MERCEDES RAISES THE SPORT BAR
Now’s no time to be storming the automotive catwalk with a posh 4×4, but just because most of us face a crunchy road ahead in 2009, there are still many buyers out there who desire a Merc to traverse the potholes in style. The revised M-Class certainly does that. If BMW’s X5 and Audi’s Q7 attended a German finishing school, the M-Class escaped to Oxford, and this newly suited and booted uberdiesel option, the V8 ML 420 CDI Sport, obviously did a stint in the Bullingdon club. Priced at £55,935 (£500 up on the old version), the changes are minor but meaningful: new 20-inch alloys add a little strutting bravura, as do the rubberstudded running boards, aluminium roof rails and sports-style dials and pedals. Darkened privacy glass is probably an urban thing, unless you’re plagued by voyeuristic squirrels, but you get it all the same. As you do beefier front and rear bumpers, larger door mirrors and Sport-spec square ended twin exhausts. The ensemble emerges as a motor man enough to do sartorial battle against any upstart Range Rover Sport. Colour’s crucial though – opt for black and it all homogenises nicely; go for dreary old ubiquitous silver, as tested here, and things dampen down markedly.
Inside, improvements include reshaped seating with man-made Artico leather or faux suede Alcantara trimmings, either being great news for cows. The multi-function steering wheel is bovine-bolstered and chrome-clad and perhaps disturbingly for osteopaths, the driving seat has four-way electric lumbar adjustment.
But the crucial question here is how it drives. The 420 is certainly no slouch. In fact, buying this option is like popping out for a beer – and purchasing the entire off-licence. From low down, those 516lb ft of muscle instantly flex, though it’s never raucous or lumpy, the seven-speed auto box channelling it all with velvet ease. Despite the Airmatic suspension, the ride is a little stiff on those Sports clodhoppers at low speed, but the steering’s surprisingly sharp. For the motorway, it’s a consummate commuter chariot. The trade-off, however, for 306bhp and 62mph in just 6.5 seconds is group 19 insurance, 292g/km of CO2, an average of 26.6mpg on the combined cycle and an optional ASBO, but it could be worse, particularly if you’ve chosen the only marginally meatier and less torquey 6.2-litre petrol powered ML 63 AMG. The thinking speedophile’s M-Class then? Of course not, get thee to a three-litre ML 280 CDI and save the £16,200 difference for a more discreet statement of well-being. It’d buy a base-spec A-Class diesel for the nanny, and thus keep another 4×4 off the school-run stampede.
RIVALS: AUDI Q7 4.2 TDI QUATTRO, BMW X5 xDRIVE 35d M SPORT, RANGE ROVER
- Engine: 3996cc, V8, turbodiesel
- Gearbox: 7-speed automatic
- Max Power: 306bhp at 3,600rpm
- Max Torque: 516lb ft at 2,000 – 2,600rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 3,500kg
- Combined Consumption: 26.6mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 292g/km (G)
- 0-62mph: 6.5secs
- Max speed: 146mph
- Insurance Group: 19