If a mid-size luxury SUV is in your fall wardrobe, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 may be the cable-knit sweater.
Its hardy construction is conservatively stylish, its practicality infused with elegance.
But if you've ever glanced at the price tag of a cable-knit sweater spun from cashmere, you know there's always a way to spend entirely too much on something that is, after all, just a sweater. So it goes with the ML350 and its diesel counterpart, the BlueTec.
Mercedes' refreshed and retuned sport utility vehicle is now in its third generation and starts at $49,865 for the base model with a V-6 engine. An additional $1,500 will get you the more fuel-efficient V-6 diesel BlueTec that I tested.
The base prices for each of the MLs are not unreasonable for the segment, which includes the Land Rover LR4, Acura MDX and BMW X5. Unfortunately, a navigation system isn't standard; it's part of a $3,600 option package that also comes with a backup camera. And that's just the beginning.
Another package throws in adaptive cruise control that monitors the car in front of you, as well as blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist. A rear entertainment system, a moon roof, a self-parking feature -- the list goes on.
The final bill? The ML350 BlueTec I tested had everything you see here for $75,665.
That's an expensive sweater.
But stick to the basics, avoid all those add-ons and you're rewarded with straightforward, prudent luxury.
The ML seats five; drivers with more passengers will have to wait for the 2013 model year, for SUVs with seven seats.
The ML350 BlueTec features a 3.0-liter, turbocharged V-6 diesel motor that makes 240 horsepower and a staunch 455 pound-feet of torque. I also logged some seat time in the gas version, whose engine pulls 302 hp. and 273 pound-feet of torque from a 3.5-liter V-6.
In daily driving both power plants are quiet yet assertive. The only transmission on either ML is a seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and both feature all-wheel-drive.
All told, there was almost no discernible difference between the gas-powered ML350 and the diesel ML350 BlueTec.
The only thing that revealed its diesel powertrain was an idle not that different from your kid's school bus. But to me, a little idle chatter is worth the advantage at the fuel pump. The diesel ML350 is rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway, while the gas ML350 is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. I averaged 21 mpg with the diesel and 16.3 with the gas.
This difference in efficiency means it would take 30,000 miles of driving the diesel to offset the extra $1,500 it costs at the dealership and the additional 10 cents a gallon you may pay currently for diesel fuel over premium-grade gas, according to the national average.
Anything beyond that 30,000-mile point would save you about 5 cents a mile, assuming the price difference between premium gas and diesel fuel stays the same. That's an additional $1,000 in savings by the time you reach the end of the ML's 50,000-mile warranty.
Yes, it's possible that if you're spending almost $76,000 on a mid-size SUV, you don't care about saving a grand in fuel costs. But you should. Think of all the sweaters you can buy.
2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec
Base price: $51,365 (including destination charge)
Price, as tested: $75,665
Powertrain: 3.0-liter, turbocharged V-6 diesel engine, seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters
Horsepower: 240 at 3,600 rpm
Torque: 455 pound-feet at 1,600 to 2,400 rpm
0-60 mph: 7.3 seconds
Curb weight: 5,040 pounds
Wheelbase: 114.8 inches
Overall length: 189.1 inches
EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway
Bottom line: Spring for the diesel, but don't fall for the options.