By Matt Degen
KBB Expert Rating:
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is a mid-size luxury SUV that offers an excellent mix of comfort, utility and power, all with the prestige inherent in any vehicle adorned with the Three-Pointed Star. With its range of engine choices and package options, the M-Class can take the form of a midlevel people mover that competes with the Lexus RX and BMW X5, to a super-premium hauler that can go toe-to-toe with a Range Rover Sport or Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
Whether you want to tackle any road in sublime comfort or hit up to 174 mph on the autobahn, the M-Class can do it. On a more pragmatic front, the Mercedes M-Class boasts reams of safety features, great cargo space, and the ability to tow up to 7,200 pounds.
If you need an SUV that holds more than five people, the M-Class isn't for you. For that you'll have to step up to a 3-row vehicle like the bigger Mercedes-Benz GL-Class or a crossover like the Infiniti JX, Audi Q7 or Buick Enclave.
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class has been revamped for the 2012 model year, which marks its third generation since debuting in 1998. The 2012 M-Class has slightly bigger exterior dimensions and a sleeker design, upgraded interior and tech features, standard all-wheel drive, a new 7-speed automatic transmission, and V6 and V8 engines that are more powerful yet drink less fuel. The hybrid version has been dropped but the stout and efficient BlueTEC diesel remains.
Driving Impressions The M-Class further dashes the notion that ride quality must be sacrificed to have a high-riding, all-wheel-drive machine that can tackle just about any terrain. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class can...tame the hazards of ruts, snow and muck – not to mention rush-hour traffic and speed bumps – while treating its driver and passengers to a supple travel experience. The M-Class doesn't feel quite as sporty as its BMW rivals, but it's anything but slow, especially when equipped with a V8 engine. For those who do want a more dynamic driving experience, that can be had with the touch of a button that adjusts the suspension. We preferred to leave the "comfort" setting on to take advantage of this SUV's soft ride. Even at freeway speeds, the cabin is remarkably hushed. Visibility is good, but we still recommend the optional blind-spot monitoring system. Steering feels a tad light at lower speeds and isn't very communicative overall. The M-Class has a relatively tight turning radius of 38.7 feet, which means fewer 3-point turns.
This feature is a lifesaver when your hands are filled with groceries. Just touch a button on the key fob and the tailgate lifts. Closing is equally simple, either via a button on the door itself or with another press on the key fob.
Fold and Tumble Rear Seats
Folding rear seats are ubiquitous, but not so those that tumble forward, too. Though it takes an extra step, the setup yields a flat floor that is better for carrying cargo.
The 2012 M-Class has all the soft-touch materials, wood accents, and sea of sturdy buttons and knobs you'd expect in a luxury vehicle. Leather seating will still cost you extra, but even the base "MB-Tex" vinyl provides an appreciable amount of comfort and good textile feel. That sensation carries over to just about every other component, from the available wood steering wheel to the tiny gear selector, which bucks the trend not just with its size but by being mounted on the steering-wheel column instead of the center console. Rear passengers are treated to ample legroom, reclining seats, and movies of their choice with the optional twin LCD screens mounted inside the front-seat headrests.Exterior
With the 2012 model comes a significant freshening of the M-Class' sheetmetal. Up front is a revised grille that emphasizes the Mercedes-Benz emblem, and sleeker headlights that give the M-Class a more athletic look. Adding to the sportier appearance is a sculpted beltline running the sides. The rear benefits from a squatter appearance and taillights that are stretched horizontally, which gives the 2012 M-Class a more sporting vs. utilitarian look. The high-performance ML63 AMG models are distinguished by a larger air intake up front, wider front fenders and quad tailpipes in back.
All 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUVs come with all-wheel drive, a 7-speed automatic transmission, power sunroof, 8-way heated front seats, power liftgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 7-inch color center display, and an 8-speaker AM/FM/CD/DVD audio system with weather band and HD Radio. Safety features include nine airbags and Mercedes' Attention Assist system that monitors for driver drowsiness. ML350 and ML550 versions ride on big, 19-inch wheels, while the top-line ML63 AMG rolls on 20-inchers.
