Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec Review and Test Drive

By Jonathan Spira on 8 March 2011
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Mercedes-Benz, as the inventor of the diesel passenger car in the 1930s, has an unspoken obligation to lead and innovate. In this role, the automaker has been steadily adding to its U.S. lineup of diesel-powered automobiles since introducing the first BlueTec engines back in 2006, most recently with E-Class and S-Class diesels.

In the M-Class, Mercedes-Benz currently offers one diesel variant, the ML350 BlueTec.  Similar to the other diesel Mercedes sold in the U.S. the ML350 BlueTec uses AdBlue urea injection to scrub the exhaust and meet emissions requirements in all 50 states.  The AdBlue system injects the urea solution into the exhaust flow. which in turn releases ammonia in order to convert nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water in the catalytic converter.  (The AdBlue tank typically needs a refill every 10,000 miles.)

The M-Class sport utility vehicle was first introduced in 1997 as a 1998 model and the current (second) generation M-Class was introduced in 2006.  The M-Class received a mid-life refresh in 2009, which is when we last looked at the Mercedes-Benz M-Class diesel which was then called the ML320 BlueTec.

For 2010, the ML diesel received a new name, the ML350 BlueTec.  Since both the ML320 and the ML350 have the same 3.0-liter turbo charged engine, the name change seems more like a marketing alignment to the similar ML350 gasoline version than anything else.

The ML350 BlueTec, along with other M-Class vehicles as well as the R-Class and GL-Class, is built at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which opened production back in 1997 with the first-generation M-Class.

Although it is starting to show its age a bit, the M-Class’s exterior is elegant and classic and, for a truck, reasonably sleek and aerodynamic.

Interior

The ML350 BlueTec’s interior was quite roomy, the soft leather seats were excellent – providing just the right amount of support and comfort – and there was plenty of room to store things.

Overall the materials used in the car are soft and luxurious although a few people here found the hard plastic on the top of the dashboard was not in keeping with the rest of the car.

As always, safety is paramount at Mercedes and the M-Class has several new options in this area.  One such feature is Blind Spot Assist, which is activated when the driver uses the turn signal. If a vehicle is in the blind spot, the car generates visual and audible warnings.  Mercedes has improved the rear-view camera and it now provides less image distortion of the area behind the car.

Although the ML350 BlueTec gets the latest Mercedes Comand infotainment system, it doesn’t get the convenient controller that most Benzes have on the center armrest or console.  In order to operate it, one must use arrow keys on the center cluster, which takes much more of the driver’s attention than the more traditional method and is harder to operate.

The car came with a 6.5” central display that was easy to read. Everything from navigation to AM/FM radio to iPod to one’s Bluetooth mobile phone can be controlled from here.

We found it tricky to pair phones with the car’s Bluetooth system.  In the case of my BlackBerry Torch, it successfully accomplished pairing during the process although the car never indicated it had found my phone.  It kept looking for our test Apple iPhone but never found it.  Phone directory information wasn’t transferred over from the Torch.  Sound quality was excellent.  The dial-by-number feature worked well although the system repeats the phone number very, very slowly.

The navigation system is excellent and provides traffic data from Sirius (with subscription) as well as Zagat restaurant ratings.

Click here to continue to Page 2 – On the Road with the ML350 BlueTec

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