I was excited to test-drive the newly redesigned 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec. I've never had a chance to drive the ML, having assigned a previous test ML to another reviewer, Sara Lacey, who fell so hard for it that she and her family ended up buying a slightly used 2008 ML.
According to Sara, the ML was one of the few cars that neither she nor her discerning husband had any strong aversion toward. And since their family regularly loads up the whole clan plus gear to head up to the mountains, the ML makes for the perfect ski car for maneuvering in the snow. To boot, it is still comfortable enough to deal with the usually painful four-hour ride home in Sunday ski traffic.
So the hype was there, and the bar was set high. And we all know what happens when you have high expectations.
The first thing I noticed in the 2012 ML350 diesel was excessive body roll on all the windy corners between my home and my daughters' school on the way to pick them up. I felt like I was playing a motorcycle arcade game where you sit on the spring-loaded bike that tilts to one side to corner, then pops upright again on the straightaways, then flings you over to the other side to make the next corner.
OK, I take that back. The first thing I noticed was the incredibly fun torque that the diesel engine delivered.
Now back to the body roll.
To confirm my observations, Sara and I met with the 2012 ML and her "old" ML and drove them side-by-side. "I felt like I sit lower and more catlike in the new one, so I expected it to behave more catlike, and it didn't. So that's a surprise," Sara said. "I also felt more shimmy driving over a road with seams in the new ML. I could feel all of those little things in the road exponentially more in the new car."
I felt like a cork bobbing on the surface of choppy water while driving the new ML on normal, slightly bumpy suburban roads. On straight, smooth roads, it was completely silent and drove like butter.
While we didn't get a chance to test the optional Dynamic Handling Package with driver-adjustable adaptive damping, having more control would allow a more individualized driving experience in the car, tailoring the feel of the ride to the driver.
All in all, when I asked Sara if she would opt for the 2012 ML350, she responded, "I'd want to at least try the adjustable suspension first. Just from a ride perspective, I'm not sure I'd pick the new one over mine. It was really stiff. I don't think I'd like that much road feel all the time. But it would be incredibly hard to say no to that twin-turbo-diesel."