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Dial M for low tax

In those booming days of just a few years ago, which we are now afraid to remember, Mercedes-Benz would sell more than 400 units of their M-Class SUV.

However that was then and although the new M-Class, which was launched last week, is up to 13 per cent cheaper and much less costly in terms of road tax, the firm would be lucky to sell 100 a year.

The M-Class is the second of three new models planned this year. In appearance, it has been given a more defined, forceful look with the introduction of new headlamps and grille and centrally mounted three-pointed star. These big SUVs aren't my favourite type of vehicle and many who buy them are using them for show rather than utility. That said, improvements in the new M-Class include a more spacious and comfortable interior with more elbow room, a new dashboard and upholstery and a raft of standard and optional hi-tech infotainment systems.

Equipped with permanent four-wheel drive and new 7-G Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission, the M-Class is powered by an all-new line-up of engine consisting of one petrol and two diesel units that deliver fuel economy 25 per cent better on average than the model which it replaces.

Here the version most likely to appeal is the 204bhp ML250 CDI BlueTEC 4-MATIC selling at €71,060 ex-works with road tax of just €481, making it a benchmark in the premium large SUV segment.

With entry level prices for the ML250 and ML350 reduced by 11 per cent and 13 per cent respectively -- and with low emissions and correspondingly low road tax -- Mercedes-Benz believes that SUV owners now have good reasons to remain within the segment.

They also say that with road tax on some SUVs being in the €2k and and €1k mark that the M-Class is positively wallet-friendly.

In fact Mercedes says the new M-Class is the first Merc with a "price advantage rather than a price premium" over their main competitors which are, in my opinion, the rather tasty but still enormous BMW X5, the grotesque Audi Q7 and the very over-priced VW Touareg.

Campbell Spray

Sunday Independent