STRONG competition means premium Euro car prices are sharp and models stacked with equipment.
The just-launched new Mercedes-Benz ML-Class is a textbook strategy revised, refitted, re-engined and repriced move to undercut the competition in the large SUV class.
The opening salvo is the ML250 BlueTEC at $81,400, with a 150kW/500Nm 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel mated to the standard seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shifters on the steering wheel.
The big news is fuel economy improvements across the range, with the ML250's official figure of 6.4litres/100km startling for a large SUV.
It also has a 3000kg braked tow capacity.
The base model is no stripped-out package either.
Standard goodies include voice-control for the 17.8cm colour-screen satnav and 40GB hard-drive infotainment system, reversing camera, park guidance, selective suspension damping, 19-inch alloy wheels (18-inch are optional for those who want to go off-road) and finally an electric parking brake instead of the clunky foot one.
The ML350 BlueTEC has a 190kW/620Nm 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 and returns fuel economy of 7.3litres/
100km. Priced at $99,900, it scatters extra power, heat and lighting systems around the cabin, but possibly more importantly adds extra safety equipment.
With the same spec' and price as the 350BlueTEC, the ML350 BlueEfficency gets a 225kW/370Nm 3.5-litre direct-injection petrol V6 with stop-start system and gives you 8.9litres/100km.
The ML500 has a 300kW/600Nm 4.7-litre direct-injected bi-turbo V8 that returns 12.3litres/100km.
At $119,000, it adds keyless start, powered tailgate and air suspension and adaptive damping.
The ML63 AMG carries the larger V8, a 386kW/700Nm 5.5-litre direct-injected bi-turbo unit with stop-start that helps it get 11.8/100km.
At $178,500 it gets a complete AMG fit-out, including sports transmission, top-shelf everything and premium audio system.
The designers haven't gone all-out, but the restrained changes here and there result in a sleeker overall style, with less boxiness camouflaging the ML’s taller, longer and wider measurements.
The size has grown but the weight has dropped.
Faux leather and metal accents add a hint of business-class, while the second row shares some of the pampering with adjustable backrests.
No prizes for guessing it gets the top safety rating, with nine airbags, high-tech anti-lock brakes with all the electronic helpers.
Weight loss and well-sorted engines are a winning combination. Both the ML250 and ML350 BlueTECs we tested felt lighter than most SUVs could ever hope and there was never any sense the engines were straining.
Drivers will probably enjoy the firm suspension’s handling of smooth corners, where the system keeps things on the level.
Verdict: The ride quality aside, this is a fantastic premium package and the price sews up the deal for shoppers in that segment.