Magazine article The Spectator

Smooth but Rugged

Magazine article The Spectator

Smooth but Rugged

Article excerpt

The sun retreated across the still-frosted lawns beyond the french windows, cast a careless splash of gold across the tennis court, then dipped below the pines and larches. Even the rooks fell silent as the frost resumed its secret ministry, and dusk was quietly reoccupied by the rippling Tay.

There was a beech-log fire in the panelled sitting-room and, remotely, sounds of tea. A little toast, perhaps; some shortbread certainly; maybe a morsel of fruitcake - just enough, anyway, to see me safely through to dinner. I sat back and tried once again to analyse the delicate constituents of the wonderful feeling of being looked after. I was awoken by tea.

Had I at last attained the ultimate resthome in the sky or was it a more earthly location, possibly a modest manor, belated gift of a grateful nation? No, no; I was there to drive a car and the organisers had wisely included time for meditation. Following tea, bath and further meditation, there was a pipe band, a five-course dinner, unlimited drink, an exhibition of Scottish dancing by two kilted ladies and an enactment of ancient Scottish hospitality by three ferocious swordsmen and an axeman. A point of detail for historical novelists: when heavy swords clash vigorously, many sparks fly. A mediaeval scrap in the gloaming might have been rather pretty.

The car in question was the Mercedes M Class, the four-wheel drive offering reviewed in the last century in these pages (23 October 1999). This was the UK press launch of the L28,840 2.7-litre common rail diesel model, the version that Mercedes reckon will take 50 per cent of their estimated 6,600 annual UK sales.

We - 67 journalists spread over three days - picked up the cars at Edinburgh airport and drove northwards, arriving for lunch at the Glenturret Distillery after a modest and beautiful off-road section on moorland tracks that Mercedes think are about as rugged as most owners will ever venture. There was more scenic road driving to the Stakis Hotel at Dunkeld, our destination for the night and possessor, among its many acres, of an enjoyably testing, vertiginous, tortuous and glutinous offroad course.

The danger for Mercedes is that the ML270 CDI is so good that it might eclipse at least one of its more expensive 320 and 430 stable-mates. The soundproofing is such that you really don't feel you're driving a diesel, the road manners are the most impeccably car-like of any 4X4, comfort and trim levels are more than adequate and the performance of its very torquey five-cylinder engine is well up to whatever most drivers are going to ask of it. At around 30 mpg, it's half as good again on fuel as the petrols. …

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