If you’re looking to raise eyebrows and impress people, your first purchase should be a expensive imported SUV. It even says so in Machiavelli’s first book. Which makes being seen in the back seat of a 2012 Mercedes ML350 one of the smartest buying decisions you can make to raise your stature at any Country, Polo, or Croquet Club. (Chauffeurs, incidentally, are also high-status symbols) So, how does the ML350 handle the white-glove treatment? Let’s find out.
Remember the Cadillacs El Dorados, Broughams and DeVilles from 30 years ago? Cadillac sold more of them in the 70’s than Kmart sold Pet Rocks. Every Cadillac sold in the 70’s had a power steering pump the size of a microwave oven. Which was quite impressive, considering they hadn’t even been invented yet. The power steering was so overboosted you could put your hands in your pocket, and steer the car with your thoughts. And God forbid the power steering pump failed while you were trying to park. You might as well call AAA, because you and three friends would not be able to turn that steering wheel, ever. So, I told you all that so I could tell you this. The ML350’s steering reminded me of all my father’s Cadillacs from the 70’s.
Mash the throttle, and the ML350 moves, but it doesn’t like it. The transmission optimizes the entire operation for fuel economy. One day, I was driving 45mph, and glanced at the gauges and realized the engine was only turning 1000 RPMs. That’s less than the cold idle speed. 23 MPG on the highway, however, isn’t bad for 4700 lb. car with 300 hp. If it was acceleration you wanted, you would have purchased the V8, or AMG model, right?
If you had to drive cross-country, you could do much worse than the ML350. Large, spacious, with enough supple leather to account for the whereabouts of 2 or 3 missing cows. The COMAND Infotainment is pretty easy to navigate – there’s a convenient wheel in the center console, that falls right under your right hand, where the shift lever used to be. So where is the shift lever? Glad you asked. It’s on the right column stalk, where the windshield wipers used to be. Down for Drive, up for Reverse, and push it in for Park. Note, this is the same motion that operates the windshield washer on many other cars. It will take you about one week to get used to this, and you will forget this the minute you operate another car with a different gearshift pattern, then get back in the ML350 and try and put it in Drive.
All this gearshift performance anxiety vanishes the moment you put in in Reverse, and that gorgeous Reverse Camera view lights up the center console, complete with curved yellow lines overlaying the world behind you. Move the wheel, and the yellow lines curve, showing you exactly what parking spot you can end up in. It’s like a driving video game, except it’s in reverse at 5 mph, and if you mess up, well, you need to visit the body shop.
If you’re looking for a plush vehicle to look good getting in and out of, you have found your ride. If you miss the days of silky-smooth over-boosted power steering (and the platform shoes and disco balls that went with it) you will love the ML350. However, if you’re looking for steering that sends you a postcard more than twice a year, and an engine with the grunt to burn rubber in the Beverly Hills Garden Club’s parking lot, now and then, perhaps you may need a different model. Or the same one with a larger engine altogether.