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.
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