2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class Review

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2012
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 3, 2012

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class is improved in nearly way, and remains one of the most luxurious and secure choices for families not needing a third row of seats.

The Mercedes-Benz M-Class, a stylish utility vehicle that's become something of a status symbol for upscale families in image-conscious, upscale suburbs, has been completely redesigned for 2012.

While the exterior of the 2012 M Class is clearly a more aggressive yet graceful evolution, the interior goes in a somewhat new direction, adopting the gently sculpted lines and swooping curves of Mercedes' sedan instrument panels and complements the look with 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. 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.

All the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class models get re-engineered powertrains, including an all-new, 3.5-liter, 60-degree V-6 in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML 350. It's better, we think, than most V-6 luxury engines. Overall, power is up to 302 horsepower, and torque is at 275 pound-feet, but what you should know is that the new engine feels perkier than the previous unit wherever it matters; and whether that's from a standing start or in quick passing on a two-laner, it sings up the rev range and works extremely well with the seven-speed automatic transmission. That said, 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.

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The rest of the M Class driving experience is quite good. 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.

The M Class is still a utility vehicle at heart, so Mercedes-Benz hasn't by any means whittled down this vehicle's towing or basic trail ability. With a tow rating of 7,200 pounds, the 2012 M Class is very capable—especially in torquey BlueTec guise—of getting the jet-skiis out to the lake. Plus, 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.

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.

What makes it special among rivals is its active and passive safety. 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) help keep you out of accidents. 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.

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. But it includes a couple of programmable shortcut buttons to make it more comfortable. The new sound system (or upgraded Harman/Kardon system) provide some varied and superb-sounding entertainment, though. They 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.

Among the other standouts among available features is a heated or cooled cupholder that can heat up to 141 degrees F. It did a great job keeping our coffee hot while running the A/C. 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. An Advanced Park Assist system, which helps steer the vehicle back into a parallel-parking space as the driver controls the accelerator and brakes, is also available.

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2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Styling

The newly redesigned 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class is only mildly evolved on the outside, but much more fashionable and better-detailed on the inside.

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class has a completely new design this year all-new this year, and while Mercedes-Benz has made the exterior a careful evolution and improvement, it's imbued the interior with a classier feel more like that of the brand's S-Class sedan flagship.

The proportions of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class are undoubtedly familiar, yet there's a lot more grace and power built into thanks to greater attention to details. A chiseled, nicely detailed front air dam and a taller, more imposing version of the Mercedes-Benz than the brand's cars get sets the stage in front, and aggressive new character lines carve out more body definition alongside, with the sloping C-pillar again thick and accented. A prominent shoulder-line continues all the way back to the flanks, and wraps around to a more traditional tail.

While the exterior of the 2012 M Class is clearly a more aggressive yet graceful evolution, the interior goes in a somewhat new direction, adopting the gently sculpted lines and swooping curves of Mercedes' sedan instrument panels and complements the look with 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. 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. Interior materials are substantially upgraded, the automaker says, with standouts like ventilated leather seats with diagonal stitching.

Review continues below
8

2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Performance

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class has superb performance on the road, combined with capable trail ability that's there when you need it.

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class drives like a good luxury car the majority of the time, with a responsive powertrain, secure handling, confident roadholding, and a smooth, refined character behind the wheel.

Mercedes-Benz never quite got its former V-6 to feel as smooth as the in-line six that preceded it in its cars, but the all-new, 3.5-liter, 60-degree V-6 in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 is off to a great start—and better, we think, than most V-6 luxury engines. Overall, power is up to 302 horsepower, and torque is at 275 pound-feet, but what you should know is that the new engine feels perkier than the previous unit wherever it matters; and whether that's from a standing start or in quick passing on a two-laner, it sings up the rev range and works extremely well with the seven-speed automatic transmission. That said, 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.

There's a lot more to delight in the new M Class other than the powertrain. 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. The ML does feel a little more nimble with the gasoline engine, and when the road turns curvy, the seven-speed automatic doesn't work quite as well with the diesel, but that wouldn't stop us from favoring the ML 350 Bluetec.

The M Class is still a utility vehicle at heart, so Mercedes-Benz hasn't by any means whittled down this vehicle's towing or basic trail ability. With a tow rating of 7,200 pounds, the 2012 M Class is very capable—especially in torquey BlueTec guise—of getting the jet-skiis out to the lake. Plus, 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—such as the dusty trails we saw out in Montana ranch country—with a so-called stroke-dependent setup that is softer when the surface demands it, firmer otherwise for more body control. Later in the model year, you'll also be able to specify an off-road package with an automatically detaching roll-bar system.

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9

2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Comfort & Quality

With a combination of top-notch materials, jewel-like details, and excellent seating and ride comfort, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class won't let discerning luxury shoppers down.

The interior of the 2012 Merceces-Benz M Class is first and foremost that of a luxury vehicle, at once comfortable, welcoming, and high-class.

While seating in the M Class is about on par with that in other luxury SUVs its size, the cushions front and back are well contoured, with all-day support built in. Taller adults can sit in back, in the outboard positions, though it's still a bit of a squeeze to fit three across. 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. Much-improved aerodynamics—and a spoiler at the back of the roof—help keep the interior quieter than before. In all, the M Class simply feels quieter and more comfortable at triple-digit speeds—which, by the way, sneak up remarkably easy on you with the BlueTec.

Ride quality is, in a word, uncompromised. The available Airmatic suspension and adaptive damping systems include just two ride modes, Comfort and Sport, and we found a very significant difference between the two; Comfort soaks up all but the hardest jolts, with a sort of firm-but-creamy demeanor, while with Sport you get a somewhat crisper feel at turn-in but the tradeoff is that you're at all times a little more in touch with the road surface.

Review continues below
10

2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Safety

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class lives up to the luxury brand's decades-long reputation for occupant safety that goes above and beyond.

Mercedes-Benz has a longstanding reputation for active and passive safety that goes well past requirements and expectations, and the new 2012 M Class is no exception.

It's not all that surprising that 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.

What makes the M Class special among rivals is its active and passive safety. 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) help keep you out of accidents.

For those times when you are yawning (and perhaps weaving) a little too much, Mercedes-Benz has that covered, too. 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.

Review continues below
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2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Features

Add some of the many options offered in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class, and you'll have one of the most luxurious, technologically advanced utility vehicles in the world.

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class has all the luxury-vehicle comforts you might expect in a premium utility vehicle, as well as some high-tech convenience and entertainment features that you won't see in many other models.

On all ML 350 and ML 350 Bluetec models, you'll find 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. But it includes a couple of programmable shortcut buttons to make it more comfortable.

Review continues below
Among the other standouts among available features is a heated or cooled cupholder that can heat up to 141 degrees F. It did a great job keeping our coffee hot while running the A/C. 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.
6

2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Fuel Economy

The 2012 M 350 Bluetec ranks as one of the greener choices among luxury utility vehicles--especially for those who rack on the highway miles.

Depending on which model of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M Class you choose, you'll end up either with a vehicle that's about mid-pack for fuel-efficiency, or one that's among the greenest in this class. 

Choose the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 Bluetec--which is already our recommendation of the two M Class trims--and you'll not only find more confident performance under heavy loads, less downshifting, and relaxed cruising; you'll get EPA fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city, 27 highway, which enables a driving range of about 650 miles.

The gasoline-powered ML 350 is about par for the class, at an EPA-rated 17 mpg city, 22 highway.

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Styling 7
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 10
Features 9
Fuel Economy 6
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