Here's where the M-Class' $50,000 base price can quickly inflate by thousands of dollars. Many options are bundled into packages and include navigation, rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and a premium harman/kardon surround-sound system. Further options include a panorama roof, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and the Parktronic system to aid with parallel parking. The $5,000-plus Dynamic Handling Package makes for a more sporting M-Class with the addition of 20-inch wheels, air suspension and an adaptive damping system. Buyers of the AMG performance version who find its 518 horsepower still inadequate can opt for a package that adds another 32 hp and brings the SUV's top speed to 174 mph.
Each of the four 2012 M-Class models is distinguished by its own engine. At the lowest-priced end is the ML350 with a still-robust V6. Next is the most fuel-efficient of the bunch, the ML350 BlueTEC with a V6 turbodiesel that puts out tremendous power yet yields up to 27 mpg on the highway and a stated cruising range of more than 600 miles. The diesel is 50-state legal and of the "clean" variety, meaning it doesn't put out the nasty emissions of past diesels, but will require injections of the urea-based AdBlue fluid throughout its life. The ML550 SUV uses a powerful-but-fuel-thirsty V8 biturbo, and the ML63 AMG uses an even bigger, more powerful – and even less fuel-efficient – V8. Even the "slowest" M-Class can hit 60 mph in just over seven seconds, while the AMG version can do it in 4.7 seconds, on par with high-performance sports cars.
302 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
273 lb-ft of torque @ 3,500-5,250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/22 mpg
3.0-liter turbodiesel V6
240 horsepower @ 3,600 rpm
455 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600-2,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/27 mpg
4.6-liter twin-turbocharged V8
402 horsepower @ 5,000-5,750 rpm
443 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600-4,750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 15/20 mpg
5.5-liter biturbo V8
518 horsepower @ 5,250 rpm
516 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 14/18 mpg
Prices for the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUVs range from roughly $50,000 for a base ML350 to well over twice that for a fully loaded ML63 AMG, which can reach over $112,000 with options. Keep in mind that option packages across the line can add thousands of dollars to any model. At these prices, the M-Class almost mirrors the BMW X5 series, which starts in base form at just over $48,000 and can reach more than $100,000 for a loaded X5 M. Be sure to check the Fair Purchase Price to see what buyers in your area are actually paying for the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Down the road, the M-Class boasts excellent resale value, with the ML350 BlueTEC diesel version commanding the highest dollar.
By ML Family (FL) on Monday, March 25, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Quality build, safety, available options, drive"
Cons: "Gas mileage (only sllightly)"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I am a stickler for research to be sure. I do this so I can be sure to get the best value for my money. My wife finds this frustrating but in the end I know I have what I want. That said, I researched all the European and Asian options and found the ML 350 to be the best value on the market. In fact, I just purchased my second one. I have been a BMW man for almost 20 years. My 2010 535i was an awesome sports car but lacked the space I needed. In my opinion the Japanese options just weren't up to the quality standards of the Germans. They just felt really light weight compared to the Europeans. The Audi was more like the Asians than the German's. I liked the BMW X5's handling a little better than the ML's but only slightly. Other than that, the ML won on all counts. Mercedes-Benz offers a great list of options for this vehicle. I got my first ML back in Sept. 2012 and now have a second one. My second one has ALL the options and they work as described. Gas mileage isn't so hot but if you calculate the cost of the ML compared to the competition it's only a little higher. Another factor that moved me to a second Mercedes is the service. When I recently had service done on my BMW 535i, the BMW dealership gave me a Toyota Yaris as a loner (REALLY???)."
3 people out of 3 found this review helpful
By MCJ (CA) on Saturday, November 24, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 1,500overall rating 5 of 10rating details
Pros: "Ride, acceleration, dynamics, styling."
