It’s hard to get excited about the Mercedes-Benz ML. It’s a car for the Lululemon/spiced pumpkin latte/jogging stroller set – a car for those who have given up corporate life to blog about how being a parent makes them the Most Important Person in the World. In other words, it’s a trendy mom wagon.
Or is it? The M-Series was originally designed to replace the iconic G Wagen – a rugged, military-grade machine equally at home on the streets of Monaco as it is the dunes of Namibia. And if you so choose, you can even get an ML with a burly, oil-burning diesel – like the ML250 BlueTEC – and it’s the fanciest way to roll coal.
Well, okay… this ML250 BlueTEC doesn’t belch out huge, thick clouds of smoke. It’s a “clean” diesel, scrubbing the exhaust to make emissions as clean as possible. Still, it has that proper, semi truck-like clattering one expects from a diesel, giving this kid hauler a much-needed dose of toughness.
This engine has the specs to back up that sound, too. Sure, it’s just a 2.1-liter four-banger, but with twin turbos on board it cranks out 200 hp and a massive 369 lb-ft of torque. As with the rest of the engines in the ML lineup, this diesel powerplant is mated to a smooth-shifting 7-speed auto and gets the power to the ground via the standard 4MATIC all-wheel drive system.
And since it’s still dumping snow across parts of the US, we figured now would be a great time to fully exploit the ML’s all-weather capabilities. We could charge through snowbanks, satisfyingly smash those half-melted piles of slush, and scrabble for traction over mud-covered surfaces. However, our SoCal winter weekends consist of 80-degree beach weather, so we’d need to drive far to find suitable terrain.
It’s quickly decided, then, that we take the ML 250 BlueTEC snowboarding. We pile in some friends, throw in our gear and charge toward the mountains in search of cold weather.
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This Benz offers over 30 cubic feet of cargo space aft of the rear seats – spacious, yes, but not enough to carry both a full crew and snowboards. We limit this trip to just three riders (including driver) so that we can fold down one of the rear seats to fit all our gear inside. All boards, boots and jackets fit, and everyone has ample space to stretch out, but we’d still be hard-pressed to carry more cargo.
The ride to the mountain is smooth, easy and drama-free. At a steady-state cruise, the ML 250 BlueTEC’s information display is showing that we have about 600 miles of range, which sounds great, but that may be due more to it’s 24.6-gallon fuel tank than its estimated 29 mpg highway. The ride is quiet, too – with no road noise or diesel clatter finding its way into the cabin.
Speaking of the cabin, this one is equipped with the ultra-high-end Designo package, a $4,900 option that fills the space with soft, quilted Nappa leather; matte-finish wood trim; and black DINAMICA headliner. Also equipped is a harmon/kardon LOGIC7 surround sound system, heated and ventilated front seats and enough sensors to throw out warnings if we even think about wandering where we’re not supposed to. Unfortunately, Mercedes-Benz doesn’t have any images of this interior on its consumer or media sites. But trust us: It’s a high-end package on a high-end Benz, making this a very nice place to spend some time, and our two-plus-hour trek to the mountain just speeds by.
Unfortunately, we never get to sample the ML250 BlueTEC’s off-road prowess. Our path to the mountains is wide open and dry, and if our local ski resorts hadn’t been blowing man-made snow, we’d be hard-pressed to tell that winter even came to California. But not all is lost – our ML touches tire to dirt as we drive over a flat, gravel lot to find a place to park. Granted, it’s not the most exciting off-road adventure, but it pretty much defines how the typical ML owner views off-roading. And no surprise: the ML has no problems driving slowly over a flat dirt patch.
So this off-road test was a total bust. We didn’t get to explore the full capability of this G successor, but we at least got a day of snowboarding out of it. Maybe next time we’ll take the ML to a proper off-road park to see what it can really do. And when we do, hopefully we’ll get one that matches our new Lululemon Le Hoodie.