The ML350 BlueTec’s turbo-diesel engine boasts impressive output numbers (240 hp and455 lb-ft) and respectable fuel economy (20/25 mpg) but is crippled by a narrow band of usable thrust. The engine is laggy on the low end and wheezy in the upper registers, so passing requires forethought and attention to what gear you’re in. The traditional gasoline V-6 responds much more quickly and has a broader torque peak near the top end, which makes it far more enjoyable to drive. Both cars use a revised version of the seven-speed automatic transmission, which contributes to the ML’s fuel-economy improvements. Handling is merely mediocre for the class, with the 5000-pound diesel taking its time to change directions and settle into a turn. The $5150 dynamic handling package adds air springs and a hydraulically actuated antiroll bar that results in improved handling in sport mode, but it still allows an unusual amount of body roll. If you’re buying for comfort, however, the ML delivers with a smooth and quiet ride that stands up to its rivals’. The new M-class also makes a number of concessions to American frivolity with optional heated and cooled cupholders, hands-free parallel parking, and available iPad docking stations for rear-seat passengers. Like the outgoing car, the new ML offers seating for only five, but Mercedes-Benz representatives say a third row is in the works.

Drive: 4-wheel

Trim levels: ML350, ML350 BlueTec

Body style: SUV/crossover, 5-passenger

Engines: 3.0L turbo-diesel V-6, 240 hp, 455 lb-ft
3.5L V-6, 302 hp, 273 lb-ft

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Passenger volume: 103.2 cu ft

Capacities: Towing 7200 lb; cargo (rear seats
up/down) 36.2/71.0 cu ft

Mercedes-Benz’s mid-size SUV is new for 2012. It has a wider, lower, and more aerodynamic design; more power; better fuel economy; and improved comfort. Standard equipment now includes heated front seats, reclining rear seats, and a power liftgate. For now, the ML is available only with all-wheel drive and either a gasoline or diesel V-6 engine. Expect hybrid, rear-wheel-drive, V-8, and AMG variants to arrive in the next year or so.

All M-classes are equipped with ABS; dual-stage front, front and rear side, side curtain, and driver’s knee air bags; traction and stability control; driver-drowsiness warning; and tire-pressure monitoring. Automatic high-beams, swiveling headlamps, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-keep assist are optional.

All: 17-20 mpg city/22-25 mpg highway

  • Excellent ride quality
  • Smooth, spirited V-6
  • Extremely quiet
  • Mediocre handling
  • Diesel has narrow power band
  • No third row

A mild-mannered mid-size SUV

  • Acura MDX
  • Audi Q7
  • BMW X5
  • Infiniti FX

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