Fierce competition is the rule of the day when it comes to luxury crossovers like the Mercedes-Benz ML350, and the best way to choose the right vehicle is to cut through the jargon and take a clear-eyed look at the facts. A bit of research reveals a European premium-crossover contender that offers greater utility, superior fuel economy and higher value than the ML350: The Volvo XC90, which adds one more vital component the ML350 simply can’t equal – legendary Volvo safety.
Volvo offers the XC90 crossover in two versions: The 3.2 model (MSRP $38,400) and the sporty R-Design (MSRP $41,200). The entry-level ML350 starts at an MSRP of $46,490. Right off the bat, you can see the value advantage.
The XC90 features a 3.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine making 240 hp and 236 lb/ft of torque. The 3.5-liter V6 in the ML350 makes a bit more power (268 hp), but there’s a price to pay in terms of fuel economy for that bump in output. The inline-six in the XC90 delivers an EPA-estimated 23 mpg on the highway. The best the ML350 can manage is 20 highway mpg. The Mercedes also requires higher priced 91-octane Premium gas. The XC90 runs at peak efficiency using Regular fuel.
The XC90 comes standard with front-wheel drive, which offers superior traction compared to the standard rear-wheel drive setup found in the ML350, especially when it comes to slick, snowy or loose-surface driving conditions such as gravel or mud.
Both the XC90 and the ML350 are available with all-wheel drive. On the XC90, power channels to the drive wheels via a six-speed Geartronic® automatic transmission, which features a Winter Mode and the option of manual shifting.
Volvo excels at protecting vehicle occupants, having invented many of the passive and active safety systems that save lives on the road every day. Underscoring the carmaker’s commitment to safety, this year, the XC90 earned one of five Top Safety Pick ratings for Volvo vehicles from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS cited a top rating of “Good” for front, side- impact and roof strength tests on the XC90. The ML350 failed to make the list.
Along with a protective shield of airbags, a Whiplash Protection Seating System and Rollover Protection System, the XC90 features a bounty of standard driver-assistance technology designed to keep you safe at high speeds. Dynamic Stability and Traction Control tops a list that also includes Roll Stability Control (RSC) and four-wheel anti-lock ventilated disc brakes with Emergency Brake Assistance and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD).
Not only does the XC90 keep your family secure, it also does a superior job of accommodating your family and your gear. How superior? The XC90 features seating for seven with a fore-and-aft sliding second row. The ML350 offers seating for only five. In fact, to get a seven-seat SUV from Mercedes-Benz, you need to step up to the GL-Class model line, which starts at an MSRP of $60,950.
When it comes to loading for the long haul, the XC90 offers 85.1 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity. Again, the ML350 falls short, limiting you to just 72.4 cubic feet of space.
The spacious interior of the XC90 provides a luxurious environment equipped with an abundance of must-have amenities and leading-edge infotainment technology. The XC90 3.2 comes standard with power-adjustable front seats with lumbar support and AC controls for the third row. You also get leather seating surfaces, a leather-clad gearshift knob and a leather-clad steering wheel with audio and cruise controls. Leather upholstery is an expensive option on the ML350.
This year, the standard Bluetooth hands-free phone interface on the XC90 gets an audio-streaming connection. The system lets you enjoy music from compatible cell phones over the vehicle’s audio system. You can also use services like Pandora or Groove to create playlists, then synchronize with your cell phone and play the music wirelessly via Bluetooth. If you want Bluetooth on the ML350, you’ll have to pay extra.
The XC90 R-Design gets model-exclusive features both inside and out. The list of interior enhancements includes special aluminum inlays, R-Design leather upholstery and a Sport leather steering wheel. Exterior styling cues include a redesigned grille, satin mirror caps and chrome-finish tailpipes. On the performance front, the R-Design benefits from a beefier suspension, sport-tuned steering and 20-inch polished “Cratus” aluminum alloy wheels.
A variety of options make the XC90 uniquely yours. A Premium Plus trim level includes a grocery bag holder, a compass mounted in the rearview mirror and HomeLink integrated garage door opener. Premium Plus also features active dual xenon headlights and a Classic Walnut wood gearshift knob (both standard on the R-Design).
The Platinum trim level gathers all the features from Premium Plus and adds a 650-watt Volvo Premium Surround-Sound system with 12 speakers, a Navigation System with real-time traffic, voice control, map care and a rear-park-assist camera.
The available Climate Package includes heated front seats, headlight washers, Rainsensor windshield wipers and an Interior Air Quality System (IAQS). Available options include a Classic Walnut wood steering wheel (standard on the R-Design), a Blind Spot Monitoring system and a rear-seat entertainment system with dual seven-inch screens and dual DVD players.
To further illustrate the considerable value advantage the XC90 holds over the ML350 throughout its model range, you can outfit the top-tier XC90 R-Design AWD with the Platinum Package, the Climate Package and the rear-seat entertainment system (MSRP $49,775), and still end up paying thousands less than a comparably equipped ML350 (MSRP $62,960).
Search the premium crossover segment and you’ll find only one European contender that delivers all the safety, refinement and performance you crave while adding unprecedented value to the mix: The 2012 Volvo XC90 model line. Be sure to contact us to schedule a test drive.