2015 Mercedes-Benz ML400 Review
Age confers wisdom.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: April 21st, 2015
Walk to your nearest street corner and stand there for fifteen minutes. Count the number of Mercedes ML models that roll by. You'll probably be surprised at how high the number is. Frankly, the M-Class is just about everywhere; it's become one of the most popular luxury SUVs since its initial introduction in 1997.
Now in its third generation, the M-Class is on the verge of a reinvention. Its name is changing from M-Class to GLE-Class in order to fall in line with the brand's new taxonomy. It's also getting sleeker from just about every angle. But that car is still months away from production, and if you want a good deal on a vehicle that, while a little older, still stands as one of the premier five-seat luxury crossovers in this country, it's hard not to have the M-Class at the top of your list. Age is just a number, and there are plenty of things that make the 2015 M-Class feel as fresh as it's ever been.
(N.B. Since M-Class is annoying to write in the possessive form, we'll be using ML from here on out. We always thought it was weird that every other two-letter vehicle gets a two-letter name, yet the ML is the M-Class, not the ML-Class. Go figure.)
The third-generation ML's sporting a mishmash of looks both new and old. The general shape of the HVAC controls can be traced back to the dual-dial design of the facelifted second-generation ML. The rest of the center stack, though, is exclusive to the third-generation ML. It's functional, and there's enough switchgear present to satisfy even the most tech-averse buyers. Unless you absolutely despise radio presets, nearly everything you'll need to do in a given day can be done without navigating through the COMAND infotainment system.
The rest of the interior is exactly as comfortable as you'd expect in a large Mercedes-Benz; that is to say, it's very comfortable. The seats are just firm enough to stave off fatigue on longer drives (which isn't an issue at all if you opt for massaging front seats). With the exception of some very small trim pieces, anywhere your hand lands will be soft; the wheel feels like it's made from leather that was massaged by highly-paid masseuses for the cow's entire life. It's that nice, as it should be when you're staring down a $60,000+ window sticker.
The only complaint one might be able to levy about the interior is a lack of center-console storage space. If you've got USB cables snaking around in there, it's going to be a little tough to shove a purse or small bag in that storage cubby.
While overall trimmings have changed over the years, the general silhouette of the ML remains instantly recognizable. Details like the angle of the C-pillar and the wraparound rear glass punctuate the current ML, as they did every one before it. The car has been freshened up in many ways, from LED lighting to cleaner fasciae, but it's hard to confuse the ML for anything else on the road (aside from another ML). It's large, but it's not physically imposing in a negative way; its size and shape give it a stately presence. Your author has always considered it the more professional of the two heavy-hitters in the segment, the other being the BMW X5.
On the Road
Driving the ML is like having the power to manipulate the world as you see fit. Within the span of seconds, you can have both an endlessly soft, compliant ride befitting a luxury vehicle, and an endlessly harsh, annoying ride befitting a luxury vehicle attempting to act like a sports car. Such is the wonder of a vehicle that's capable of adjusting multiple parameters, including suspension (when equipped with Airmatic air suspension), throttle sensitivity, adjustable anti-roll bars (called Active Curve System) and transmission shifting points.
With the air suspension in Comfort, you're not driving a car, you're riding in a jempana being held up by a group of dedicated strongmen. Between the high driving position and the suppleness of the air suspension, it's hard not to feel like royalty from behind the wheel, especially since you can survey your entire kingdom from the driver's seat. While other SUVs are providing more cavernous feelings in terms of interior space and outward visibility, the ML has plenty of greenhouse and very small blind spots.
On the other side of the air-suspension spectrum is Sport, which perceptibly stiffens everything up. Even though the ML400 is the more powerful of the two non-AMG ML models, with its 329-horsepower twin-turbo V-6, it's not athletic by any stretch - for any sort of actual sporty driving, you'll need to upgrade to the ML63 AMG, which adds roughly $30,000 to the ML400's base price. The ML400 still hustles, but the ride quality and drivetrain seem like they're being stretched beyond their abilities, so for all intents and purposes, we'd recommend you leave it in comfort and soak up that regal feeling.
The ML400's 3.0-liter biturbo V-6 is a good engine; turbo lag is minimal, if nonexistent, and it'll get you up to highway speed with plenty of on-ramp to spare. That said, the seven-speed automatic transmission is slightly less compliant; downshifts are measured in seconds, and early (eco-friendly) upshifting seems to arrive almost too early. The transmission seems to have a hard time operating in the background without transmitting physical feeling through the chassis. Both pedals have a soft feel to them, which can make precise braking a bit difficult.
Despite the spongiform feel of the pedals, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that even a heavier foot won't have a hard time achieving EPA-estimated fuel economy. It's not exactly an easy drinker - the ML400 is rated at 18 mpg city and 22 mpg highway - but that's mitigated by just how easy it is to surpass the EPA's efforts, especially on the highway. In a 200-mile round trip from Chicago to the Milwaukee suburbs, our ML400 returned 23-25 mpg on highway stretches and about 20 mpg in city driving. Part of this is due to an overactive stop/start system, which tries its best to keep the engine off at 0 mph, even when you're trying to creep forward and park as close to something as possible (which can get a bit frustrating as the engine bucks itself back to life).
All in all, the ML400 makes it very easy to realize why this crossover has been so popular since its introduction. It exemplifies all the best parts of the Mercedes-Benz experience - attention to detail, comfort, and the feeling that you're driving something special. Sure, it's on the verge of quasi-replacement, but if anything, that means you can find some great deals on MLs once the GLE is a few weeks away from landing at dealerships. It's an excellent crossover, and we'd recommend it even if it were being replaced five minutes after we wrote this.
Specs & Price
Engine: 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, all-wheel drive
Power Output: 329 horsepower / 354 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (mpg): 18 city / 22 highway
Base Price: $62,900
As Tested: $79,310
Lighting Package: Bi-xenon headlights with active curve illumination, adaptive high-beam assist
Interior Sport Package: Black Nappa leather upholstery, sport front seats, brushed aluminum pedals, sport steering wheel
Convenience Package: Rear center-armrest pass-through, rear side-window sunshades
Driver Assistance Package: Adaptive cruise control with active braking, forward collision warning, active blind-spot assist, active lane-keep assist
Parking Assist Package: Parking sensors, active parking assist, 360-degree camera system
On/Off-Road Package: Six-mode driving program selector, two-speed transfer case, front underbody skid plates
Individual Options: Panoramic moonroof, illuminated front grille star, heated steering wheel, wood/leather steering wheel, front-passenger seat memory, Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, multi-contour front seats with massage and adjustable side bolsters, front seat ventilation, heated rear seats, rear seat entertainment system, soft-close doors, three-zone climate control, parking sensors with active parking assist, adjustable anti-roll bars, trailer hitch kit
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz M-Class, click here: 2015 Mercedes-Benz M-Class.