Improved styling, added space and better road manners add to the overall appeal of the Mercedes Benz M-class. Ameya Dandekar has the details

Mercedes-Benz is all set to launch the new M-class with sharper styling and improved road manners making it competitive again. The M-class in its new avatar looks more aggressive with dramatically cut wheel arches and a big three-pointed star sitting on the front grille. It is larger and has sharper styling when compared to its predecessor.

There are also AMG-style vents on the bonnet along with more traditional off-roader cues such as an imitation sump guard and proud sills. Overall, the effect is extremely positive, and there is also a strong family resemblance to the rest of the Mercedes-Benz range.

We drove the ML 350CDI, which is powered by a 3.0-litre common-rail direct injection engine.

At 255bhp, the ML 350 BlueTec 4Matic has 31bhp more than the old ML 350 CDI. It comes mated to the latest version of Mercedes-Benz's silky seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox, complete with an automatic stop/start and brake energy recuperation functions, and a permanent four-wheel-drive system as standard.

The new diesel ML 350 CDI is just so smooth and sweet sounding even from the outside that anyone could easily mistake it for a petrol-powered car. There's no hint of diesel motor rattle, there's very little vibration even when you rev it.

With 63.2kgm of torque — some 10kgm more than the old car — the oil-burner makes light work of the substantial 2175kg kerb weight. Its best work is achieved on part-throttle loads; the new Mercedes off-roader cruises in a relaxed, serene manner. Thanks to the linear power delivery of the engine, the big M-class feels easy to drive in traffic too. The gearshifts, though, are on the slow side and the smooth and slow shifts clearly indicate that Mercedes has put refinement and comfort before performance.

Driving the car on twisting roads revealed that the new M-class handles much better than before, and is light and easy to drive.

Ultimately though, the M-class still doesn't provide an involving enough drive to rival an X5. When you need to scrub off that speed or change direction in a hurry you realise that two tonnes of off-roader can't really bend the laws of physics.

The ML350 CDI now has a stiffer chassis, as a result of which its high speed manners are impeccable and it rides over broken surfaces without much fuss. Even at low speeds the ride is quite supple. Only sharp bumps cause a thud from the stiffer than earlier suspension set-up.

It comes with a long list of merits in other areas too — a truly high-quality interior, superb-looking instruments, nicely damped controls, a commanding view of the road from the driver's seat, a spacious cabin, copious luggage space, state-of-the-art entertainment and communication systems and outstanding quality to name a few — which certainly adds to the overall appeal.

The M-class sticks with five seats and there are no great surprises in either its packaging or internal features. Legroom impressive for passengers in the rear and the headroom is particularly impressive. Though the larger dimensions give the new M-class its aggressive stature, it is also the reason why the car will prove to be a handful in the city traffic.

With prices estimated at Rs. 69 lakh, ex-showroom Mumbai, the new M-class as an overall package is quite impressive.

Keywords: Mercedes Benz