C. 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Most Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUVs are bought as prestigious station wagons rather than a 4WD, though some are use in off-road conditions and there’s a package for those who want to get really serious – more about it in a moment.
The first M-Class model had true 4WD body-on-chassis construction, all others have a monocoque body with some underbody strengthening to make it more suited to off-road running.
Mercedes-Benz M-Class first arrived in Australia in September 1998 and has sold well in the two decades since then thanks to a combination of image, price and 4WD ability.
These first models are slightly smaller, and significantly less stylish than later ones. They are also getting on in years and may be past their use-by date so we won’t detail them here. Note that build quality was poor in the early days, those from the early 2000 update are noticeably better than the originals.
Thanks to the tall station wagon body there’s plenty of interior space in these big Mercs and the boot is a good size, well-shaped and easy to load.
The high centre of gravity when compared to a car reduces the cornering ability of an M-Class. However, electronic stability aids make them hold the road remarkably well. Indeed, the M-class corners safely at speeds well in excess of those likely to be attempted by the average owner.
A second generation model replaced the original in April 2006, it received a facelift and upgraded mechanical components in January 2008. The gen-three arrived in Australia in April 2012. Each version increased the stylishness of the vehicle, but put ever more emphasis on on-road performance.
Mercedes-Benz offers a staggering range of four- six- and eight-cylinder engines with naturally-aspirated petrol, turbo-petrol and turbo-diesel setups. The turbo-diesels are generally the favourites, but those who like a bit more driving pleasure the V8s are the ride of choice.
At the top of the performance tree are the Mercedes-AMG variants of the M-Class. These rocketships are much loved in Australia and ours is one of the world’s biggest markets globally.
Seven-speed automatic transmissions are fitted to all M-Class vehicles from 2006. One with a manual gearbox is likely to have been imported from Europe and could prove a real hassle at resale time.
If do want to get seriously down and dirty the Mercedes Off-Road Pro packages work well. The package adds adjustable ride height and a two-speed transfer case as well as numerous other smaller items.
As part of its umpteenth revision of model titles the Mercedes M-Class was renamed the Mercedes GLE in 2015. Few of these are on the used market yet so won’t be reviewed here.
The Mercedes-Benz dealer network has been well established in Australia for many decades. As is the norm, most are in metro areas, but there’s a decent number out of town as well, the latter thanks to the popularity of diesel Mercs, cars and SUVs, in the bush as well.
Spare parts aren’t overly expensive for what the vehicle is. But if you’re upgrading from a less prestigious vehicle it might be an idea to do so price comparisons before falling in love with a Mercedes.
Insurance charges are reasonable for an imported German luxury vehicle, reflecting some of the cost cutting that has gone into the manufacture of the M-class. It’s made in the USA and, relatively speaking, is built down to a price.
Few vehicles are more popular on the Australian used-car market than Mercedes-Benzes with full service records. You will almost certainly be asked to pay more, but smart buyers say they are worth the additional outlay.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Do preliminary inspections to the best of your ability then call on the services of a professional before committing. A Mercedes-Benz trained person is the best, motoring association inspectors are the second choice for most potential buyers.
Make sure the engine starts easily, modern turbo-diesels only take a second or two on the glow plugs and any longer could indicate a problem.
Feel for the engine idling smoothly from the moment it fires up.
Make sure the engine pulls strongly without any initial hesitation. Turbo units will have a little lag, make sure you understand what to feel for, or call in a professional who does.
The automatic transmission should work almost imperceptibly, even when worked hard by your right foot.
Clues to off-road use are light scratches to the body sides, scars on bumper corners, scrapes on the underbody protection plates.
Ferrying boisterous kids around the suburbs isn’t all that easy on a 4WD, either. So have a good look over the interior, particularly at the seat bases and in the vicinity of the door controls. And don’t forget the luggage area.
CAR BUYING TIP
Want a 4WD to take off-road? Then go for one that’s already been used in those conditions as it’s likely to be significantly cheaper than those that only lived in the suburbs.