Fifteen hundred kilometres. That’s from my hometown of Durban to Johannesburg and back, with a bit of running around thrown in. It’s a long way indeed.
It’s also the range of the adjective-defying new Mercedes-Benz ML 250 BlueTEC 4MATIC with its 93-litre tank filled to the brim with diesel.
That’s a class-leading figure, of course, and just one of the reasons why I fell in love with this machine on the launch of the new, third-generation ML on the recent Limpopo launch.
Another was the price. The ML 250 BlueTEC 4MATIC clocks in at R683 500 – an astoundingly reasonable price for a big, premium, permanent all-wheel-drive SUV wearing the Three Pointed Star.
Of course, you can load your ML with options, from a temperature-controlled cupholder at R1 750 to an AIRMATIC air suspension at R16 900.
And even in standard guise this machine is quite capable of off-road excursions thanks to the likes of 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive, 4ETS electronic traction control, and an off-road button that triggers a special off-road driving mode. What’s more, Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR) automatically keeps the M-Class at the speed set using the cruise control stalk.
So I was hardly surprised that the ML 250 BlueTEC ate up the freeway en route to our Limpopo destination – and then calmly turned to taking on the powder-like sand of game-reserve roads.
But if you want to go one better, specify the ON&OFFROAD package. At R23 000 this turns the ML into a true go-anywhere beast, and includes a two-stage transfer case among other things.
Of course, I can’t even begin to tell you in full about this magnificent machine, and I refuse to sit here cannibalizing Mercedes-Benz’s press releases. Rather visit www.mercedes-benz.co.za
What I do want to say is that it’s just a little bigger and even more striking than the outgoing machine, which itself was a hard act to follow. It’s also laden with the sort of electro-wizardry that only a few years ago would have been unheard of an SUV, or indeed a production vehicle,
Let’s just touch for a minute on safety, shall we, as for decades this has been as integral to the Mercedes-Benz brand as hewn-from-granite build quality. In what I once heard Mercedes term the “democratization of safety,” systems from the S and E-Class have filtered down to the M-Class.
Standard equipment now includes the drowsiness detection system ATTENTION ASSIST – and I’ve unsuccessfully tried to fool this device in other Mercedes – Brake Assist (BAS), and PRE-SAFE. The last being what’s termed “an anticipatory safety system.”
And if you want, you can add the likes of Active Lane Keeping Assist and Active Blind Spot Assist. Then there’s the superlative 7G-TRONIC auto transmission, and the planet-saving ECO start/stop function.
Also standard on the ML 250 BlueTEC, you’ll be delighted to know, is 150kW of power and, much, much more importantly, a stump-pulling 500Nm of torque. All from its 2 143cc four-cylinder motor. In practice this means that the big SUV will surge to 100km/h in nine seconds, and top out at 210km/h.
And fuel consumption in the combined cycle - just 6.5 litres per 100km. A figure that I had to read twice to make sure it wasn’t an error.
Now, skipping past the worthy ML 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC, the ML 350 4MATIC BlueEFFICIENCY, and the ML 500 4MATIC BlueEFFICIENCY, let’s visit the halo model: the ML 63 AMG.
Now I haven’t driven one. But on the Limpopo launch a brace of these growling titans was unveiled to the press, and the figures alone impress.
Just like the whole of the M-Class’s astounding levels of equipment, the ML 63 AMG’s performance levels would have been devastating for a super-sedan only a few years ago – never mind a full-size SUV.
Think a biturbo AMG 5.5 litre V8. Think 386 kW and 700 Nm of torque. Or 410k W and 760 Nm if you pay an extra R70 000 for the AMG Performance Package – and given that the standard admission price is R1 380 000, that doesn’t seem like a lot to tack on.
Zero-to-100km/h comes up in one wild, breathtaking surge taking but 4.8 seconds, or 4.7 seconds if you’ve opted for that AMG Performance package.
Pay a further, mere R30 000 for the AMG Driver’s package, and you’ll see top speed raised from 250km/h to 280km/h. Yet – and yet – for all this, the new ML 63 AMG is 28 percent more efficient that the outgoing car.
And indeed the M-Class mirrors many of the other vehicles in the catholic M-B range.
How? Well, with each new Benz launched – from the recent B-Class upwards – I wonder how it can possibly be a substantial improvement on its worthy predecessor. Then I drive it. And realise that – almost impossibly – it represents yet another great leap forward for the Three Pointed Star…