Edward Stephens is impressed by this sleek and sporty revamp.
Off-roaders are one of the last groups of cars that you think of when talking about sleek or sporty.
But the latest generation M-Class from Mercedes-Benz actually comes into both categories.
As the German car maker has followed the trend for downsizing its engines, it has also created a sleek new look for its large 4x4, dramatically broadening its appeal.
The new, third generation model is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, but still unmistakably an M-Class.
It’s as if the M-Class has been attending gym sessions, so that where there was bulk there is now rippling muscle, and from behind the wheel it feels lighter, more sprightly.
And the lower roof, which now slopes more sharply, is one of the keys to the sporty appearance.
The 2.1-litre ML 250 BlueTEC Special Edition that I sampled – which has numerous stylish extras including aluminium running boards – replaces the 3.0-litre V6 CDI in the previous M-Class range. Yet another example of engine downsizing.
It means the loss of 800cc and two cylinders – but the trick is there is no reduction in power or torque. In fact the power and torque of this four-cylinder is identical to the V6, allowing the ML 250 to hit 62 miles per hour in 9.0 seconds on its way to a top speed of 130mph.
Mercedes says the performance and economy is helped by the new drag-reducing design. Or, as it puts it, its slipperiness.
Front wheel spoilers, redesigned exterior mirror housings, side spoilers on the rear window, aerodynamic light alloy wheels and sealed joints between the bonnet and the head lamps help to channel air cleanly around the car at speed.
There are also active aerodynamics under the bonnet so that the radiator gets cooling air only when needed, while an on-demand compressor on the air conditioning system and fuel-saving tyres all play their part in helping to reduce fuel consumption.
The result is an ML 250 BlueTEC which is the most fuel-efficient SUV in its class, achieving an average of 44.8 miles per gallon – far better than a lot of family saloons and more than 28 per cent better than the car it replaces.
On the road, the car is light and easy to handle and a world away from earlier generations of M-Class which, good as they were, tended to feel bulky. This sporting SUV still has some roll on corners but its all very much under control allowing you to drive it in a far more exhilarating manner.
With its 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed automatic gearbox it purrs along in sophisticated silence, easily disguising that there is a diesel engine under the bonnet. In fact it’s quieter than many of the German car maker’s luxury saloons.
And if you want hands-on gear-changing it’s available, thanks to the paddles behind the steering wheel.
Despite the new slimmer look, this latest model still offers an abundance of interior space for passengers and generous luggage space beneath the big rear hatch.
The interior is a nice blend of SUV ruggedness with Mercedes-Benz saloon luxury.
And even though most people will never take theirs off-road, the 4MATIC permanent electronic four-wheel-drive system means you can tackle the most rugged of terrain.
It can dramatically alter the split between the drive to the front and rear axles from 30:70 to 70:30, depending upon the need at any given time.
The new ML 250 is a real car for all seasons and a car for all reasons.
And while it’s still easily identifiable as an M-Class, it’s new slimline shape makes it far more desirable and far more car-like to drive – which gives you the best of all worlds.
Mercedes-Benz ML 250 BlueTec Sport
Mechanical: 2143cc, 204 bhp 4 cyl petrol engine driving all wheels via 7spd automatic gearbox.
Max speed: 130 mph
0-62mph: 9.0 secs
Combined mpg: 44.8
Insurance group: 38
CO2 emissions: 165 g/km
Warranty: 3 Years/ unlimited mileage