The Mercedes ML is often the car of choice for mums ferrying their privately tutored children to school and back. With its executive yet functional look I can see why they choose this over the Ford Focus sensible people drive. As a result the four wheel drive system never sees the rough stuff and thus leaves us wondering whether it’s even capable of mounting the curb.
To quench the thrust for an answer I decided to road test the ML at Mercedes UK HQ in Brooklands. A brief overview shows our test model to be the 3.2 Litre CDI, and so as far as the engine is concerned it has potential. The interior is doused in the latest Mercedes electronic toys including sim-card reader for when mum’s need to call the school to notify them that they are stuck in traffic. Of course the on board computer deals with all the electro-wizardry of the suspension and ABS, and also indicates that the car, at least in design, was intended to venture off the beaten track.
Onwards with the road test! On tarmac the ML is quite and refined as you would expect from any other Mercedes-Benz, in fact for adiesel the engine noise was almost unnoticeable. From the comfort of my extremely well upholstered seat I had ample vision of the road ahead, often it is this that draws people to 4X4’s. The ML is a rather tranquil vehicle to drive unlike one of its predecessor that proved to be as elegant as a Hippopotamus on ice. The engine also provides adequate grunt as well as torque to get out of junctions in a hurry and the suspension does a sublime job of cancelling body roll. That’s all well and good but we are still no closer to finding out if this can handle tuff terrain or if it is to remain an ornament in office car parks.
Conveniently Mercedes-Benz provided us with their off-road course for the afternoon in order for us to really push this car to its limits. So with the ride height cranked up to its max I set off. To begin with I must say that myself and the car were not in tune. When the ML is setup for off-roading the response from the controls change dramatically. Everything becomes more precise and as a result when I applied the brakes just as I did on the road, everything lunged forwards as the ML’s colossal brake callipers crunched down on the discs. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I did find that with everything bouncing about on a rough surface that accidently applying the brakes is like kicked by a horse.
However the CDI being very capable pulled its way up some hills that would begin to worry a Land Rover, also its one of the few cars in its class that appears to have no problem with driving sideways up a slope. I would love to see other “soft-roaders” do that! But most impressively telling the computer that I was coming down a steep hill of more than 45 degrees and then letting do off all the controls, for the ML to keep a steady crawl back down was amazing. I was honestly expecting to be in a heap of twisted metal when it eventually came to a halt.
And so it would appear that the ML is in truth a very accomplished 4X4 after all. So why am I still seeing businessmen and wealthy mothers driving them around like a limo? Do you not think that paying a minimum of £38,000 is a little much for a car that will only be used for 40% of what it was designed for?