American consumers love the romantic notion of the Sport Utility Vehicle, which promises the ability to safely carry them over the river and through the woods, come rain, snow, sleet, or dark of night. The sad truth of the matter, however, is that most SUVs live out their days commuting back and forth to work on paved roads, or perhaps shuttling the kids to and from school and soccer practice. Most never go further off-road than a gravel parking lot, which begs the question of why consumers pay money for features and capabilities they’ll never use.
Enter the 2013 Mercedes-Benz M Class. Redesigned for the 2012 model year, the M Class offers a stylish alternative to box-on-box SUVs, and can be equipped with as much (or as little) off-road capability as most drivers would ever need. It doesn’t go light on luxury or amenities, either, and its cabin feels more like a Mercedes sedan than a premium sport-ute. In fact, Mercedes has made an effort to step up its materials, fit and finish game on the inside of third-generation M Class models, and its efforts show.
Front seats are comfortable enough for all-day driving, and should please even the harshest critics. Rear seats offer reasonable leg room and exceptional headroom, and are now blessed with adjustable rake. While there are belts for three in the second row, two adults will be much happier, though three children aren’t likely to complain. Behind the second row lies 36 cubic-feet of cargo space, which should be plenty for the daily trappings of modern life.
Base models get the 3.5-liter V-6 introduced last year, rated at 302 horsepower, which we’d call one of the best engines in the class. Those concerned with fuel economy will want to check the option box next to the 3.0-liter BlueTec turbo-diesel V-6, which delivers both superior mileage and performance on par with the gasoline-powered ML350. Those wanting more power can select from the ML550, with its 402-horsepower , 4.7-liter V-8, or the ML63 AMG, with its 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8, good for 550 horsepower with the Performance Package option.
Whatever version you choose, all include the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which works with the electronic stability control system to monitor wheel slip, sending torque to whichever wheels have traction. There’s a available off-road package, too, which includes automatically-detachable roll bars for greater wheel articulation, though we seriously doubt many owners will take their M Class that far off the beaten track. The M Class can also tow up to 7,200 pounds, making it an above-average choice for a do-it-all family hauler.
As with most Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the list of standard equipment is impressive, including heated and cooled cupholders, an iPad docking station for rear-seat passengers and a full complement of safety systems. Major options include adaptive cruise control (which also comes with Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist), a night vision system and Parktronic with Active Parking Assist, which takes the guesswork out of parallel parking.
For a more complete look at available Mercedes-Benz M Class models, see our complete review on The Car Connection.