Quality that grows on you

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By Nick Jones

I’ve driven just about every kind of 4x4 on the planet, but the one that I remember the fondest would be the ML Mercedes-Benz.

When it first arrived a few years ago, I got in it, looked how solid and to some degree how ‘ordinary’ it looked inside and wondered what all the fuss was about.

But after a week on the road everything became apparent: this was a masterclass in its segment. No rattles, squeaks and bumps, just pure ordinary brilliance.

Mercedes sent me to test another ML, but this one has the 350 CDI diesel engine, and is a BlueEFFICIENCY model.

With the optional alloy wheels fitted, the ML looks superb. Those AMG-esque spokes look as classy as ever, and aesthetically, it’s hard to fault.

From the front, with the highly visible slatted grille, high cheekbones and the three-pointed star, the lovely intertwined swage lines down the sides with unusual but likeable ‘round’ arches (lie on the S-Class) and finishing at the rear in a bulbous design that clearly has had lots of work penned in and looks really classy and handsome from any angle.

The big 4x4’s of today all have shape to them, but the ML is a cut above the rest when it comes to gleaning admiring glances.

I’ve tested a few of the engines in the range before, but the 350CDI could be perceived as one of the best-sellers Mercedes has. It has 230bhp and produces a good turn of pace. Top speed is approaching 140mph, with 0-60mph taking 7.6 seconds; emissions are OK too, with it producing 240g/km and I can expect around 33mpg of diesel. All sounds OK so far but it’s the torque figure which is astounding – it achieves 540Nm at just 1,600 revs, good enough to see it catapult down the road effortlessly.

At the side of the all-conquering 320CDI of old, this new engine has just raised the bar for Mercedes.

On the road it’s smooth as you like with the 7G-TRONIC gearbox shifting seamlessly and the ride is compliant and assured.

The airMATIC air suspension works well, either in auto, comfort or sports mode, adjusting the ride height according to the driver input.

If the need ever arises and you want to take it off-roading, then a simple press of a dash-mounted button ensures the permanent four-wheel-drive system splits the engine’s output equally to both axles, with all the traction control systems and braking sensors put on alert should it detect any slippage.

Internally, equipment levels have gone up a notch. Standard kit is pretty good but there is a healthy options list, of which you need to pick your bits carefully.

The overriding factor for me is the efficiency it gives the user; as I said earlier, it doesn’t really stand out as such, but as you get used to it, the quality and refinement is all there to see, and feel. It’s a cabin I could quite easily get used to and one you would feel just as refreshed getting out of as you were when you got in, whatever the length of journey.

I think it would be fair to say you can pay £55,000 for the 350CDI by the time you’ve added a few ‘toys’ but if you want you could spend quite a lot more.

Residuals would be up there with the best for this diesel, and you know if you ever bought one, it’d last for ever.

The engines are now much cleaner and therefore more fuel-friendly, the smooth, slippery-shape it wraps itself in is distinctive and rather tasty, I have to say.

But try to spend time with the ML before you sign on the dotted line as a 20-minute test drive is simply not long enough to enjoy the quality it offers.

But take it from me, this luxury 4x4 from Mercedes-Benz will be a very, very, wise and non-regrettable purchase should you buy one.