Used 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class ML63 AMG

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2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
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2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class

Pros

  • Engine choices include gas and diesel
  • comfortable seating
  • high-quality interior and construction
  • excellent braking distances.

Cons

  • Expensive compared to some rivals
  • no third-row seat option
  • disappointing steering response.

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Edmunds' Expert Review

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class sees plenty of key improvements, notably in performance, fuel efficiency and cabin ambience that keep it fully competitive in the luxury SUV game.

vehicle overview

The redesigned 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is a perfect example of subtle evolution. When you've got something good going, why make radical changes? As such, the newest Mercedes M-Class, despite having all-new sheet metal, is instantly recognizable as the brand's popular midsize SUV. Styling is cleaned up a bit, as the grille returns to a more classic Mercedes look while the profile keeps the M's familiar greenhouse. A few newer styling cues are seen in the sculpted hindquarters and wide taillights, both inspired by the E-Class.

Inside the 2012 M-Class, there is a greater sense of luxury, with plenty of handsomely stitched leather, more rounded design cues than the rest of the Mercedes line and up-to-date switchgear quality and functionality. This year, there are also a few different interior styling options to choose from, such as quilted leather upholstery and matte-finish wood accents. Although the second-row seat can accommodate three passengers, it is sculpted to provide greater comfort for two. No third-row seat will be offered at first, but one will become available a few years down the road to appease that vocal minority who've asked for one.

Under the new skin, key improvements have been made in both performance and fuel efficiency. The volume-selling ML350 V6 has more power and delivers better fuel economy than before, as does the ML350 Bluetec turbodiesel. Then there are the V8-powered models, the ML550 and ML63 AMG, for those who want their SUV to accelerate like a sports car (and don't mind the commensurate appetite for fuel). This year there is no hybrid M-Class. Our pick of the litter is the Bluetec, which offers the stout power down low that makes a near-5,000-pound SUV feel light on its feet, while also returning respectable fuel efficiency.

More powerful, more capable and with a nicer cabin than ever before, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class nonetheless has some tough competition. Its chief rival is once again the BMW X5, but there are also the less expensive Acura MDX and Lexus RX as worthy choices. As for similarly priced and sized rivals, the aforementioned X5 and the Porsche Cayenne both offer more driving involvement and response, especially from their steering. As any of these will provide more than enough luxury and performance for most folks, we'd encourage you to conduct back-to-back test-drives of any that strike your fancy.

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class configurations

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is a five-passenger midsize luxury SUV available in ML350, ML350 Bluetec, ML550 and ML63 AMG trim levels.

The ML350 and ML350 Bluetec are equipped similarly with standard 19-inch wheels, a sunroof, a power liftgate, foglamps, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power/heated front seats, reclining rear seats, MB-Tex premium vinyl upholstery, the COMAND electronics interface, Bluetooth, the TeleAid emergency telematics service and an eight-speaker sound system with HD radio, a CD player and USB/auxiliary jacks.

The ML550 adds 19-inch AMG wheels, running boards, a trailer hitch and rear seat side airbags. Other than the wheels, all of these items are available on the 350 trims.

Options include the Premium 1 package, which includes a rearview camera, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming rearview/sideview mirrors, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, driver memory functions, a navigation system, voice controls, satellite radio, an iPod interface and 10GB of digital music storage. The Premium 2 package includes all Premium 1 equipment plus keyless ignition/entry, heated/cooled cupholders, a Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system and ambient cabin lighting.

There are other packages as well. The Dynamic Handling package includes 20-inch alloy wheels and an air suspension with adaptive dampers and stabilizer bars. The Lighting package includes adaptive bi-xenon headlights (with washers) as well as corner-illuminating lights. The Lane Tracking package includes blind-spot warning and lane departure warning. The Driver Assistance package adds active cruise control (with active PreSafe braking) to the contents of the Lane Tracking package. An off-road package with selectable terrain modes will debut a bit later in the model year.

Individual option highlights include a panoramic sunroof, active park assist, a night vision camera, triple-zone climate control, full leather seating, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a rear seat entertainment system, two-tone leather upholstery and different cabin accents (metallic and wood).

