We observe the common theme that carries throughout the current Mercedes-Benz line-up seems to call for fitting as many creases into the body panels as possible and making sure that the lines don’t fit together in any reasonable manner at all. The redesigned M-Class is no exception to this rule. Just looking at the car makes the head hurt because there is so much going on. Did the entire Pontiac design team pick up and move over to Stuttgart?
Granted, the third generation M-Class is an improvement over the previous one in terms of the number of creases per square inch. It is also less aggressive vs. the second generation, with a styling that’s more akin to that of a station wagon rather than a SUV.
Gone are the huge curved wheel arches in the back (replaced by less huge and less curved wheel arches), and the tail lights take after the new E-Class sedan. The end product looks more like a super tall wagon than an off-road capable sport utility vehicle. Again, this is an appeal to the soccer moms.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The 2012 ML550 takes up plenty of room in the garage. Not only is it really tall, it is also rather long. But the inside it does not feel as big, especially in the rear seats, where the legroom feels a bit on the tight side.
Luxury amenities are the standard Mercedes-Benz fare, with controls that are expensive to the touch and arranged in a typical Mercedes-Benz way. So if you’ve driven another Mercedes-Benz, everything will feel very familiar.
The dual-climate zone controls are very intuitive and are very elegantly laid out. The mini-LCD monitor in between the dashboard gauges is easy to read and intuitive to use via steering wheel-mounted controls. The interface of the dash-mounted COMAND system with the 7-inch screen and central controller takes a little training before one can navigate through the numerous levels of menus quickly. It is not always clear whether a text is a “link” or just description.
The power driver seat is not the most elaborate I have seen in a luxury car, but it does its job with 4-way power adjustable lumbar support to make long road trips less taxing. We find the Mercedes-Benz tradition of putting seat controls on the front doors counter intuitive since the controls are backwards to those on every other car on the planet.
As previously mentioned, the luxury SUV segment is full of competent competitors these days. The most direct comparison to the ML550 is the BMW X5 xDrive50i in terms of horsepower and amenities, and the ML550 looks like a bargain next to it. The X5’s MSRP starts at $64,200 vs. the ML550 which starts at $57,590.
Even with most of the premium and safety options selected, a comparably equipped X5 xDrive50i costs around $7,000 more than the ML550. Granted, the BMW X5 is sportier and its driving dynamics appeal to a different target audience. So depending on who you are, the extra cost may very well be justified.
Overall, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML550 is a technology marvel wrapped in a suburban housewife-appealing skin. It may not be the fastest or offer the best driving dynamics in the crowded premium luxury SUV segment, but it is the only one that comes with the three-pointed star on the grille. For those who crave the safety, the luxury, and more importantly the prestige bestowed by Mercedes Benz, there is no substitute.