Full 2014 Mercedes-Benz M-Class Review
What's New for 2014
A new Sport package for the 2014 Mercedes-Benz M-Class allows you to outfit the ML350 with the ML550's standard AMG styling cues. All 2014 models can be equipped with a nifty split-screen dashboard display that can project different images to driver and passenger.
Remember a certain defunct American brand that promised "driving excitement"? Well, Pontiac's old tagline wouldn't work so well for the 2014 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Unless you opt for the exclusive ML63 AMG version of this five-passenger midsize crossover SUV, the ML simply doesn't feel very athletic or graceful when going around turns, and its steering is numb and deliberate. The M-Class is heavy for its size, too, and you feel every last Teutonic ounce from behind the wheel. It's not a flattering picture, but for some, this feeling of substance is entirely the point of driving a big Benz like the 2014 M-Class.
There's no denying the M-Class' regal ride quality and imposing presence on the road, either. And unlike its American- and Japanese-brand rivals, this Mercedes-Benz crossover offers a deep roster of engines, ranging from a regular gasoline V6 and a fuel-efficient turbocharged diesel V6 to a pair of formidable turbocharged V8s. As you'd expect from a Mercedes in this price range, cabin quality is second to none, and the ML's extensive options list allows for plenty of personalization. Just keep an eye on the bottom line: The base price is already relatively high to begin with, and adding extras can easily inflate it by another five figures if you're not careful.
If you're shopping for a midsize luxury crossover SUV, there's no shortage of appealing candidates. The redesigned 2014 BMW X5, for example, handles better and provides comparable luxury, power and feature content; it also offers a third-row seat, which Mercedes leaves to the larger GL-Class. If sporty performance is a top priority, the 2014 Porsche Cayenne is a breed apart, while the 2014 Acura MDX and Lexus RX 350 are also quite appealing, and less expensive to boot. But for those who prefer to cruise in dignified comfort, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is bound to satisfy, as long as you don't need a third row.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The five-passenger 2014 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is available in ML350, ML350 Bluetec, ML550 and ML63 AMG trim levels.
The ML350 and ML350 Bluetec have different engines (gasoline- and diesel-powered V6s, respectively) but are equipped similarly with standard 19-inch wheels, LED running lights and taillights, a sunroof, roof rails, a power liftgate, foglamps, dual-zone automatic climate control, wood interior trim, a manual tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-way power front seats (with four-way power lumbar adjustment), heated front seats, reclining rear seats, MB-Tex premium vinyl upholstery (leather is optional), the COMAND electronics interface, Mercedes' mbrace2 communications system (includes smartphone app integration), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and an eight-speaker sound system with HD radio, a six-CD changer, USB/auxiliary jacks and an SD card reader.
The Sport package for the ML350 models adds AMG exterior trim and either 19- or 20-inch AMG wheels.
The ML550 starts with the ML350 models' standard equipment and adds a turbocharged V8, the Sport package with 19-inch AMG wheels (the 20s are optional) and running boards (also offered on lesser models).
Adding the Premium 1 package to any of the above M-Class models brings a rearview camera, power-folding exterior mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, a 10-way power driver seat (with four-way power lumbar), a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, driver memory functions, double sun visors, a navigation system with 10 gigabytes of music storage, voice-command functionality, a rear 115-volt household-style power outlet, satellite radio and an iPod interface.
The Lighting package includes adaptive bi-xenon headlights with automatic high-beam control. The Lane Tracking package contributes a blind-spot warning system and a lane-departure warning system, while the Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control and an advanced version of the Lane Tracking package (see "Safety," below). The Parking Assist package adds front and rear parking sensors, an automated parallel parking system and a surround-view parking camera. The special-order On/Off-Road package includes an adaptive suspension with air springs ("Airmatic"), a two-speed transfer case, a six-mode terrain selector and underbody skid plates. Airmatic is also available as a special-order stand-alone option.
The ML63 AMG goes all-out with a stronger V8, an AMG-tuned Airmatic suspension with adaptive stabilizer bars, exclusive 20-inch AMG wheels, special leather upholstery, sport seats with ventilation and unique styling elements inside and out. The Premium 1, Lighting, Lane Tracking and Parking Assist packages are standard as well, while the Driver Assistance package is optional. The AMG Performance package raises engine output and adds a higher top speed, along with red-painted brake calipers and a carbon-fiber engine cover. Also optional are 21-inch AMG wheels along with most of the other trims' extra equipment.
