On seeing the new Mercedes Benz M Class entering the driveway, the only thing on my mind was this car is huge. Once I got past this, however, I noticed how classy and sophisticated this SUV really is and oh so easy on the eye. I guess the white colour gave the ML a presence, but also magnified its size.

The new version of the M class has a revised sports grill, headlights and tail lights. Overall the vehicle does not look very different from its predecessor, but it exudes quality and style.

The M Class now come standard with all the creature comforts that you may need, such as parktroninc (parking assistance), automatic 7 speed gearbox, leather seats etc.

This altogether makes for a very well built and equipped vehicle that I found very difficult to fault. As you would expect, the interior is very spacious as you would expect, with extensive areas of glass and consequently good allround visibility.

On entering the vehicle, the first thing you notice being the driver is the lack of a gear selector in the centre consol, this has been moved to the steering wheel consol, and looks similar to an indicator stalk. It takes a bit of getting used to, but after driving the vehicle a few times, I actually began enjoying the location of the gear selector, as it was never in the way of the cup holders or any spills that may result therefrom. When switching off the vehicle, normally one has to engage park before the key can be removed, however, this new vehicle automatically selects park when the engine is switched off. Fortunately, the vehicle can also be driven in manual, as well, which is also done through the paddles located behind the steering wheel, which comes in handy perticularly during off-road use.

Overall, the interior is very well laid out with lots of space, storage and the additional 12v sockets in the boot and in the passenger section, which came in handy when the kids wanted to charge their PSPs. The vehicle’s boot is big enough to carry the family‘s luggage including the dog, and if need be the seats fold in a 60:40 split.

The vehicle is obviously equiped with all the safety features that have become a norm for this category of vehicle. The vehicle has many airbags including curtain airbags. In future, it will also come standard with the anticipatory occupant protection system PRE-SAFE® and NECK-PRO head restraints. Crash sensors ensure subsequent unlocking of the doors, as well as activation of the interior lighting and the hazard warning lights. Anti lock braking system (ABS), brake assist system (BAS), electronic stability programme (ESP) etc or in laymans terms all electronically controlled devices that help the car stay firmly on the road, especially when driving through our infamous Gauteng storms!

On the road, the vehicle is an absolute dream to drive, the controls are light with good steering feedback. The ride is also very soft but the vehicle does not feel like it is floating all over the road, you always feel in control. As a result of the high centre of gravity, don’t expect to throw this SUV into corners at high speeds, rather gently approach the corner and it will take it in its stride. Remember this vehicle was not designed as a street legal race vehicle. If that is your cup of tea rather opt for the ML 63 AMG, which will not, however, manage much off-road.

If 4×4 is more what you would like to do with your vehicle, then this vehicle is for you. To my suprise, these vehicles can now be fitted with low range as an optional extra. For all you enthusiasts out there that means that this is no longer just a soft roader, but rather a decent off-roader, but although with some limitations. Unfortunately the vehicle was not fitted with this optional extra, but did have a button that can activate hill decent and off-road mode. On depressing the off-road mode, the vehicle changes from Dr Jekel into Mr Hyde. It suddenly has lots of torque and feels a lot more capable over land.

So the vehicle looks good, handles well, is capable of going off the beaten track, what could be wrong? Well nothing, really, if you can afford it that is. The base model starts of at around R64000 and I guess if that is not a problem then the urban fuel consuption of 16l/100km should not be a problem. Overall I managed 14l/100km.

In conclusion, I am not sure what exactly the boffins at Mercedes Benz have done with the ML, but they have surely transformed it into one of the best SUVs in its class.

Azim Omar CA(SA) is the Project Director: Small Practices, SAICA.