The trend to fit smaller-than-expected engines without paying a penalty at the pump has reached Mercedes, its spacious M-Class SUV powered by a 2.1-litre motor that hits well above its weight.

What's new
This third generation sits on a revised platform carrying a slightly lighter but larger body capable of carrying a bigger load. Wider front and rear track are aimed at handling stability and better aerodynamics help cut thirst.

There will be petrol engines later. Meanwhile the 2.1-litre diesel uses 30 per cent less fuel than its equivalent predecessor, attributable to the engine, a lower-friction seven-speed auto transmission, low-rolling resistance tyres, start-stop and electromechanical power steering.

Yes, it's a smaller engine but at 150W and 500Nm it boasts the same torque, thanks to direct injection and a two-stage turbo.


Claimed thirst is 6.4l/100km, which would deliver 1450km on a tank.

Our launch drive reached that after a sedate country jaunt but no round-town running.

The 3.0-litre 190kW/620Nm 350 V6 uses a single turbo and is also more frugal - indeed the whole range drinks 20 per cent less than the outgoing generation - and emits fewer tailpipe nasties, with emissions meeting Euro6 regs that come into force in 2014. The cabin boasts a more spacious feel and cleaner lines, with a high-res colour screen, gear select on the steering column and gearshift paddles standard - as is an electric park brake in place of the foot-operated predecessor.

The company line
New Zealand general manager Ben Giffin says Mercedes' new "value strategy" has boosted sales and he expects it to garner conquest business when applied to M-class, with a pricing-equipment strategy aimed at pulling buyers from competitor brands.

M-Class now starts 10 grand lower at $99,900 and tops out with the $197,900 ML63 AMG.

As only 5 per cent of buyers head off-road, the off-road pack that comes with low-range transmission, a diff lock and 285mm ground clearance will remain an option.

What we say
This is a premium brand now fitting as standard stuff like reversing cameras, while its competition seems to favour loaded options' lists which push the buy-price up.

Don't let the modest 2.1-litre capacity fool you. The car still tows 3000kg and feels every millimetre a premium player, especially now that M-Class has left its first-generation quality gremlins well behind it.

On the road, intermittent rain and slow traffic prevented a spirited test of handling we're assured is better after tuning to the double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension and wider track.

We can confirm that both diesel engines are smooth, refined, and suit this car's focus.

Why you'll buy one
Much more M-Merc for your money.

Why you won't
Competitors deliver a more dynamic drive, or low-range transmission as standard.