Motor Mouth

Mercedes' revamped ML 280 CDI Sport aims at 'authority and strength' but, says Sathnam Sanghera, it's ugly and anachronous.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I was surprised to learn, via one of BBC News' hourly reports on the world's imminent economic demise, that one in six cars in the world are German. I mean, we British Asians love BMWs and Audis more than anyone. We enjoy driving them even more than concreting over our front gardens. But one in six? Sounds too high.

An explanation, however, arrived in the shape of the revised Mercedes ML class. It seems the calculation must be based not on sales but on size. The front end may have arrived in NW3, but the tailgate seemed to stretch to Brent Cross. I'd forgotten how big German cars can be.

This is all part of a deliberate optical illusion. The main aim of the 'meticulous and extensive revamp' of the decade-old ML - involving a redesigned front bumper, recontured lights 'with piercing new projection-beam headlamps', a larger and lower grille, a rear bumper 'with integrated reflector strips' and tail lights with a smoked-glass look - has been to enhance the vehicle's 'dynamic visual presence' and to ensure that its 'commanding on-road presence' exudes 'authority and strength'.

But I suspect it also has something to do with the world having changed so much since it was launched. Suddenly, acquiring a big, expensive, polluting car seems as silly as buying yourself a pet panda or declining the chance to subscribe to a final-salary pension. You could probably get a big discount off the list price. And Mercedes has tried to make the car environmentally acceptable: the revised diesel engine has enhanced economy by up to 1.2 mpg and cut CO2 levels by up to 8 g/km, making the M Class range 'one of the cleanest and most frugal in its sector'.

But these developments have made the ML sluggish too, as well as too big and too expensive. Indeed, if I were Lewis Hamilton, I'd be worried by the application of the word 'sport' to this model by the company that propelled him to the world championship last year. You could drive faster plant pots.

I really wanted to like this car. I've long maintained that it's impossible to drive a bad Merc, just as it is impossible to watch a bad film featuring Johnny Depp, or a bad article by Craig Brown. Also, it took me yonks to persuade the company to let me test-drive a model. But the ML epitomises the current hopelessness of the car industry. The only thing to recommend it is the nifty aux socket in the glove compartment.

I'll take one...
You could probably get a massive discount.
Not as ugly as its predecessor.
Thanks but no thanks...
Still ugly.
Too big, too expensive.
Impending economic doom.


Mercedes ML 280 CDI Sport £45,045

Engine 2,987 cc

Combined power 190 bhp at 4,000 rpm

Torque 440 Nm at 1,400-2,800 rpm

Transmission 7-speed automatic

Fuel 29.4 mpg (combined cycle)

CO2 254 g/km

0-62 mph 9.8 sec

Top speed 127 mph

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