KBB Editors' Overview
By Matt Degen - Updated Date: 5/10/2012
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.
You'll Like This Car If...
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.
You May Not Like This Car If...
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.
What's Significant About This Car?
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.
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.
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.
Notable Standard Equipment
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.
Notable Optional Equipment
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.
Under the Hood
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.