2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class Performance

8.0
Performance

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.

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

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.

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