Summer lovin', as they say, happens so fast. Meeting a car, getting to know each other, spending those days just drifting away... and uh oh, those quilted seats...
I hung out with the ML for the best part of a week - it wasn't planned, it just was. By the end, we were more than good friends.
To get to know the ML350, you need to spend some time with it - so I would suggest a long weekend with a good drive, some parking and shopping - perhaps down the beach.
It's important to introduce the family early on too - as this is a car that will see its fair share of Saturday sport and after-school play dates.
The design of the latest and to be final ML - as from 2015, the range is to be renamed GLE - is not a stop-you-in-your-tracks stunning car. It is classy and good looking, but for mine, the front isn't aggressive enough - I can't quite put my finger on it, but something just doesn't work.
That said, it is something that grows on you - and with the right colour choice (our white looked very smart, but black hides some of the lines better) is always a smart looking car.
Our ML350 was fitted with the optional $13,000 Designo package, which, along with the 21-inch alloy wheels and electric sunroof, provides delicious - and supremely comfortable - diamond-quilted leather seats.
The ML as a whole though, despite not being the newest Benz on the block, has typical Mercedes-Benz ergonomic and functional excellence. Once you are used to all the functions from both the console, steering wheel and rotary controller - the entire Mercedes interface works seamlessly.
There is plenty of room for rear passengers, plus the boot is big (690 litres), although to get a flat floor and full 2010 litres you have to fold the rear bench up before flipping the seats down. Not a deal breaker - but it can be a pain (storing the cargo blind when removed is a typical German non-consideration).
While the Designo package is expensive, it comes with Mercedes' excellent Airmatic suspension system that gives a fabulously comfortable ride. Where other MLs and certainly other competitive vehicles (BMW X5, et al) will crash over big bumps with their massive wheels - the Airmatic ride is one of the most comfortable I've experienced in a long time. You can option Airmatic separate to the Designo upgrade (about $3300) and in my opinion it is worth it - particularly if you are spending a lot of time on the road.
The fuel economy of the ML350 is also sensational - around town it was 8.5L/100km and longer stints regularly saw figures in the high-5s - impressive for such a big car.
The start-stop system is particularly 'enthusiastic' and you'll find the car in fuel saving mode a number of times within the same peak hour merge manoeuvre - so much so that you simply have to turn it off, negating any of its fuel-saving benefits.
Also the steering at low speeds is too light, making you feel completely disconnected to the car. Yes, as I've said, it is light and easy to move, but it just didn't feel right to me.
Absolutely. The size and comfort make this a perfect, luxurious, family bus.
It would be a shame to see crayons and Vegemite sandwiches get smooshed into those lovely diamonds though...
Being a Benz, reliability is a strong point. There are a number of fixed-price service packages available, and if you are shopping be sure to ask about their corporate plans.
Honestly, no. The things I didn't like were all things you could learn to live with. It's not cheap, but it is a very good package.
I'm still a BMW person at heart, and I do prefer the Bavarian's iDrive to the Benz's Comand system... but it was so comfortable and pleasant to live with, I can certainly see the appeal with the ML350. I would absolutely recommend a test drive or short lunch date if you are looking at a premium SUV.
The ML is a direct cross-shop for the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport. If you need seven seats, check out the Audi Q7 and if you want the three-pointed star but aren't sure an SUV is your cup of tea, the E-Class Estate is a personal favourite.
If your idea of Christmas in July is knocking back a few Schofferhofers over at Grimus then the ML is worth a look.