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.