Individual option highlights include a trailer hitch, a panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, "multicontour" front seats with massage functions, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a rear-seat entertainment system, various alternative cabin accents (metallic and wood) and a Splitview display for the COMAND system that can project different images to the driver and passenger. The ML63 is additionally eligible for a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
The ML350 features a 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. As with every M-Class model, the transmission is a seven-speed automatic with shift paddles. The ML350 comes with rear-wheel drive and offers all-wheel drive as an extra-cost option. In Edmunds performance testing, an ML350 with AWD accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, which is average for this segment. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg combined (18 mpg city/24 mpg highway) with rear-drive and 19 mpg combined (17 city/22 highway) with AWD.
The ML350 Bluetec comes with a diesel-powered, 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine that produces 240 hp and a prodigious 455 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard here and on all higher-trim models. Mercedes puts the Bluetec's acceleration on par with the gas-powered ML350, while fuel economy improves to an impressive 23 mpg combined (20 city/28 highway).
The ML550 boasts a 4.7-liter turbocharged V8 that produces 402 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes says it'll hit 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg combined (14 city/19 highway).
The ML63 AMG rocks a 5.5-liter turbo V8 that produces 518 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. The AMG Performance package inflates that output to 550 hp and 560 lb-ft. Mercedes says the ML63 will hit 60 mph in a startling 4.7 seconds in standard form, while the Performance package knocks off a tenth of a second. Fuel economy stands at 15 mpg combined (13 mpg city/17 mpg highway).
Properly equipped, any one of the M-Class variants except the gas-powered ML350 can tow up to 7,200 pounds. The ML350 tops out at 6,600 pounds.
Standard safety features for all 2014 Mercedes-Benz M-Class models include antilock brakes, traction and stability control, PreSafe (which can identify an imminent crash and automatically take measures to secure occupants), hill-start assist and hill-descent control, active front head restraints, a collision warning system, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. The mbrace2 communications system includes automatic collision notification, an SOS button, stolen vehicle location, geo-fencing, alarm notification and remote door lock/unlock. A rearview camera is standard on the ML63 and optional on all other versions.
The M-Class additionally offers two levels of blind-spot and lane-departure protection. The first level comes via the Lane Tracking package, which monitors road conditions and alerts the driver by vibrating the wheel or emitting a beep. The second level is found in the Driver Assistance package, which adds "active" versions of these systems that can selectively apply the brakes if the driver fails to heed the car's warnings.
The M-Class came up aces in crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, receiving the top mark of "Good" in the moderate-overlap front offset, small-overlap frontal offset, side-impact and roof strength test. Its seat/head restraint design also rates Good for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
In Edmunds brake testing, an ML350 4Matic came to a stop from 60 mph in 114 feet, an outstanding performance for such a heavy vehicle with all-season tires.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz M-Class features understated interior styling that complements the restrained exterior. The dashboard is almost identical to that of the larger GL-Class, underscoring the fact that the M and GL are essentially different flavors of the same dish. If you're cool with only two rows of seating, save some money and get the M-Class; if you need three rows, bring enough cash for the GL-Class. However, rival midsize luxury crossovers like the Acura MDX or BMW X5 offer the convenience of seven-passenger seating in a package that's similar in size and price to the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.
To its credit, though, the M offers roomy accommodations for five and provides more second-row legroom than most competitors. Cargo capacity measures 38.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 80 cubes with the rear seatbacks folded flat: solid figures for this class.
Materials quality inside the M-Class is superb, ranking right up there with any luxury SUV on the market. The standard knob-based COMAND interface works better than most systems of its ilk, streamlining the navigation system's destination entry process with two simple menu bars (top and bottom) that should quickly become second-nature.
The 2014 M-Class's standard gasoline V6 engine gets fairly frisky if you're willing to take it to redline, but acceleration can feel a little pokey in normal driving conditions. That's why the ML350 Bluetec diesel version is a win-win proposition: It delivers more usable thrust in everyday passing and merging maneuvers along with superior fuel economy. As for the V8-powered models, the ML550 is sports-car quick, and the ML63 is just nuts. If straight-line speed turns you on, has Benz ever got an SUV for you.
From the driver seat, the feel of the brakes inspires confidence, and that's corroborated by our own testing: The M-Class is one of the shortest-stopping SUVs we've ever tested. The ride quality is exemplary, isolating occupants from both impacts and noise; it's a reason in itself to buy this Benz. On winding roads, however, the non-AMG M-Class models feel soft and out of sorts around turns, and the steering is both devoid of feel and rather slow to respond. Translation: This is not a sporty SUV. The ML63 AMG, meanwhile, delivers capable but ultimately uninspiring handling. Even the hot-rod M-Class, it turns out, is more of a deranged highway cruiser than a true sport machine.