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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
diesel is 'strong enough to pull the SUV like a performance coupe'
ML350 'won't leave you feeling short-changed in the power department'
Kelley Blue Book
ML550 is 'seriously quick, hitting 60 from a standstill in 5.4 seconds'
Car and Driver
Downshifts are quick and smooth
You can have your choice of powertrains in the 2011 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. With six- and eight-cylinder engines, a hybrid edition, a diesel, and a powerful AMG edition, it's lacking only a pure EV model, a four-cylinder turbo and an in-line five to make a full house, automotive-style.
The ML350 is the base edition. It's fueled by a 3.5-liter V-6 gas engine with 268 horsepower, and Mercedes says it's capable of a 0-60 mph run of about 8 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph. It's still offered in either rear- or all-wheel drive, while all other models are exclusively equipped with the 4MATIC four-wheel-drive system.
The next step up the drivetrain ladder brings you to the ML550 and its 382-hp 5.5-liter V-8. This is one fast, flexible highway passing machine: it'll hit 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, before it tops out at 130 mph. Like the ML350, the ML550's engine is coupled to a seven-speed automatic that doles out power urgently and smoothly.
One of the most pleasing M-Class variants is the diesel-powered ML350 BlueTEC. Its 210 horsepower sound meager, but it twists out 400 lb-ft of torque--which means more than 600 miles of driving range on a single tank. The diesel feels just as strong as the V-6 in almost all circumstances, and the tremendous torque makes it the best choice for towing up to 7200 pounds.
Those who want some electricity in their ML will have to seek out a lease-only ML450 Hybrid. This powertrain pairs the gas V-6 with two electric motors and nickel-cadmium batteries, which are mounted under the rear storage-area floor. The hybrid's net ratings of 335 hp and 381 lb-ft of torque mean it's roughly as quick as the diesel and V-6 MLs, even while carrying more weight, and fuel economy of 20/24 mpg is a big improvement over the gas-only engine. The ML450 Hybrid regenerative braking blends seamlessly into the friction brakes; it shuts off and and restarts silently when stopped, and can run on battery power alone up to 34 mph for short distances. The only drawback, other than leasing, is the Hybrid's downrated towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.
Finally, for almost $100,000, there's the 503-horsepower Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG. It's distinct from other V-8 MLs as much for its stunning acceleration as for its unapologetic 11/15 mpg fuel economy. The power boost flattens 0-60 mph times to 4.8 seconds, and lifts the ML's top speed to 155 mph.
In all versions, the M-Class is an impressive SUV, one that's very good at hiding its truck height and stance. Steering is communicative, the ride's well-controlled even with the largest 20-inch wheels, and braking is strong. The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system uses three mechanical differentials and anti-lock braking to maximize traction, and on all versions where it's found, it gives the M-Class the ability to handle moderate off-roading easily.
Have it your way? The 2011 Mercedes-Benz M-Class has a wide spectrum of powertrain choices; the ML550's V-8 and the diesel are our two favorites.