Cons: "Annoying ergonomics, balky transmission."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 2
"Bought a 2013 ML350 4Matic in Sep 2012 as an addition to a '97 4Runner SR5 (manual transmission!) and '02 Pathfinder SE. It has the P01 package, Harman Kardon Logic7 sound, MB-tex, and AWD. Readers be aware that for 2013, there are both 2WD and AWD versions. .. Pros: Comfortable, controlled ride, which is impressive as it weighs about 1200 lbs (!) more than my 4Runner. Acceleration is strong, but requires premium fuel. Quiet at highway speeds. Interior pleather feels like real leather. Steering is very light but accurate, not floaty. Easy to drive long distances in this thing. Upgraded sound system is excellent from an audio standpoint, clunky ergonomics aside. Better than my Infinity/Alpine aftermarket setup in my 4Runner. .. Cons: There are multiple ergonomic and electronic quirks that are very annoying if these things are important to you. 1) Backup camera only functions when radio is on. Why?!? 2) Shifter is on the steering column where the wiper stalk usually is. Takes a lot of getting used to. 3) There are 4 different button clusters for audio controls (2 on steering wheel, one on upper console, one on lower console) but only ONE location (and the hardest to reach) will allow you to do adjust both volume and track +/- at the same time. Some buttons (e.g. the "disc" button) do not do what they say they do. 4) Navigation is inferior to both Garmin and TomTom. It will guide you the wrong way on one-way streets and otherwise get you lost. 5) Balky transmission, especially from a stoplight. Transmission does not drop down to 1st promptly, so when you start again, the transmission is caught off-balance in 2nd or 3rd. The subsequent hesitation followed by "clunk" and "screech!" scares both the driver and passengers. .. Overall, this is a very comfortable, mechanically sound car. But the ergonomic quirks and balky transmission are not acceptable in a car of this price. Toyota and Honda gets this right in their plebian models -- what's wrong with MB?"
35 people out of 35 found this review helpful
By DailyDrvr (CT) on Monday, November 19, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 16,600overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "mpg, quiet, comfortable, great travel vehicle"
Cons: "maybe voice recognition"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Dead on reliable SUV. I have had it for a year and other than an initial concern, the ML has not had any quality or mechanical issues. It is quiet, drives well and it has recorded up to 34 MPG, though averages around 26. It is setup to tow 7200 lbs and has pulled a covered trailer with two motorcycles while getting 21 MPG. All aspects are great, with the exception of the current voice recognition/phone dialer. Sometimes it really wants to call someone other than the one asked to contact. It is very quiet once underway with no diesel sound. The only way someone knows it is diesel is when it first starts out."
7 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By KiraG (OH) on Friday, November 02, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 3,300overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Pros: "Comfortable interior"
Cons: "soft handling"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"I purchased this vehicle new 2 months ago. The revamped appearance is very appealing, making the vehicle "edgier" and more current than past models. The ML has a very soft and 'floaty' ride, similar to a Lexus. If you are looking for a more luxurious feel (vs. tighter drive) this is your car. For some reason I feel like I'm driving a sedan, and prefer a more powerful ride. Acceleration lags initially but catches up. I have had repeated difficulty with the Bluetooth technology, a lot of crackling, static and cutting out in the speakers...very annoying. Also, I am disappointed with the "fake" leather...a vehicle that touts luxury and a hefty price tag to boot should have this as a standard feature. The nav system is well done and user friendly...but there are many components that are also difficult to click through to find what you're looking for. I am currently considering taking the loss and switching to the BMW X5. It comes down to this: if you are looking for a cushy softer feel, this will make you very happy. I feel, somehow, that it is an "older person's" car. If you want driving performance and not quite ready for the Buick ride...keep looking."
8 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By James on Saturday, May 19, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 1,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Damping System, Power lift gate, DISTRONIC Plus"
Cons: "Bit pricey, laggy acceleration, not as sporty"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Ive been a recurring MB owner for years and my entire family drives the benz brand. I bought this car about four months ago and just simply love it. The quality of the materials is unmatched by BMW's x5. The look of the vehicle has been given a necessary revamp which makes the ml look even more aggressive and sharp. While it is a bit pricey for its class, it's sure money well spent if your looking into the SUV market. Driving is exceptional when on or off roading, though i agree with those below that acceleration can be a bit laggy at first but it eventually evens out."
17 people out of 17 found this review helpful
By wmlq (CA) on Wednesday, May 09, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 2,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Quiet, luxurious, quality materials, good power"
Cons: "HID lights should be standard."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I bought this car 2 months ago. I was thinking of buying the bluetec but not satisfied with the performance. there is a slight lag when accelerating. Gas engine seem to have better acceleration although MPG suffers compared to bluetec. Interior is extremely well done. Love the new look compared to previous models. Exterior is also more aggressive looking and appear more streamline. Love this car so far."
13 people out of 13 found this review helpful