The Mercedes-Benz M-Class is a luxury Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). It made its way to the SUV market in 1997. In 2015, Mercedes renamed the series and is now M-Class known simply as ‘GLE’.
The 2012-onwards M-Class is the best to drive and run. You won’t have to pay out at the pumps as often as a pre-2012 model because the engines from this era are more fuel efficient.
This line-up got a four-cylinder diesel engine added for the first time, which reduces carbon dioxide to 158g/km and it hits a claimed 39mpg on average. Therefore, this is the one to set your sights on for low emissions and economy. Although you don’t buy a massive 4x4 to show off your eco-friendly nature.
Go for this diesel and you will be in band G for road tax, which costs £180 per year. Out on the road it’s good enough to cruise at 70mph and it'll provide enough pull to overtake on single carriageways.
Alternatively, if you don’t drive many miles, or you’re not bothered about fuel consumption, try the 3.5-litre V6 petrol. It’s less fuel efficient, averaging only 27mpg, and road tax is costly, but its performance is more muscly.
All engines come with the ‘7G-Tronic’ gearbox – a velvety-smooth shifting seven-speed automatic. Likewise, all cars in the M-Class range have permanent four-wheel drive, so grip is excellent. This gives great peace-of-mind if you regularly travel with kids through all seasons.
Ride and handling
The M-Class feels responsive when turning into corners and body roll is barely noticeable. This translates into a good, safe and stable drive along twisty country roads. The ride is graceful and smooths out the most scarred of road surfaces.
Also, due to its four-wheel-drive, the car is a proficient off-roader should you ever feel the need to stray from the beaten track.
When you are behind the wheel you will notice how plush the M-Class is. There are dual climate controls up front and air vents in the rear, and the steering wheel has manual adjustment for height and reach.
Mercedes has not skimped on the amount of safety kit fitted to the M either. The 2012 onwards model has a maximum five-star rating from Euro NCAP. As well as four-wheel-drive for extra adhesion, the car comes with brake assist, electronic stability control, hill start assist and ISOFIX fitting points for baby seats.
Leg and headroom for all occupants in the M-Class is great. Two adults will have bags of space in the back, and if you squeeze another person in, that’s fine, but it will be cosier. The car is mega-practical, too.
There’s loads of room in the boot and with the rear seats folded, there is a colossal 2,010 litres of space. That means all your neighbours will be asking you to take them to Ikea to collect their latest furniture purchase!
There is also a useful ski-load hatch in the rear seats and lots of cubby holes dotted around the Mercedes, including convenient door pockets that will hold a one-litre bottle.
What to know before you buy
You will need to fork out a stack of notes to buy and run an M-Class and they are rare on the secondhand market. Almost all of the used M-Class’ are on Mercedes-Benz approved dealer forecourts and prices are still high for decent examples.
By the same token, expect steep bills if you need spur-of-the-moment maintenance. Hourly labour rates and average repair bills are eye-wateringly high, although the bills are no worse than those for other prestige SUVs.
Models pre 2012 were peppered with problems, so this generation M-Class put right the reliability issues of old. You would be particularly unlucky to find any gremlins with this model.
The BMW X5 is a praiseworthy adversary. 2013 versions are lighter and more fuel efficient than before. Just like the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, the quality interior seems hewn out of granite, so will stand the test of time – especially if you have kids. BMW technology is among the best, too.
That said, the BMW doesn’t look quite as special as the M-Class - although it’s just as safe and kids and adults will appreciate its roominess. It offers a more sporty drive, too. Another opponent is the Audi Q7 from the 2006-2014 period.
The four-ringed badge signifies prestige straight away and therefore massive road presence. Like the Mercedes-Benz and the BMW, the Audi offers a very spacious interior with plenty of carrying capacity.
It also gives a strong performance on the road, although its off-road talent isn’t up to that of the Mercedes. Mind you, nor is the X5’s. The only other issue with a Q7 is that its bulkiness makes it seem harder work to park than the other two.
Despite starting off as hit and miss with reliability pre-2012, the M-Class is now one of the most prestigious and sought after used luxury SUVs around. It’s a great all-round package with a pleasing drive, awesome refinement and oodles of space.
In fact, it’s one of the safest and strongest family vehicle’s available. Just be aware that there is no point working to a tight budget. A used 2012 M-Class will still cost well over £20,000 with 80,000 miles on the clock.