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First look: Mercedes M-class of 2005

Evolution: Mercedes has played it safe with the Mk2 M-class.

The reborn M-Class puts Mercedes back in luxury SUV contention

14 Dec 2004

DAIMLERCHRYSLER has revealed a much more car-like machine in its second generation M-class.

Codenamed the W164 and debuting at January’s Detroit auto show, the luxury Mercedes SUV should star at next October’s Sydney event, a few weeks ahead of its local launch.

Reflecting its most vital market, the North Americans will see it first, in the second quarter of 2005.

Sourced solely from Tuscaloosa, US, as before, the new M-class casts an all-new four-door wagon body over a similar shape and proportion to the seven-year-old W163 model.

But the actual dimensions betray the extent of change.

Length increases by 150mm, width 71mm and the wheelbase 95mm, to 2915mm. The Mercedes is also 9mm lower than before.

4 center imageInside – where Mercedes is making much noise about the better build and material quality – rear legroom, elbow width and knee room grow by 15, 32 and 35mm respectively.

At 2050 litres, luggage capacity stretches by 30 litres.

Visually it sports some of the stylistic flourishes featured in more recent Mercedes models, including the flared wheel arches and upswept wedge of the new SLK, helping it achieve a more streamlined (0.34Cd vs. 0.39Cd) look.

And a revolution takes place underneath, with the deletion of today’s ladder frame chassis for a more car-like unitary body construction.

This brings the M-class in line with most of its luxury SUV rivals and follows BMW’s lead with its 1998-vintage E53 X5.

Combined with a revised double-wishbone front and four-link rear suspension system, and updated high-tech stability, traction and damping control devices, there should be heightened handling, ride and comfort abilities all-round.

The latter should be enhanced by an optional on-road version of Mercedes’ AIRMATIC air-suspension set-up first seen in the 1998 S-class sedan.

Meanwhile, another AIRMATIC will also be available, this time a dedicated off-road version elevating ground clearance from 181mm to 291mm for a 600mm fording depth.

This should give Range Rover something to think about, especially as it also includes a two-speed transfer case with an off-road ratio and manual or auto-select differential locks between, and on, the rear axles.

All 2005 M’s are underpinned by a rehashed permanent all-wheel drive system Mercedes calls 4ETS, which now calls on a downhill driving aid dubbed Start-off Assist and a specialised 4WD-focussed anti-lock brake system.

Petrol powered M-classes feature a new 3.5-litre V6 and a revised 5.0-litre V8, producing 200kW and 225kW of power respectively.

Meanwhile, the third generation common-rail direct injection turbo-diesel motors make their production debut.

Usurping the 120kW/370Nm 2.7-litre five-cylinder unit found in the existing ML 270 CDI, the new ML 280 CDI uses a 2.8 V6 for 140kW/440Nm, while returning an average of 9.4L/100km.

Its larger ML 320 CDI sibling has a 3.2 V6, and pumps out 165kW/510Nm.

That is 5kW and 200Nm more than the 1998 ML 320 petrol V6 could muster.

DaimlerChrysler says fuel consumption is cut – on average – by 10 per cent.

Buyers may also see a 223kW/560Nm 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 CDI to take on the Touareg V10 turbo-diesel, as well as an ML 63 AMG model powered by a naturally aspirated 344kW 6.3-litre V8 sometime in 2006.

All M-class engines are married to the company’s seven-speed 7G-TRONIC automatic gearbox.

Also available is Mercedes’ PRE-SAFE accident-anticipatory technology that speeds up seatbelt, airbag and brake activation after it senses anomalous driving manoeuvres and then “prepares” them for an impact scenario.

Safety is high on the M-classes causes and includes front, side and curtain airbags as standard, belt tensioners and belt force limiters for all seats, and anti-whiplash head restraints for the front seat occupants.

With a 2+2+2 seating configuration and all-wheel drive, the R-class is the German company’s first foray into cross-over SUV territory

Some of the more salubrious options will be a Lexus-style powered tailgate and steering column, swivelling bi-xenon headlights, DVD-based rear-seat entertainment and satellite navigation.

The new M-class will also spawn the R-class wagon, displayed in thinly disguised concept car form at September’s Paris motor show.

With a 2+2+2 seating configuration and all-wheel drive, the R-class is the German company’s first foray into cross-over SUV territory.

Further down the track, a replacement for the long-serving G-class 4WD – sold here for a few years from the early 1980s – is also expected from the W164 base.

The original M-class was unveiled in 1997 and released locally in September 1998.

Initially glowingly received, buyers soon abandoned it for the newer car-based X5 and Lexus RX series. Even a short drive in either revealed the Mercedes’ on-road dynamic limitations due to its ladder-frame construction.

Plus early quality control gremlins and hard plastics put people off, prompting Mercedes to instigate running changes to the M-class.

Current M-class sales have dropped from a 2001 peak of 2749 to 1502 in 2003.

To November this year Mercedes has shifted only 1135 M-classes, behind the Lexus RX330’s 2250 tally and the 2961 X5s sold.

With next April’s impressive new Land Rover Discovery and the stylish Nissan Murano waiting to greet it, the new M-class should have its work cut out.

And inside two years the Mercedes will also have the conceptually similar Audi Q7 SUV to deal with, along with an all-new X5.

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