Mercedes has released the first official pictures of the new M-Class off-roader, due to arrive in the UK next autumn.

The new M-Class will be available with three new engines, the standard-fitted seven-speed automatic transmission 7G-TRONIC, the anticipatory occupant protection system PRE-SAFE, AIRMATIC air suspension, and a new four-wheel drive system 4-ETS.  The 4×4 is set to make its debut at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show, and will be introduced onto the US market in the spring of next year and in Europe next summer.

The new M is 150 mm longer, 71 mm wider and 9 mm lower on the road than its predecessor and its wheelbase has grown by 95 mm to 2915 mm.

Three of the four engines available for the 2005 model are new.  The V6 diesel engine with third-generation common-rail direct injection, which takes the place of the outgoing five-cylinder in-line unit in the range, is celebrating its series-production premiere. Put to work under the bonnet of the new ML 320 CDI, the new power unit delivers 224 hp and places a maximum of 510 Nm of torque on tap from 1600 rpm. The ML 280 CDI, serves up 190 hp and a peak torque of 440 Nm, while managing 30 mpg (NEDC combined), and the V6 petrol unit powering the ML 350 produces 272 hp and maximum torque of 350 Nm. The engine range is headed by the eight-cylinder ML 500, which now delivers 306 hp.

The seven-speed automatic transmission 7G-TRONIC is fitted as standard in all variants of the new M-Class. It can now be operated electronically using a selector level positioned close to the steering wheel, dubbed DIRECT SELECT.

Mercedes-Benz has taken the permanent four-wheel drive and 4ETS traction systems to the next level by incorporating additional functions such as a downhill driving aid, Start-off Assist and the off-road ABS system. The M-Class can be ordered with two different variants of the four-wheel drive system: a new off-road package is available as an optional extra, adding a two-speed transfer case with an off-road ratio, manually or automatically selectable differential locks (100 per cent) between the front and rear axle and on the rear axle, and a modified version of the AIRMATIC air suspension system tailored to off-road driving, which raises ground clearance by 110 mm to as much as 291 mm and the vehicle’s fording depth to a maximum of 600 mm.

The air suspension also significantly increases ride comfort, which is why Mercedes-Benz offers a road-tweaked version of this technology as an option (not as part of the off-road package). AIRMATIC teams up as standard with the Adaptive Damping System (ADS), which adjusts the responses of the shock absorbers.

The new M-Class is also fitted with re-developed double-wishbone front suspension and four-link rear suspension.

Standard-fit light-alloy wheels are 235/65 R 17 (V6 models) or 255/55 R 18 (V8 model).

Safety kit includes adaptive two-stage airbags for the driver and front passenger, front sidebags and window bags, as well as belt tensioners and belt force limiters for all seats. In the event of a rear-end collision, the newly developed NECK-PRO crash-responsive head restraints provide additional protection for the driver and front passenger.

The new PRE-SAFE option acts in advance of accident to tighten the driver and front passenger seat belts, bring the fore-and-aft setting and the cushion and backrest angle of the electrically adjustable front passenger seat (optional) into a more favourable position and close the sunroof (optional) if the vehicle is about to overturn.

The system is based on a link-up with the anti-lock braking system (ABS), Brake Assist and the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), whose sensors identify potentially dangerous driving manoeuvres.

Part of the standard specification is a new type of paint finish developed on the back of nano-technology, which offers significantly improved scratch resistance compared to conventional non-metallic or metallic paint finishes.

The interior features higher-quality materials, more pleasant touch and feel characteristics and significantly improved spaciousness for all the vehicle’s passengers.

The cushions and backrests of the rear seats are split 63:37 and can be folded down. Removable cushions can be ordered as an option, creating a level loading surface stretching 2.10 metres in length through the rear of the car. Maximum load capacity stands at 2050 litres, exceeding that offered by its predecessor model by 30 litres (VDA measuring method).

The EASY PACK system makes the boot area of the M-Class easier to load and unload. Among other features, it can be supplied as an option with an electrically operated tailgate and a package designed to secure items safely in place in the load area.

The M-Class is available as an option with the multi-zone THERMOTRONIC automatic climate control system, PARKTRONIC parking aid, COMAND APS with Europe-wide DVD navigation, and Bi-xenon headlamps with the Active Light System.

UK cars will arrive in the autumn of 2005. Prices and specification will be announced shortly before then – in the meantime the existing range is still available.