2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 12, 2012

For families who want off-road or towing ability, but not a third row of seats, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class is one of the most enjoyable, secure utility-vehicle picks.

What the Mercedes-Benz M Class promises, and what it truly is, aren't always in accord, but so goes the market for luxury utility vehicles. In upscale suburban America, the Mercedes-Benz M Class fills some of the role of a minivan, shuttling kids to practice, and serving as a weekend getaway rig. At the same time, the M Class promises a ruggedness that's well beyond the tarmac that some of these stylish utes will never leave.

Mercedes-Benz kept with that careful dance last year, making the a more aggressive yet graceful evolution--but not shaking up the outward image too much--all while making the interior more soft and sedan-like than ever. Inside, gently sculpted lines and swooping curves of Mercedes' sedan instrument panels and complement the look with a 'power dome' center stack, a new seven-inch display flanked by air vents, and the latest version of M-B's COMAND screen-based interface.

Although it does flaunt its off-road side in appearance, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class drives like a luxury sedan most of the time, with a smooth, refined character behind the wheel. Powertrains are strong and responsive; handling is secure; and roadholding is confident. The new 302-hp base V-6 engine in the M Class, a 3.5-liter, 60-degree V-6, was completely new last year, and we think it's one of the best V-6 luxury engines. But we'd still go with the torquey, fuel-efficient BlueTec turbo-diesel V-6. The gasoline engines especially tend to work well in concert with the seven-speed automatic transmission, singing all the way up the rev range with no rough edges. ML550 models include a stronger, direct-injection 4.6-liter V-8 that makes 402 hp and 443 pound-feet of torque. And at the top of the range--and new for 2013--is the new ML 63 AMG, which comes with a 5.5-liter biturbo V-8 making 518 hp and 516 lb-ft. Other upgrades include five-spoke, 20-inch AMG wheels, and if you opt for the AMG Performance Package you'll have 550 hp and 560 lb-ft. 

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Some customers will still expect the off-road ability to be here, so Mercedes-Benz hasn't dumbed that down too much or lightened the M Class's towing or basic trail ability. The 4Matic system's electronic, stability-system-linked 4-ETS torque distribution can send nearly all engine torque to whichever single wheel can use it. The suspension is also remarkably versatile for a combination of on-road use or off-roading. Opt for the off-road package, and you get an automatically detaching roll-bar system. Towing capability is here, too--up to 7,200 pounds, and at its best in torquey BlueTec guise.

Seating in the M Class is about on par with that in other luxury SUVs its size. Taller adults can sit in back, in the outboard positions, though it's still a bit of a squeeze to fit three across. Cushions are well contoured, and the front seats especially are like we expect from Mercedes, with all-day support built in. Rear seatbacks are also now adjustable for rake, and there's more than 36 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats. With the last generation of the ML, Mercedes made considerable advances in refinement and materials, bringing the cabin appointments and ride quality up to par with that of the brand's sedans. In this new third-gen version, it's even better—especially the way everything fits

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class offers many of the same comforts, infotainment, connectivity, and plush luxury features you'll find in the brand's top sedans, like the S-Class--as well as some features that help it standout against other utility vehicles. 

Some of those standouts include a heated or cooled cupholder that can heat up to 141 degrees F. And there's a new iPad docking station—positioned between the front seats and in view for rear passengers—that will be available first in this product but will soon be available for all Mercedes-Benz models. A night-vision system is among the standalone options, as is an Advanced Park Assist system, which helps steer the vehicle back into a parallel-parking space as the driver controls the accelerator and brakes.

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7

2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Styling

The 2013 M Class is tasteful but not at all surprising on the outside, but nicely detailed and surprisingly plush and carlike on the inside.

Last year the Mercedes-Benz M Class family was completely redesigned, and while it didn't look radically different than the generation before it, the M-Class is a careful evolution on the outside, combined with a more significantly revamped interior that simply feels classier than before.

There's a lot of grace and power built into the proportions of the 2013 M Class, and while the proportions are mostly familiar, last year's redesign gained greater attention to details. A chiseled, nicely detailed front air dam, with a taller, more imposing version of the Mercedes-Benz than the brand's cars, sets the stage in front, while aggressive new character lines carve out more body definition alongside, with the sloping C-pillar thick and accented. From any of the side angles, you'll notice that the prominent shoulder-line continues all the way back to the flanks, then wraps around into the tail, where the M Class is perhaps the most traditional in its design.

