The newly introduced ML250CDI is the first Mercedes luxury SUV in India to come down through the SKD (Semi Knocked Down) kit route. The obvious gains from this is a cheaper sticker price and therefore better value. Complementing this is a smaller engine and fewer features all of which contribute to make it nearly ten lakhs cheaper than big brother the ML 350CDi.
The question that this poses is unique, because not everyone in this segment wants to own the cheaper variant. They will go around looking for as big a discount as possible but the badge has to be the bigger one. So would a 250CDi appeal to that buyer profile? Or would it appeal to those genuinely looking for a capable luxury SUV at a more affordable price? Here is what we found out.
The most significant change in this M-Class model is the powertrain. It isn't in the same league as its bigger brother, the ML 350 when it comes to sheer power, and that's because of the smaller 2.2-litre twin turbo-diesel four-cylinder unit that lies under the hood. This proven oil burner is also seen in the Mercedes C 250 and E 250 CDIs and it made sense to feature this particular unit in the locally built model. It is a very refined engine and as silent as a petrol engine, in fact while driving in town, one can't even hear it running. So how much power does it make? Max power is a respectable 203PS at 4200rpm (just 55PS less than the more powerful ML 350) while peak torque is a healthy 500Nm that is available from as low as 1600-1800rpm. All this translates to a capable highway cruiser and a peppy SUV in town.
Crank the motor, slot the stalk gear lever into drive mode and a slight tap of the throttle is enough to get the ML to quickly leap ahead. The speedo reads 100kmph in 8.8 seconds (quite respectable for a 2.2- litre four-cylinder engine in a two tonne vehicle). The quarter mile is covered in 16.36 seconds while the car maxed out at 208kmph. These aren't jaw dropping numbers when compared to larger 3.0-litre rivals but is good enough for those who don't mind taking a second or two more to reach 100kmph. Surprisingly, the 0-100kmph figure we achieved is 0.2 seconds quicker than the claimed figure while the top speed is only 2kmph short. The engine is mated to the same seven-speed automatic as seen in the ML 350 and offers quick and smooth shifts, one can also use the paddle shifters if needed. The 7G-Tronic transmission even boasts of two overdrive gears to aid fuel efficiency.
In town, the ML covered 11.8 kilometres to a litre of diesel. We couldn't test the efficiency on the highway but the ARAI claimed figure is a respectable 15.26kmpl. To further improve efficiency, one can choose between normal or eco driving mode. In this mode the start/stop system is activated. Overall, it's a good performer both in terms of performance and efficiency.
Talking dynamics then, the steering is light in town making it effortless to drive especially in traffic (where most SUVs are driven in our country). As speeds increase, the steering even weighs up well and is perfect for high speed cornering on expressways. To keep costs in check, the ML 250 doesn't feature adaptive air suspension like its elder sibling. It still manages to handle well around bends. But when pushed hard, the high COG is evident causing slight body roll. To make sure there is right amount of power given to all wheels, a 4Matic all-wheel drive system along with ESP and traction control comes in as standard. The ride is slightly stiff but is never a concern on bad roads or potholes. The higher profile tyres also help improve ride quality when compared to the ML 350.
In terms of features, the SUV comes with a lot of standard equipment like downhill speed regulation and hill crawl modes. In terms of safety, there's attention assist, proximity sensors, adaptive lighting and 9 airbags. All these features along with good overall performance and super looks make the ML 250 a great buy especially at the price it retails at.
The ML 250 is priced at Rs 46.5 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi, making it much more affordable than the smaller in size and in fact a segment lower Audi Q5 3.0 TDI and BMW X3 30d and a whopping Rs 10 lakh cheaper than the ML 350 CDI. So to answer the question we posed at the beginning, the ML 250 should appeal to the genuine SUV enthusiast looking for a luxury SUV with great character, abilities and at a price that does not pierce a hole in the pocket. Posers need not apply.
Looking at the number of MLs rolling out of dealerships today, there seems to be a lot of demand. The ML 250 CDI is definitely the best value pick in the Merc SUV stable and thanks to competitive pricing, don't be surprised to see many many more on the road. Not having any competition, comparative Audi and BMW products cost much more, at this price point also works positively for Mercedes. Job well done Mercedes!