocks your view. Finally - it weighs a bloody ton and you have to unclip and pull it across, before you can open and close the boot, very impractical with an arm full of shopping and a couple of dogs on leads.
Overall I'm massively impressed with the performance, not so with the economy (it does maximum 35mpg on the motorway and a disappointing 23.3mpg round town), I love the new styling and look. It handles well and you can certainly throw it round at speed and be slightly more adventurous with cornering and bends than in the old ML.
It's also more than capable off-road and for towing, with its new 'outta my face bi-atch' looks and bling-ability, it's the new rapper of the motoring world and I love it. I also think its actually more than reasonably pricing for the amount of kit you get for your wedge. Well worth a look at if your looking at SUV's, and don't rule it out if you brought the old ML and regretted it, the new ML is just that.