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Road Test


Mercedes-Benz ML 280 CDI

by Ian Barrett

3rd August, 2008


Mercedes-Benz ML 280 CDI 
Location: Hunters Hill, NSW, 
Click on the image for a larger view

Regular readers of Next Car willknow that our 'Top Drive' of 2007 was an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) - none other than thevery competentMercedes Benz ML 350, with its great looks, reasonable economy and the 'sound of silence' which so endeared it to our team. Love them or loath them, SUV's have taken the western world by storm in the last decade or so. Indeed, so popular has this category become that no self-respecting car-maker can afford to be withoutone or two inits product line-up.

Only in recent months havesales faltered with the advent of sharply increasing fuel prices. Unfortunately, SUVs do tend to be rather thirsty beasts. Combine a chunky, high frontal profile with the extra drivetrain weight of all-wheel-drive and you have a recipe for significantly increased pain at the bowser. Although,Mercedes-Benzoffers a partial remedy,in the form oftheir diesel-powered ML 280 CDI. This least expensive M-Class wagon combines all the desirable attributes of a stylish, comfortable and luxurious SUV, with a 3-litre turbo-dieselengine which is remarkably thrifty, while still delivering plenty of performance both on and off the bitumen.

Let's take a look at the 'heart' of the beast. Under that stylishbonnet 'lives' a cutting-edge V6 with a displacement of 2,987 cc, which packs quite a punch. Some 140 kW @ 4,000rpm, in conjunction with a very solid 440 Nm from 1,400 to 2,800 rpm, is more than adequate to send this solid American-built German SUV from 0-100 km/h in a scant 9.8 seconds. Accelerating like this though, is not the way to achieve the rated combined fuel consumption figure of only 9.6L/100 km!This low consumption figure is admirable. Smooth and quiet at all speeds, occupants will remain blissfully unaware of what lies beneath. The ML 280 CDI does feel a little sluggish from a standing start, butthe quoted figure tells a different story. Even in this situation, one needs to strain to hear the tell-tale diesel tune.

Ian Barrett with the Mercedes-Benz ML 280 CDI 
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The other half ofwhat lies beneath is the wonderful 7-speed G-Tronictransmission, whichis one of the best in the business, with its wide spread of ratios and virtually imperceptible changes. Manual gearchange 'paddles' are at the back of the steering wheel spokes where they fall very naturally to hand. The strong diesel performance means that this vehicle can lope along effortlessly on the freeway with only 2,000 rpm showingand almost never needs todownchange, even on the steeper pinches of NSW's F3 between Sydney and Newcastle. We readily managed under 8L/100 km on open road/freeway cruising.

One feature which we found a real boon on the highway wasthe cruise control, which incorporates downhill speed regulation (DSR). This means that on downhill stretches,transmission and brakes are utilised to slow the vehicle and maintain thechosen speed. No more excuses for speeding fines!

Mercedes Benzhas a long and distinguished record as a vehicle safety innovator and while others have caught up - thanks to Mercedes' shared technology - cars bearing the 3-pointed star always remain at the forefront. As expected, the ML 280 CDI has a swag of safety features,including amultiple airbags, Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Programme, Neck-Pro active head restraints (front seats) and the Pre-Safe accident anticipatory occupant protection system, which primes these numerous secondary safety features, when sensors detect a potential impact. Other useful safety items are rain-sensing wipers, auto-on/off headlights, and Parktronic front and rear parking sensors.

Mercedes Benz's seamlessfull-time '4-Matic' permanent all-wheel-drive system means that the ML 280 is among the best, both on and off the bitumen. Handling and road holding are stable and sure-footed in all conditions and occupants are treated to an exceptionally comfortable ride. We doubt that many owners will be too adventurous in their off-roading, but for those who are, Mercedes offersthe Off-Road Pro-Engineering package as a $6,400 option, including such items as 2-stage low-range transfer case, Airmatic adjustable suspension, diff-locks and protective undershield.

Mercedes-Benz ML 280 CDI 
Location: Hunters Hill, NSW, 
Click on the image for a larger view

Comfort extends to the spacious and stylish interior, which is trimmed in Artico man-made leather-like material. Seats are very comfortable and plenty of legroom meant that a commute with4 passengers aboard elicited no complaints! Front seatsfeature electric adjustment for height, backrest and fore/aft movement,and both have manual lumbar adjustment. Naturally, the multi-function leather steering wheel adjusts for both height and reach and incorporates controls foraudio, trip computer, vehicle settings, telephone and satellite navigation (if fitted).'In-flight' entertainment is provided by an in-dash AM-FM audio unit with single CD and 8 speakers, while a 6-CD changer with MP3 compatability and auxiliary input jack,ejects from the glovebox! One retro touch - which works well - is the steering column-mounted gear selector.

Did we mention style a little earlier? Externally, this 2nd-generationM-series is a winner in the looks department, far surpassing the original. Now ranking as one of the best looking SUVs, in our view, the good looks are set off nicely with chunky 235/65 tyres on attractive 7-spoke 17"x7.5 alloys. Other external enhancements are front and rear fog lamps, roof rails and heated rear-view mirrors. Further enhancements (both internal and external) are available as part of the optional Vision, Designo Edition and Premium packages, with numerous features, in fact too many to list here. Suffice to say that such niceties as bi-xenon headlights with turning function, Harmon-Kardon surround sound system andglass electric sunroofare allon offer. A wide range of individual options are also available,including larger wheels, sidesteps, 'Comand APS' system incorporating GPS satellite navigationand reversing camera, rear seat DVD entertainment system and Keyless-go entry.

The Mercedes-Benz ML 280 CDI is an exceptionalcombination of performance and economy, combined with stylish design, excellent on and off-road handling andride comfort, and ease ofdriving.From $80,385 plus on-road costs,it represents very good value for money andiscertain to be atrendsetter among today's luxury SUVs.

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Other Mercedes-Benz content: here.

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