Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0

The entry level engine is now a four-cylinder 2.1-litre diesel (official dubbed the ML250 Blue TEC 4MATIC) with almost 150bhp and 500Nm of pulling power. Mercedes claims it can have a range of around 1000 miles if fitted with the optional 93-litre fuel tank (standard tank is 70-litre). Emissions are just 158g/km coming in under the 160g/km and average fuel consumption is just over 39mpg, which makes it a good choice as a fleet car.

Out on the road it is good enough to cruise comfortably at fast motorway speeds and it'll also provide enough shove to overtake on single carriageways with reasonable ease. If you really start to hustle then it gets breathless at higher revs, while traffic-light getaways are reassuring rather than impressive. Those looking for a more muscular driving experience need to upgrade to the ML 350 V6 diesel as it packs more than 250bhp and 620Nm of shove and can still return 34mpg on average.

This engine makes much more of the ML’s handling potential on and off-road. Fast starts and high-speed cruising is simple and, thanks as well to the vastly improved handling, covering twisty roads is real fun. For those covering less miles or are less concerned about the headline fuel consumption figure, there is one petrol choice – the 3.5-litre V6.

While it is less fuel efficient than its diesel siblings (an average of over 27mpg is claimed) its performance is much stronger. Given the higher premium for a diesel, the petrol could prove a good choice for low-mileage drivers seeking to make the most of the ML’s performance. All engines come with the ‘7G-Tronic gearbox – a smooth-shifting seven-speed automatic that has the gear selector on a stalk on the right-hand side, plus steering-wheel mounted paddle shifts for ‘manual’ changes.

All models also get permanent four-wheel drive.

The most noticeable difference over the old model is the on-road handling. The 4x4 feels more agile when turning into corners and switching directions. There is very little hint of body roll too and means hustling the big Merc along a twisty country road is very enjoyable. The suspension is not overly stiff so the ride remains supple and able to smooth out the roughest of road surfaces.

For those looking to really make the most of the ML’s new-found handling ability there is the optional AIRMATIC air suspension with self-levelling and Adaptive Damping Systems (ADS). The German company claims that this virtually eliminates body roll when cornering yet still keeps the ML’s supple ride in a straight line. Out on a test track with a racing driver the ML was able to corner hard and fast so the company’s claims seem valid.

However, even with the standard set-up the ML’s handling relishes tackling a twisty route. The ML has always been a very competent off-roader and the latest version is even better thanks to improved software. On a test of descending an 80% incline of smooth concrete the ML’s electronic descent control kept the speed of the car to below 2mph so there was no need to touch brakes or engage lower gears – the car did all the work bar the steering.

The off-road test was using the ML350CDi and its pulling power from low revs made tackling the tough off-road course easy largely thanks to the Hill Start Assist.