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Spyshot: Better handling M-class rolls out

This is the all-new Mercedes-Benz M-class, due to make its public debut at the Detroit Show next January, and destined to hit UK Mercedes showrooms late in 2005. Codenamed W164, the new M-class is just one of three lifestyle Benzes to be built off the same all-new platform at the company’s production facility in Alabama, USA.

The new M-class abandons the low-tech separate chassis of the current model in favour of unitary construction that is lighter and offers improved crash performance and ride and handling. The basic structure will be shared with the forthcoming R-class crossover estate and the all-new G-class heavy-duty off-roader; the front doors and windscreen will be common across all three, as will the dash, although materials and equipment levels will vary.

The platform sharing strategy is part of a $700m (£384m) plan to double production at the Alabama plant to 160,000 vehicles a year.

The W164 will be a little longer and broader than the current M-class and is expected to retain similar proportions as well as styling cues such as the wrap-around rear window. However the side panels are more sculpted, with more aggressively flared wheelarches, and the tail lights are said to be triangular. The new range will be launched with a standard wheelbase five seat model, with a long wheelbase seven seat version expected later. Rumours suggest this car will have unique, more conservative sheet metal.

M-class engine range will start with a 190bhp 3.0-litre CDI V6 diesel and a 272bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol. Two V8s will also be available – the 326bhp 4.6-litre engine, and the high performance 426bhp 6.3-litre unit tuned by AMG. The engines will drive all four wheels through DaimlerChrysler’s new seven-speed automatic transmission.

New M-class will update design themes of current car. Sides are more sculpted with flared arches; tail lights will be triangular

Range starts with 190bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel and 272bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol. 326bhp 4.6-litre and 426bhp 6.3-litre V8s will also be available

All-new 4wd platform features unitary construction and will be shared with R-class crossover estate and new G-class off-roader

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