The first letter of SUV means "sport," but the ML350 Bluetec did not exhibit anything like the cornering performance available from a Porsche Cayenne or even an Acura MDX. During turns, its soft suspension delivered a loose, floaty feeling, suggesting cautious speeds. However, the ML350 Bluetec can be optioned with an adaptive air suspension, which might make it more capable.
The ML350 Bluetec comes standard with all-wheel drive, which will help its grip in slippery conditions, but don't expect serious off-road chops. There is no differential locking or even descent control, not that most buyers of this vehicle would end up in places where these features would be useful.
Very useful for our Los Angeles road trip, however, was the navigation system, which, as in most new Mercedes-Benz models, has high-resolution maps stored on a hard drive. The 3D-rendered buildings made maneuvering through the urban canyons of downtown Los Angeles easier. But on the freeway, the map insisted on displaying each exit, even ones that were not on our route, which became annoying.
This navigation system includes dynamic traffic routing, a definite plus when driving through Los Angeles. Having it set to confirm each route change was a mistake, however, as the heavy and constantly changing traffic conditions meant a dialog box asking for confirmation every couple of minutes. But this traffic avoidance feature obviously worked well, as we only experienced one section, only about a mile long, of slow traffic while driving into Los Angeles on a late Tuesday afternoon.
Likewise, the stereo provided good audio accompaniment to the long drive. Although not the premium Harman Kardon system, the eight speakers of the base system offered reasonably refined sound quality, definitely above average. The system did not project great depth, but the definition was clear.
We had a wide choice of music sources, from a USB drive or iPod connected through the USB port, to the satellite radio system. The car's hard drive reserves 10GB for onboard music storage, but we did not take the time to rip a bunch of CDs to it. One nice aspect of the system is its Gracenote database, used to parse all the ID3 tags from the MP3 tracks on a USB drive plugged into the system. As a result, the interface for the drive looked the same as that of an iPod, with categories for album, art, and genre.
On the freeway, Mercedes-Benz's adaptive cruise control system would have been very helpful, adding a new level of comfort for the driver, but our ML350 Bluetec did not come with this option. In previous Mercedes-Benz models we've tested, adaptive cruise control worked extremely well, matching speeds with slower traffic up ahead, even bringing the car to a full stop when traffic ahead stopped.
But some other driver assistance features included in our car were blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, and a backup camera. This camera improves on previous versions in Mercedes-Benz models by including trajectory and distance lines. And in a bulky SUV like the ML350 Bluetec, a backup camera is very useful.
Likewise with the blind-spot detection system, which lit up an icon in the side mirrors when another vehicle was traveling in the ML350 Bluetec's blind spots. This system worked very well, letting us know when it was safe to change lanes without requiring a lot of twisting around in the seat.
For a 750-mile road trip, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec proved an exceedingly fine choice. With its soft suspension, sound damping, and good-quality stereo, the miles went by easily. It carried four passengers in comfort, an example of which was our photographer snoring away in the back seat. Getting over 25 mpg in an SUV was also a high point, although the Lexus RX 450h most likely would have done better, and that on cheaper gasoline.
Mercedes-Benz's cabin electronics are all very good, the highlight being the many audio sources for the stereo. The navigation system looks good and provides excellent route guidance. Another high point for the ML350 Bluetec is the set of driver assistance features. Blind-spot detection and lane-departure warning contribute to safety, and adaptive cruise control takes some of the stress out of driving.
|Model||2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec|
|Power train||Turbocharged 3-liter V-6 diesel engine, 7-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||20 mpg city/27 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||25.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based system with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard with address book download|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD/DVD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, SD card, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Eight-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$55,815|