The new 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class rolling into showrooms later this year won’t look all that much different from the current version – at least not if these first images released by the German maker are any indication. But there’ll be some big differences “under the hood” that could significantly improve the capabilities of the Teutonic crossover-ute.
The third-generation Mercedes ML will be the last major project to emerge from the star-crossed “merger-of-equals” between Daimler AG and America’s Chrysler Corp. Though Mercedes will stress that it has since done plenty of engineering on its own, the fact is that the 2012 crossover shares its underpinnings with the popular new Jeep Grand Cherokee, a runner-up in the recent voting for North American Truck of the Year.
The exterior of the new ML maintains essentially the same dimensions as the gen-2 model, and it will likely take most observers a moment to recognize this is a new offering. A closer look reveals a bit more sculpting to the body, with the side panels flaring rearward from the front wheel well, and a more muscular bulge to the hood.
The interior is modestly upgraded; roomier than before, it features a fatter steering wheel and sporty rectangular air vents replacing the previous round ones. Despite the extensive use of leather and chrome, some observers might even find some surprising similarities to the latest-generation Jeep.
The maker plans to hit market with just three powertrain packages, including two V6 versions – a gasoline-powered ML 350 4Matic Blue Efficiency and ML 350 Bluetec 4Matic, as well as a smaller diesel model, the ML 250 Bluetec 4Matic, which is not expected to come to the States.
That single gas model uses a 3.5-liter Direct Injection V6 generating 306 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes quotes a 0 to 60 time of 7.6 seconds, and a top speed of 146 mph.
The bigger diesel, at 3.0-liters, will see its output ratings for 2012 jump from 231 to 258 hp, while torque will increase from 398 to 457 lb-ft. At 7.4 seconds, it will actually be a bit quicker off the line than the gas offering, while delivering up to 35 mpg in the European mileage test.
As with the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes has adopted a new system that lets a driver instantly adjust key driving characteristics to reflect road conditions – such as tarmac, mud and ruts, sand or snow. The six different settings of the On & Off Road package instantly alter such things as throttle response, shift mapping, brakes and traction control.
As anticipated, the new Mercedes ML will deliver a wide range of high-tech safety features, including Intelligent Light System, Night View Assist Plus with pedestrian recognition, Lane Keeping Assist, reverse camera, Active Park Assist, Active Curve System and more.
The crossover can be ordered with a self-leveling air suspension, the standard package featuring active damping.
While Mercedes hasn’t released pricing, sources expect the base U.S. ML350 to come in around $50,000, with the diesel commanding about a $2,500 premium.