Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige -

BE­CAUSE of its size, you walk up to the M-Class with few ex­pec­ta­tions about han­dling. Af­ter all, it is a big, lux­ury off-roader. It may have that renowned solid build qual­ity that is the hall­mark of all Mercedes passenger ve­hi­cles, plus the right amount of lux­ury and it goes off-road, but han­dle?

Well, af­ter a few kilo­me­tres you will be pleas­antly sur­prised about the way it goes about its busi­ness.

The dy­nam­ics of the M-Class are quite a rev­e­la­tion and af­ter the first cor­ner you’d be for­given for think­ing you’re driv­ing a much smaller off-roader.

There’s plenty of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for the driver through the sup­ple yet well-sorted sus­pen­sion and steer­ing.

It’s up there with the bench­mark BMW X5 on ride and han­dling. Per­haps the X5 is a lit­tle crisper, but the M-Class isn’t too far be­hind.

Passenger com­fort is ex­cel­lent, the cabin roomy and the 3.0-litre diesel quiet and ef­fi­cient in the ML280 and ML320.

With the up­dates come some pleas­ant cos­metic touches in­side, too, with the Ar­tico faux leather around the cabin

In our eyes though, the front looks a lit­tle fussier than the pre­vi­ous car’s. Mercedes-Benz calls it more mus­cu­lar yet el­e­gant.

You can­not ar­gue with that, but the step­down head­lights and ‘‘smil­ing’’ black­out treat­ment in the grille look too busy.

The re­vamped de­sign works best at the back, with the deep-set in­te­grated re­flec­tors at bumper level and darker tail-light lenses.

There is still no stan­dard full-size spare, de­spite it be­ing avail­able as an op­tion hang­ing off the back door.

Mercedes says the take up of the full-size spare is low, which proves most M-Class buy­ers never go off-road.

But if you re­ally want to take this fine on­road cruiser down a rough coun­try track, the ‘‘off-road pro’’ pack — $6400 on the ML280 CDI, ML350 and ML320 CDI and $3100 on the ML500 — is a must-have. It adds solid un­der­body pro­tec­tion, low-range trans­fer case, ad­justable air sus­pen­sion, rear diff lock and lim­ited slip cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial.

Smooth ride: the large M-Class han­dles like a much smaller ve­hi­cle and ri­vals the bench­mark BMW X5 on ride and han­dling.

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