The ML63 AMG gets a twin-turbo V8, active roll stabilization, stronger brakes, AMG-tuned suspension and steering, 20-inch wheels, special leather upholstery, sport seats and unique styling elements inside and out. The Premium 2, Lighting and Lane Tracking packages are standard as well. The AMG Performance package raises engine output and adds a higher top speed. Also optional are 21-inch AMG wheels along with most of the other trims' extra equipment.

2012 Highlights

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is all-new.

Performance & mpg

The ML350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive are standard for the ML350 as well as all other M-Class models. In Edmunds performance testing, an ML350 went from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, which is average for its class. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined.

The ML350 Bluetec has a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 that utilizes 50-state-legal clean-diesel technology. It produces 240 hp and a prodigious 455 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes estimates that it will go from zero to 60 in the same time as the gas ML350, but fuel economy improves to 20/27/22.

The ML550 gets a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 that produces 402 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes says it'll hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 15/20/17.

The ML63 AMG gets a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 that produces 518 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. The AMG Performance package bumps this engine up to 550 hp and 560 lb-ft. Mercedes says the ML63 will hit 60 mph in 4.7 seconds in its standard form, while the Performance package knocks a tenth of a second off that. Fuel economy stands at 14/18/15.

Safety

Standard safety equipment includes antilock brakes, traction and stability control, hill-start assist and hill-descent control, active front head restraints, the mbrace emergency communications system, PreSafe (it anticipates an imminent crash and automatically takes measures to better secure occupants), front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. The optional Lane Tracking package includes blind spot warning and lane departure warning.

In Edmunds brake testing, an ML350 came to a stop from 60 mph in 114 feet, which is outstanding for such a heavy vehicle with all-season tires.

Driving

Though the acceleration numbers of the gas and diesel V6s are similar, there are two distinct personalities here. As expected, the turbodiesel V6 provides strong low-end grunt, which tapers off as the revs climb. The gas V6 takes the opposite tack, feeling a bit soft off the mark but giving a more potent higher-rpm rush. If you want more power or just the status of the numerically higher badge, the turbocharged ML550 and ML63 AMG will happily oblige. Both models are exceptionally quick. No matter which ML you choose, braking performance is strong and reassuring.

On a winding road, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 tends to roll a bit when pressed, but the ride is compliant without being floaty. Those who want more of a sport sedan flavor in their SUV can opt for that Dynamic Handling package that does an impressive job of quelling body motions. The new, all-electric steering system is a bit of a disappointment, however, as it's overly light and doesn't provide the sort of subtle feedback we've come to expect from Mercedes-Benz. The ML63 is better in this regard, as you would hope from such a high-performance machine.

Interior

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class features an upscale cabin and seating for five. This year brings more personalization options as well, with two-tone upholstery and various wood and metallic accents to choose from. The more rounded dash design reminds us more of the distantly related Jeep Grand Cherokee in its appearance than its squared-off Mercedes siblings, but that's more of an aesthetic critique. The COMAND interface works well and allows the driver to easily select the car's more complicated infotainment options without making simpler commands too difficult.

Passenger room is impressive, as the M-Class offers more rear legroom than most of its competitors. There's no third row offered, though. With the rear seats in place, there is a total of 36 cubic feet of luggage space. When the seats are folded flat, this expands to 71 cubes -- an average figure for this class of vehicle.


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Features & Specs

MPG
15 city / 25 hwy
Seats 5
7-speed shiftable automatic
Gas
518 hp @ 5250 rpm
See all Used 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class ML63 AMG features & specs

Safety

IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Good
  • Roof Strength Test
    Good
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
    Good
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test
    Good

More about the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
More About This Model

Driving in Montana changes you, and after just a day here, we have no desire to be in anything smaller, lighter or less comfortable than the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350.

Everything about this state is huge, whether you're talking about mountains, glaciers or total square mileage. You'll never really get anywhere unless you're moving quickly, even if that means pounding down an old, twisty two-lane road at 70 mph (the posted limit even on obscure routes like state highway 279).