While the exterior looks tasteful, if a bit familiar, the interior of the M Class will be a revelation even if you're trading up from a lease on a late-model M Class. Dumping the chunky look of the former vehicle entirely, the M-Class adopts a design that's clearly influenced by the S Class sedan flagship, with the gently sculpted lines and swooping curves of Mercedes' sedan instrument panels.

Complementing the look is a 'power dome' center stack. Top and center in the completely redesigned dash is a seven-inch display, flanked by air vents, with the latest version of M-B's COMAND screen-based interface. Standout materials such as diagonal stitching for the seats add a fresh, high-class touch, and up-level models get an upholstered dashboard.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Performance

Capable trail ability tops off strong powertrain performance, as well as handling that's respectable for a utility vehicle.

Although it does flaunt its off-road side in appearance, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class drives like a luxury sedan most of the time, with a smooth, refined character behind the wheel. Powertrains are strong and responsive; handling is secure; and roadholding is confident.

The new base V-6 engine in the M Class, a 3.5-liter, 60-degree V-6, was completely new last year, and we think it's one of the best V-6 luxury engines. Power is at 302 horsepower, and torque is at 275 pound-feet, and this engine has a nice even powerband to feel sprightly from a standing start or when pressed to pull off a quick pass. It works in concert with the seven-speed automatic transmission and sings all the way up the rev range with no rough edges.

ML 550 models include a stronger, direct-injection 4.6-liter V-8 that makes 402 hp and 443 pound-feet of torque; but our favorite 2012 M Class model remains the ML 350 BlueTec. If 'wafting' up to speed easily (without downshifts) on the highway, cruising effortlessly near triple digits, and getting gas mileage that won't place a frown on the faces of your more earth conscious friends are all priorities, you'll find this model the best fit, too. M-B has reworked this engine, too, to make 240 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque.

At the top of the range--and new for 2013--is the new ML 63 AMG, which comes with a 5.5-liter biturbo V-8 making 518 hp and 516 lb-ft. Other upgrades include five-spoke, 20-inch AMG wheels, and if you opt for the AMG Performance Package you'll have 550 hp and 560 lb-ft. 

In this generation of M Class, Mercedes-Benz has fixed many of the attributes that we thought of as undesirable in the previous generation--leaving what's a very pleasant vehicle to drive, even on a curvy road. The new electromechanical steering is superb; it doesn't quite have the dead on-center heft that some former M-B systems have had—as well as the remote feel that, puzzled as we might be, the brand had considered a desirable trait—but that's fine. You'll find handling secure and confident, and the variable-ratio rack is handy for parking. A vague brake-pedal feel is our only complaint—though the brakes can haul this big ute down from autobahn speeds with total confidence.

Some customers will still expect the off-road ability to be here, so Mercedes-Benz hasn't dumbed that down too much or lightened the M Class's towing or basic trail ability. The 4Matic system's electronic, stability-system-linked 4-ETS torque distribution can send nearly all engine torque to whichever single wheel can use it. The suspension is also remarkably versatile for a combination of on-road use or off-roading. Opt for the off-road package, and you get an automatically detaching roll-bar system.

With a tow rating of 7,200 pounds, the M Class is a very capable tow rig, too—especially in torquey BlueTec guise.

9

2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 M Class wows with top-notch materials, jewel-like details, and excellent seating and ride comfort.

A luxury vehicle first and foremost, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class doesn't skip any beats in terms of interior comfort, interior materials, or ride quality. It's a high-class effort in every nook and cranny.

As you might expect in a Mercedes-Benz, the M Class has excellent seats--well-contoured and soft, yet all-day supportive. There's space for taller adults in the back seats, too, although fitting three across will prove tight. You can however adjust the rear seatbacks, and even with them up and in place there's more than 36 cubic feet of cargo space behind them.

The cabin experience is tight, quiet, and isolated. There's a rather wide difference between the two modes (Comfort and Sport) of the available Airmatic suspension and adaptive damping system, which play a major part in pairing isolation and control. Comfort provides more of a traditional luxury-car ride, while with Sport you get a somewhat crisper feel at turn-in, with a little more road noise and coarseness.

Mercedes made considerable advances in refinement and materials with its sedans in recent years; and with last year's redesign it brought many of those improvements to the M Class. And to an issue that's been criticized for years, the company has repositioned the turn-signal lever from the 8:00 position to the 10:00 position.

