The summer is well and truly upon us. And that means it’s time to head for the hills! Well, that is exactly what I did—driving off to the Kumaon hills in Uttarakhand’s Nainital district—and giving me company on the sometimes-wonderful, sometimes-scary highways was the new, upgraded ML 320 CDI 4Matic. For the uninitiated, this is the diesel all-wheel drive Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV.
The current-generation ML that has been around for three years was given a minor midlife makeover last year and finally it made it to Indian shores as well. The M-Class has been in India for some time now, but it is only this year that we have seen Mercedes-Benz get a little aggressive with it in the market. The company has maintained the old price, even though it has upgraded the SUV with many more features. So, the price seems more attractive (if you are shopping in the Rs50 lakh range). A large part of the vigour also comes from the fact that rivals such as the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 are gaining in popularity.
The second-generation ML always had imposing looks and better proportions, unlike the previous one, which always looked stubby. Now, the makeover helps it command even more attention, despite the fact that the changes are largely superficial.
The shape of the headlamp has been slightly altered and looks a bit more flamboyant now. The front grill is wider with a larger three-pointed star, the wheel arches have been flared a bit more, the new tail lamp cluster is smart but gets dwarfed by the huge spare wheel that sits outside the rear tailgate. Opening the cargo hold is now a bit annoying—the wheel brace needs to be opened first and only then can you raise the tailgate.
On the inside, it is extremely well appointed, but then, it is a Mercedes, right? I got what I expected by way of the leather, sunroof, dual-zone climate control, CD changer, cruise control, airbags, among others. The lack of an integrated screen that shows you not just music or phone displays but also car and AC settings is a let-down.
But the drive almost makes up for it. The ML is sure-footed and the 234 bhp V6 diesel motor is a beast. Lag shows up in initial pickup which takes some getting used to, but on a flat road it’s a pleasure. On bad stretches, too, the ML handles well. The suspension has the choice of sports or comfort modes, and the vehicle chassis can be raised or lowered too.
Traction control, electronic stability programme, or ESP, and all-wheel drive are standard. So, while climbing the hilly section after Haldwani, you can pretty much beat all the traffic and still not have white-knuckled co-passengers! The ML also comes in a 272 bhp V6 petrol version: the ML 350 4Matic (in the Rs53-54 lakh range).
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The Indian market is showing signs of revival in terms of passenger car sales. Thanks largely to easy availability and access to auto loans. In addition, a slew of recent launches have added to the momentum. Which is why, it is not surprising that motown is going to keep the new cars coming—and, for a change, the action is not restricted to niche or high-end segments. So, look forward to the hot hatches—Fiat’s Grande Punto and Maruti’s Ritz this month, and Honda’s segment-shaker Jazz in June. While the first two will sport petrol and diesel versions, Jazz will have a new 1.2 litre petrol engine. Ritz sells as Splash overseas and will have Maruti’s all-new 1.2 litre petrol engine which indicates the future of Suzuki engines in India. Finally, Jazz will be roomy, fun and, as always, I expect a winner from Honda—so lots of pressure on the Honda team to deliver a solid product.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor, auto, NDTV. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org