No hiding in this monster
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class is a beast of a machine, but it won't win you fans along the road, writes Campbell Spray
RARELY do I nearly shudder with embarrassment when I'm out in a test car. Yet unfortunately the Mercedes-Benz M-Class gave me a wish for anonymity especially in the immediate vicinity of our house and when navigating small village streets or quiet country lanes.
The M may not stand for Monster but probably should. This is a beast of rock star proportions, both inside and out, but for most of us is as practical as a jacuzzi on the Titanic. In those days of mad excess that ended five years ago, hundreds of these vehicles would be sold each year, many to the most moneyed of the yummy mummies and they would be parked alongside swathes of BMW, Lexus and Audi SUVs.
The new M-Class, despite a serious cut in price, won't be so populous but those who do drive it will find a wonderfully assured vehicle that gobbles up the motorways to such an extent that you have no idea of the speed you are dealing with until the fairly insistent voice comes from the dashboard telling you to "observe the speed limit". And what nanny asks for, nanny gets.
The massive height and width of the M-Class opens up new vistas of looking down on the ordinary people and gazing across hedgerows into the houses to which you would aspire. Even our dog found the back seat a mountain too far and twice fell back to the ground, luckily damaging nothing more than his pride.
We might have imagined it but the looks we got from pedestrians and other road users were not of envy but rather of resentment. There's nothing pretty about the M-Class, which is just a rather monstrous five-seater, in fact, it even has hallmarks of the odious Rodius, Ssangyong's horrible MPV.
Remember, this is a vehicle from Mercedes-Benz, a company that makes some of the most beautiful cars in the world and is especially good at really wonderful estate cars. If you want it, this van is there for €69,900 before all the awful delivery stuff. The price is 15 per cent lower than the outgoing entry level diesel. Yet it shows just how wrong our emissions-based road tax system is that the M250 CDI BlueTEC will have a best-in-class €447 per annum, probably what a 2006 Golf will be paying. On the credit side, the safety and comfort equipment on board is very superior and its eco credentials do have a base in a relative reality. But while I loved the reworked B-Class earlier this year, the M-Class, even in being a vast improvement on its predecessors, just isn't my cup of tea.
Luckily the new A-Class is showing a lot of promise and first models are due here next December. Distinctly different from the rather box-like model it replaces, it has a low-slung, sleeker, more aerodynamic body that is 160mm closer to the road and boasts an excellent drag coefficient of 0.27.
Most noticeable is its sharper, more defined appearance. One neat touch is a roof spoiler that conveniently hides all the aerials.
Available in three appointment and design packages, its interior has a high-quality feel. Mercedes makes much of the car's iPhone capability. This optional feature allows owners to access e-mails, apps, tweets, advanced navigation information and other services that smart phones can deliver.
Power comes from new, more powerful, low-emission diesel and petrol engines with outputs from 109 to 211bhp. An ECO start/stop function standard across the range helps reduce fuel consumption by up to 35 per cent. Transmission is six-speed manual with 7G dual-clutch automatic available as an option.
Diesel versions begin with an A180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY -- a 109bhp version most likely to be the preferred choice amongst Irish customers. Consuming 22 per cent less fuel than its predecessor, it is the first Mercedes to emit only 98g of CO2 per km.
With some time to go until its launch in Ireland, prices for the new A-Class have not yet been fixed although they have been in Britain. However, seeing it as a magnet that should attract a host of new customers to the three-pointed star, its sales manager in Ireland, Ciaran Allen said the plan would be to introduce it at a competitive price "that takes due account of the economic climate in Ireland at this time."
It will definitely be more my thing than the M-Class.