2013 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec – Review and Test Drive

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MERCEDES-BENZ ML350 BLUETEC INFOTAINMENT AND TELEMATICS

Bildschirmfoto 2013-03-03 um 21.23Current Mercedes-Benz models feature the automaker’s new telematics package, mbrace2, as well as the new Comand online suite of applications.

Introduced last year, mbrace2 is the latest generation of the automaker’s telematics system and adds new features over the previous generation of the app, including the ability to set valet parking protection and receive geo-fence alerts, in addition to being able to remotely lock and unlock and locate the vehicle.

The Mercedes’ Comand cockpit controller has been updated with two favorites buttons, making it more user friendly (for example, they may be programmed with favorite destinations.Bildschirmfoto 2013-03-03 um 21.22

The Comand user interface itself hasn’t changed much except for the new carousel-style menu structure.  It’s controlled by the cockpit controller dial and the user interface will be familiar to current Comand users.  This is a bit of a problem in that Comand has changed less than BMW’s iDrive, for example, and this means that Mercedes has had to add new features to Comand without changing the overall menu structure, resulting in a system that could benefit from better organization.  On the plus side, Comand’s voice command system does an excellent job of converting speech to text and facilitates inputting details such as street addresses.

Comand Online uses a data connection through the mbrace2 telematics system and can tap into Bildschirmfoto 2013-03-03 um 21.22 2such cloud features as Google Local Search, News, Yelp, and Facebook.  While this is competitive with what BMW and Audi are offering, it suffers from being rather slow at times.  In addition, the system locks users out of most functionality when the car is in motion preventing the passenger from assisting the driver by doing the data entry.

The functionality that Command Online provides can be quite useful.  Google Search finds points-of-interest near the current location, at the destination, along the route, or somewhere else.   Frequently-used topics such as parking, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels allow drillingdown when searching.  The system supports search by keyword or name of an establishment and saves recent search queries.

Another innovation is what you can do with the search result, beyond merely setting it as your destination.  DSC_0507You can viewed it on the display using Google Street View, or see photos of the destination on Panoramio, a photo-sharing site.  You can also save the information to the car’s address book.

While preparing for a trip, the Mercedes mbrace app’s Send2Benz feature on a smartphone may be used to send a destination to the car’s navi.

Within the context of the Comand Online system, I found Yelp a very good way of locating local businesses such as shops and restaurants compared to using Google Local Search.

Another new app is news, which, while it  provides headlines, does not read the story to the driver, unlike other systems including BMW’s iDrive.

BOTTOM LINE

As someone who doesn’t really picture himself as an SUV driver, I actually found myself sorry to see the car go when my week with it was over.  Given the unbeatable mix of handling, comfort, personal space, and technology plus good fuel economy and more than sufficient torque makes for a rather formidable competitor in the luxury SUV space.

THE DETAILS

2013 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec
Base price/price-as-tested $51,270/$61,614
Drivetrain Front engine, all-wheel drive
Engine 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Curb weight (lbs) 5,038
Wheelbase (inches) 114.8
Length x width x height (inches) 189.1 x 84.3 x 70.7
0-60 mph (seconds) 7.3
City/highway fuel economy (mpg) 20/25

 

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