Midsize luxury crossover SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz M-Class have always been good at carrying your stuff, but nobody expects to make time on back roads. Thanks to more powerful V6 engines and an improved automatic transmission, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 and the diesel ML350 Bluetec hustle quite nicely. It's their improved mileage figures that make them good companions out there, though, as we haven't passed a fuel station for the last 50 miles.

It's Redesigned. Can You Tell?
It still looks like a used bar of designer soap to us, but the M-Class form is now a classic (at Montessori schools everywhere), so Benz is sticking with it for the third generation. Crisp, new sheet metal is stretched over the same 114.8-inch wheelbase as last year's model, although the redesigned SUV's track is over an inch wider. The 2012 ML350 is nearly an inch longer overall (189.1) while its height has come down nearly an inch (70.7).

Really, this midsize crossover didn't need to grow any larger. Although published legroom and cargo capacity have dipped slightly from the second generation, there's still ample knee clearance for 6-footers in the second row and, for the first time ever, you can recline the rear seatbacks. The 36.2-cubic-foot cargo bay is deep for this class, with space enough for two weeks' worth of groceries for a family of four.

It's also deep enough to package a third-row seat, and Mercedes is working on a fold-flat unit, even though the 2006-'11 M-Class didn't have one.

"It's about two years out," Steve Cannon, vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA, tells us. The take rate on this optional two-seat bench will be low, he adds, but it will target a vocal minority of owners whose beautiful, talented children are on club soccer teams.

Gasoline V6 Gets Direct Injection
You'll likely be more interested in the upgraded V6 engines on the 2012 M-Class.

Our 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 tester gets the same direct-injected, gasoline 3.5-liter V6 we've sampled in the 2012 C-Class Coupe and sedan. Power ratings don't change on the M-Class, so we're still talking about 302 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque from 3,500-5,250 rpm. This is on par with the Acura MDX, but still shy of the 300 lb-ft of torque on the BMW X5.

Although smooth, the direct-injected V6 doesn't feel anywhere as potent in the nearly 5,000-pound ML as it does in the C-Class. Its best power comes at higher rpm, and when we step out to pass on Highway 200, we wish for more low-end grunt. Of course, there's a difference in elevation between Montana and Spain (where we drove the 2012 C350), so we'll wait until we test the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 in Southern California before we get any more opinionated. Mercedes predicts a 7.3-second 0-60-mph time, which is over a half-second quicker than the old ML350.

An upgraded seven-speed automatic transmission makes the best of the situation, too, serving up quick downshifts when we need them. It drives all four of the 2012 ML350's wheels through the carryover 4Matic clutch-type all-wheel-drive system (a rear-drive ML350 is coming for the 2013 model year). Gear ratios are the same as last year's, but various friction reduction measures, plus a new torque converter that locks up in every gear, increase efficiency. The final drive is tamer at 3.67 versus 3.90 previously.

With all the improvements, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 earns a respectable 17 city/22 highway mpg EPA rating — a huge leap over the 2011 model's 15/20 rating.

But You Should Get the Diesel
Only 20 percent of Mercedes M-Class buyers bring home the diesel model, and you should count yourself in that minority if you're serious about getting an ML.

With a base price of $51,356, a diesel-powered 2012 ML350 Bluetec, equipped with the same seven-speed automatic and 4Matic system, costs just $1,500 more than our gasoline ML350. It gets to 60 mph in the same 7.3 seconds, says Mercedes, but is expected to earn a 20 city/25 highway mpg rating (versus 18/25 in 2011).

On the road, the diesel has none of the gas V6's high-rpm bravado, but you don't have to wait around for torque. The revised turbocharged and direct-injected 3.0-liter V6 provides an incredible 455 lb-ft from 1,600-2,400 rpm, along with 240 hp at 3,600 rpm. This engine made just 210 hp and 400 lb-ft on the 2011 model; the diesel X5 is rated at 265 hp and 425 lb-ft.

Reductions in internal friction led the way to the power and efficiency gains on the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec. Benz engineers have, for example, ditched the 3.0-liter engine's cast-iron cylinder liners (saving 9.5 pounds) and adopted the same cylinder wall coating process used on AMG engines. Another major contributor is a revamped common-rail injection system, which can inject fuel at higher pressure up to five times during a cycle — allowing the engine to do more with lower fuel volumes.

