The Mercedes ML Series is an M Class range of vehicles from Mercedes-Benz. The German automaker first launched the ML Series in 1997 as a mid-size luxury 4x4 designed to replace the G Class. The first generation ML Series was notable for being the first luxury 4x4 with electronic stability control, as well as advanced occupant detection with front and side impact airbags that propelled it to the top of industry crash safety tests.
The first generation of the ML Series wasn’t as well received as later generations because of sub-standard quality issues, but it gradually became more popular over time. The first generation lasted from 1997 to 2005, followed by a second generation from 2005 to 2011. The current, third generation began in 2011 with an official model year of 2012. The differences between the first and second generations are substantial.
The second-generation ML Series enjoyed greater design sophistication, comfort, and class, all of which were a bit lacking before. The general trend for not just the ML Series but all luxury 4x4s has been greater fuel efficiency accompanied by increases in performance. Despite a wider chassis and larger frame and wheelbase, the second-generation ML Series was lighter and less thirsty. The third generation has accelerated that trend with an even bigger drop in fuel consumption and boost in performance.
While Mercedes Benz is known for being one of the leading luxury automakers in the world, it was still unusual to associate a 4x4 with luxury until Mercedes Benz made the ML Series. This range of vehicles was revolutionary in performance and fuel consumption for its class. The second generation has a wide range of engine choices with multiple petrol and diesel engines available, on top of a 7-speed automatic transmission. In the ML350, the petrol engine is a 3.5L V6 with 200kW of power at 6000rpm, plus torque of 350Nm at 2400-5000rpm. This model also features fuel consumption of 11.5L/100km, which is down from 12.7L/100km in the first generation.
The third-generation ML Series takes the performance even further. The mid-spec ML350’s BlueEFFICIENCY V6 petrol engine gets an upgrade to 225kW of power and 370Nm of torque. At the same time, the petrol-based 4x4 has seen fuel consumption drop precipitously to just 8.5L/100km. These kinds of improvements are featured across the entire range, from the 4-cylinder BlueTec diesel up to the flagship ML 63 AMG, which features a 5.5L bi-turbo V8 with 386kW and 700Nm, up from 37kW and 630Nm previously.
The standard features in the ML Series are excellent and some of the best in its class. Across the range of the third-generation ML Series, kit includes centre console-mounted controls, a 4.5-inch instrument cluster display, BlueTooth streaming, iPod connectivity, and a 7-inch display with GPS and Wi-Fi. The safety features warrant a five-star ANCAP rating, and include a fatigue detection system, 9 airbags, Pre-Safe accident avoidance, assisted parking, stability and traction control, a reversing camera, self-drying brakes, cruise control, and a tyre pressure warning.
The AMG sports trim package rounds out the options list with a number of impressive available extras on the ML 63, such as leather trim, aluminium shift paddles, sports steering wheel, brushed steel pedals, gloss block highlights, and heated and ventilated sports seats.
In nearly every car segment, Mercedes Benz is battling for supremacy with fellow German automaker BMW, and the luxury 4x4 line-up is no exception. The range of Mercedes ML Series is pitted against BMW’s X5 line-up, and it’s not easy to point to one as the better of the two. That’s because both of them have very impressive luxury offerings, with the ML Series slightly edging out its rival in performance. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and price.
Aside from BMW, the Mercedes ML Series faces competition from another arch rival, Audi. The Audi Q7 is slightly more powerful but has a higher price tag. The ML Series also competes with the Range Rover Sport and Volkswagen Touareg, which is slightly cheaper but has less standard kit. Historically, following a rocky first generation, the ML Series has sold well, and by the third generation beginning in 2012, Mercedes Benz has clearly ironed out all of the kinks. For anyone in the market for a luxury 4x4, the Mercedes ML Series has all the performance, style, and luxury necessary to be a great pick.