After a pleasurably effortless drive to a christening, Simon de Burton finds himself wishing he owned Mercedes-Benz’s latest 4x4.
Esse quam videri’ to be rather than to seem was the family motto of the American tycoon Henry Graves Jr. I know this because I like watches and Graves had these words engraved (or should that be ‘en-Graves-ed’?) on the case of his Patek Philippe pocket watch, which made news last year when it sold at auction for £15 million.
As someone who writes about expensive cars, I often find Graves’s motto in my head when I’m driving about in something that the de Burtons clearly couldn’t afford and which—in most cases—would be utterly preposterous for us to own.
Thankfully, we no longer have to explain that the Porsche 911/Bentley Mulsanne/Aston Martin Vanquish doesn’t belong to us, but that we’re simply evaluating its suitability for school runs, spaniel transportation and occasional hen collection.
The other parents know by now that our fleet comprises an 18-year-old estate car, an 11-year-old hatchback and an almost modern Land Rover.Mostly, these serve us well, but occasions do arise when their array of talents fail to fit the bill. And by occasions, I mean times when we have to drive outside of the 20-mile radius of our daily orbit.
As a result, when we were recently faced with the prospect of a 220-mile drive to a christening at which Mrs de Burton was required as godmother, we praised the Lord when Mercedes-Benz offered me a test drive in one of its latest ML250 SUVs that weekend.
Its miraculous arrival meant that we would emerge from the Artico black-leather interior looking presentable and that, even if it were to snow, the sophisticated four-wheel-drive system (complete with high and low ratios) would get us to the church on time.
Unfortunately, as it sat in the yard having salt licked from its gargantuan tyres by a ewe, the godmother-to-be expressed her misgivings. ‘That car is so not us. It’s a Chelsea tractor.’ And, looking at its immaculate paint, privacy glass and 20in-diameter wheels, I was inclined to agree.
Opinions quickly changed, however, once we settled into the seats (heated and fully electric), tuned in to Today on the high-watt sound system and adjusted the climate control to our individual requirements. By the time we were three miles up the road, the godmother was positively purring.
But most surprising was the discovery that, despite the ML’s vast dimensions and luxurious appointments, it was covering an honest 40 miles on every gallon of fuel and can, according to the book, achieve close to 50. Its parsimony is down to the fact that the six- or eight-cylinder engines usually associated with the model have been substituted for a four-cylinder, 2.2 diesel unit, which is both economical and relatively environmentally friendly thanks to the use of the BlueTEC emission reduction system.
In short, the journey was a delight, an effortless pleasure. But there was a problem the christening was taking place in the chapel of one of the stateliest of England’s country houses, the incumbents of which do not drive around in spotless SUVs, but in faithful old bangers patinated with ancestral mud.
After the business around the font was done, we drove to the house for refreshments, a journey in which ‘our’ gleaming new ML stuck out like a sore thumb. Cringing, we parked in the shadow of the architecturally significant portico. ‘I am seeming, not being,’ I longed to shout. ‘This is not our car.’ Although we secretly wished it were.
On the road: Mercedes-Benz ML250 BlueTEC 4Matic
Annual road fund licence: £180
Combined fuel consumption: 45.6mpg
0–62mph: 9 seconds