The 2012 ML350 Bluetec also uses a new, smaller turbocharger. The point here wasn't to increase power, but to hasten response when you floor the throttle.

Where's My V8?
About 8 percent of M-Class buyers still insist on a V8, and those are coming in the first quarter of 2012. The 2012 ML550 will use the new twin-turbocharged direct-injected 4.7-liter V8 engine, and although Mercedes officials don't want to discuss it just yet, the ML63 AMG will almost certainly show up with the 5.5-liter V8, also with twin turbos and direct injection.

"There's still demand for V8s, but it won't last forever," Cannon says, nodding in the direction of tighter fuel economy standards coming mid-decade.

"Over time, we have a turbocharged, direct-injected six-cylinder that we see replacing the V8s, though V8s will remain in the CLS-Class and above."

Don't wait up for an M-Class hybrid, as Mercedes won't be using the technology on the 2011 ML450 Hybrid anymore. Instead, the automaker is working on a parallel hybrid system with a clutch pack as the mediator (à la Hyundai Sonata Hybrid). The E-Class is first in line for hybridization; the ML will get it eventually, but maybe not in this generation.

Subtle Chassis Changes
The basic suspension design hasn't changed on the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class, as you still have double wishbones in front and a four-link arrangement in back, but some of the particulars have changed.

Ride quality is exceptionally compliant with the standard setup of steel springs and conventional dampers, but the body roll is a bit much on the twisty downhill grades on Highway 200. Should you get out of hand, the latest version of the optional Lane Keeping Assist will aggressively intervene with steering wheel vibration and brake application to nudge you back to your side of the double-yellow, so best to keep a clean line.

New for 2012 is the Dynamic Handling package, which includes air springs, driver-adjustable adaptive dampers and adaptive antiroll bars, along with 20-inch wheels (in lieu of the standard 19s). Select Sport mode and, sure enough, the ML350 takes a much flatter attitude through these corners. However, unless you live in Montana, we can't see dropping $5,150 for this package.

The other big change in the chassis department is a switch to full electric-assist power steering — there's no hydraulic pump anymore. Oftentimes, this is bad news, but EPS is well executed on the M-Class. This is actually a variable-ratio setup, thanks to variable spacing of the gear teeth on the steering rack, and the result is precise steering with a logical build-up in effort as you turn the wheel off center.

Brake hardware is the same as last year, as the ML350 has 13-inch ventilated front discs with two-piston sliding calipers and 12.8-inch solid rear discs with single-piston calipers.

Come November, you'll be able to get an off-road package on both the gasoline ML350 and the ML350 Bluetec. In U.S. specification, it won't include low-range gearing, but will have a multi-terrain system that tailors drivetrain and suspension behavior to selected conditions as on the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Not Going to Downsize
Of course, there's no shortage of tech features to add to the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 and ML350 Bluetec, including a hard-drive-based navigation system, all-speed adaptive cruise control, a self-parking system and even accessory iPad docking stations for the backseat. No surprise, then, that our ML350 lands well past $60,000.

Among midsize luxury crossover SUVs, the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 350 are far less expensive, and they're both more rational choices if you're a minivan avoider just looking for functionality.

But nobody looks at a Benz for solely rational reasons, and so the ML's chief rival remains the BMW X5. The BMW is quicker with either its gas or diesel six-cylinder, and there's little doubt we'd have more fun chucking it into a corner on Highway 200. However, much like the current E-Class, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 feels greater than the sum of its parts.

This is a refined and comfortable vehicle that's all suited up for family duty, yet every bit as elegant as you'd expect of a vehicle with a big bottom line. Mercedes hopes to sell 36,000 MLs in a full calendar year, and if we lived in Montana we would gladly drive one every day.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.

Used 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class ML63 AMG Overview

The Used 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class ML63 AMG is offered in the following styles: ML63 AMG 4dr SUV AWD (5.5L 8cyl Turbo 7A).

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Should I lease or buy a 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

Check out Mercedes-Benz lease specials
Check out Mercedes-Benz M-Class lease specials