This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here possibly applies to the models you can get at home.
* To read another of our road tests, pick one from the menu on the left
* Please note that prices quoted are those in effect at the time the vehicle was tested
The Mercedes Benz M series, the car that started the SUV revolution some 10 years ago, has recently undergone cosmetic and engineering changes to freshen its image and, according to its makers, use less fuel as well. Now that we have your attention, the lessening of thirst amounts to only about 0.4 l/100 km, but every little bit helps.
Exterior changes make the new version look more muscular, yet elegant and stylish. On the inside, new trim materials, a revised four-spoke multifunction steering wheel that offers greater ease of operation of ancillaries plus a pair of shift paddles, and redesigned seats make up the basics.
The seats are almost worth a road test for themselves. Finished in black leather, both front units adjust up and down, with adjustable lumbar support that can also be shifted upwards or down, depending on where your back needs help.
The side bolsters can be plumped up or let out, according to users’ individual preferences and the seat cushions tilt. Oh, yes, they can be shifted backwards and forwards as well.
Four engines are available, a 3.2 litre diesel recently declared “clean” enough to operate in all 50 states of the US, and three petrol burners. These are a 3.5 litre V6, a 5.5 litre V8 (the subject of this test) and a fire-breathing 6.2 litre AMG.
The one in the ML 500 is a 5 461 cc V8 developing 285 kW at 6 000 rpm and 530 Nm of torque between 2 800 and 4 800 rpm. The zero to 100 km/h sprint is accomplished in 5.8 seconds, quite satisfactory for a 2.2-ton SUV, thank you very much, and top speed is about 240 km/h. Fuel consumption averages 15.7 l/100 km, according to Car magazine.
This is about average for vehicles this size, because luxury items and safety kit all weigh heavily, needing extra fuel to move them around. A cynical observer pointed out recently that, as the majority of high-end vehicles sold in SA are tax-deductible, the cost of the fuel used is also written off to expenses. The result is that most expense account consumers don’t give a sausage how much fuel costs.
There is an element of truth in this, but Pravin Gordhan assumes 32 000 km pa to be private mileage unless the user can prove otherwise, so there should still be some incentive to go easy on the burny stuff.
All M series cars boast 4-Matic full time 4 wheel drive and Mercedes Benz’s 7-speed 7G-tronic automatic transmission with manual override. This is useful for those occasions when you want to hold a gear for climbing or descending hills, or simply for playing nicely.
Off road credentials include a respectable 210 to 223 mm of ground clearance (extendable to 299 mm if you shell out for the Off Road Pro Engineering Package), wading depth of 500 mm (600 mm with the package), pretty fair approach and departure angles and hill ascent- and descent controls.
A nice touch is that the dampers can be set electronically for “sport” or “comfort” modes, depending on your mood and needs of the moment. Set to “comfort”, the suspension turned the rougher of my two dirt test roads, with washboard facility, into what felt like blacktop – rather boring, actually.
The roomy interior accommodates up to five in exquisite comfort, with enough space for their luggage as well. Critics have pointed out that Mercedes M class cars do not offer a seven-seat option, but doing so would steal cargo volume, so what does one do?
Speaking of cargo, the huge rear door hinges upwards, allowing easy access to the load area. It’s a heavy piece of metal, but opening and closing is done remotely via the smart key, a lever on the driver’s door or a big red button on the underside of the cargo door itself. A warning signal alerts bystanders to the fact that they should stand clear.
Observant readers will note that there is a difference of exactly R 100 000 between the prices of the ML 350 and the ML 500 – quite a penalty for a bigger engine, one might think. The secret is that at least half the difference is made up of optional equipment not supplied with the standard ML 350, plus a couple of items you can’t simply add on, even if you wanted to.
In standard form, the ML 500 has the excellent Harman Kardon Logic7 10-channel, 610 watt sound system, but no DVD entertainment kit. There is also no satnav, convenience telephony or reversing camera.
Drop an additional R 33 300, however, and you will get all that and a universal media interface as well. Before choking on that, see how much you would have to pay for some of the Mercedes’ competitors that have that kit as standard. The options may suddenly seem like a bargain.
Mercedes Benz’s M series cars may no longer be revolutionary, but they are still worthy players, almost niche vehicles, in an increasingly competitive market.
ML 350 R 625 000
ML 320 CDI R 635 000
ML 500 R 725 000
ML 63 AMG R 1 080 000
MobiloDrive 120 maintenance plan is included in the above.
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport, so barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed by me is given my own personal evaluation and receives my first-hand seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to in order to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and visit to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
Want to ask a question, comment or just tell me you thoroughly disagree with what I say? That's your privilege, because if everybody agreed on everything, the world would be a boring place. All I ask is that you remain calm, so please blow off a little steam before venting too vigorously. Contact me here
Back to Home page