Unfortunately, the reduction in weight isn’t enough to offset the loss of muscle. At 8.3 seconds to 60 mph and 16.3 seconds to the quarter-mile mark, the ML250 gives up about a second to the 7.0- and 15.4-second times delivered by the old ML350’s V-6. The torquey four-cylinder provides smart off-the-line acceleration, however, and the sequential turbochargers—a small one provides low-end boost to mitigate lag before handing off to a larger unit at higher engine speeds—do their best to keep momentum building as the seven-speed automatic imperceptibly shuffles though the gears. It’s a reasonable assumption that the suburbanites who make up the target demographic of the ML will never miss the V-6.
EPA city/highway ratings of 22/29 mpg put the ML250 right in the ballpark with competitors such as the BMW X5 xDrive35d diesel, the Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel 4x4, and the Volkswagen Touareg TDI. In our hands, the ML250 recorded 24 mpg in combined driving, an identical number to the one we measured with the ML350 V-6; we were hoping for at least a modest improvement in efficiency, given the subtraction of two cylinders and 162 pounds. What the numbers can’t communicate, however, is the 2.1-liter diesel’s willing and amicable nature. Smooth and quiet at idle (for a diesel), it has a polished quality that makes the four-cylinder compression-ignition unit in our long-term BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon sound a bit loutish in comparison.
What hasn’t changed about the ML is its capacity to haul five passengers and a fair amount of cargo in comfortable and luxurious surroundings. Tastefully upholstered in almond beige and black leather ($1620) with open-pore brown ash trim ($160) that perfectly complements the Obsidian Black Metallic exterior ($720), this Benz softly speaks things that flashier SUVs feel the need to shout. One word of caution: Venturing into the ML’s order sheet can hit a bank account rather hard. The price of our 2015 ML250 BlueTec 4MATIC (Benz’s 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system is standard; no two-wheel-drive version is currently offered) ratcheted from its $50, 725 base MSRP to $68, 610 in less time than it takes to brew a pot of responsibly harvested free-trade coffee. But hey, sometimes it’s okay to splurge if the contents are worthy of the fancy label on the package.