And thanks to much-improved aerodynamics—and a spoiler at the back of the roof—the interior is noticeably quieter than prior versions of the M Class, or most other utility vehicles with this kind of profile.

10

2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Safety

Safety has long been a Mercedes-Benz priority, and the M Class lives up to that impression.

Safety has for decades been one of Mercedes-Benz's top selling points, along with design attributes, features, and engineering that goes well beyond requirements and expectations. That's still the case with the 2013 M Class.

Advanced safety features are what pushes the M Class from being merely a safe pick to one that will help keep you out of trouble when the unexpected happens. Its available Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control is one of the most sophisticated and unobtrusive systems on any vehicle—capable of coming to a full stop with traffic and restarting, and potentially reducing fatigue. Pre-Safe, Lane Keeping Assist, and Blind Spot Assist (all optional) all provide the sort of alerts that might make a split-second difference.

Attention Assist, which takes tabs on driving style to help identify the signs of drowsy driving—triggering a coffee-cup icon and some warning beeps—is now a standard feature on all M Class models.

The M Class gets top 'good' ratings in all crash-test categories from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), along with the group's Top Safety Pick nod.

9

2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Features

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class impresses with its high-tech options, but not with its COMAND interface.

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class offers many of the same comforts, infotainment, connectivity, and plush luxury features you'll find in the brand's top sedans, like the S-Class--as well as some features that help it standout against other utility vehicles. 

Some of those standouts include a heated or cooled cupholder that can heat up to 141 degrees F. And there's a new iPad docking station—positioned between the front seats and in view for rear passengers—that will be available first in this product but will soon be available for all Mercedes-Benz models. A night-vision system is among the standalone options, as is an Advanced Park Assist system, which helps steer the vehicle back into a parallel-parking space as the driver controls the accelerator and brakes.

Other extras are grouped into Premium packages, including, for instance, a Dynamic Handling Package that adds adaptive damping and an air suspension system.

Even the base-level equipment is pretty impressive. All ML 350 and ML 350 Bluetec models include power heated front seats and a power liftgate--both items that are a step up in some rival models. The newly upgraded sound system (or premium Harman/Kardon system) provide some varied and superb-sounding entertainment, and include an SD card slot, 10 GB of audio storage, CD/DVD compatibility, HD radio, weatherband, and Bluetooth audio streaming—as well as Bluetooth hands-free calling. There's also a USB port within the center console.

We're still not all that enthused about the latest version of M-B's COMAND screen-based interface, which includes a rotary/button controller, placed just ahead of the driver's right-hand armrest. There's simply too much looking at the screen required--even once you begin to remember the menu system. Thankfully it does include a couple of programmable shortcut buttons.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Fuel Economy

Get the ML 350 Bluetec and you'll have one of the greenest highway-worthy large utility vehicles.

If you want to think green, yet get an off-road or towing-capable luxury SUV that doesn't feel compromised in any way, choose the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 Bluetec; you'll get EPA fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city, 27 highway, which enables a driving range of about 650 miles. It's already our pick of the two V-6 models, but its green credentials make it more of a no-brainer, despite the ML 350's much-improved refinement.

The gasoline-powered ML 350 is about par for the class, at an EPA-rated 17 mpg city, 22 highway. But it pretty much goes downhill from there. Opt for the more exclusive ML 550, and fuel economy ratings plummet to 15/20 mpg. And go for performance with the ML 63 AMG, and you'll see 14/18 mpg on the window sticker.
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September 7, 2016
2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class 4MATIC 4-Door ML 550

Gustov performance 4wd

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Great acceleration for such a big car, comfortable for 5 adults and great for out doors, love the grunt amg package is a must.
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October 27, 2015
For 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class

I trust my Mercedes to a grate extend and I really enjoy the inside and external package

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This car is best for me and I will propurse it to others around the world
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July 16, 2015
2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class 4MATIC 4-Door ML 350

Great Car!

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No complaints... has been virtuallyl maintenance free... no problems. Would highly recommend.
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April 17, 2015
For 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class

The optimal SUV

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Outstanding compromise of all different qualities.
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April 17, 2015
For 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class

This is my idea of the most perfect car ever.

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The attention to detail in my ML 63 is one of the reasons that I give it 5 Stars. The safety features alone on this vehicle make it worthy of that rating. Living in Florida is a real test of driving skill and... + More »
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Styling 7.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
Safety 10.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 6.0
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