SCOOP: 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class Snagged in Germany

Two heavily camouflaged prototypes of the next generation Mercedes-Benz ML-Class (or M-Class, if you prefer) were caught testing in Germany by our man with the long lens. These spy pictures suggest that Merc's BMW X5 and Audi Q7 rival in the luxury SUV segment may be slightly smaller with shorter front and rear overhangs than the current model, though it appears that the wheelbase remains the same.

As is common with early prototype models, both MLs were sheltered in cladding but it is safe to assume that Mercedes' designers will infuse the new SUV with the brand's latest styling cues as seen on vehicles such as the E-Class and the GLK. That means a "boxier" shape with a sculptured front fascia, an equally chiseled profile and more pronounced fenders.

Underneath, the 2012 ML-Class shares its platform with the next generation Jeep Grand Cherokee.

There's not much information going on about the engine line-up but we gather that ML will be offered with a similar range of V6 petrol and diesels along with a V8 petrol and a range-topping 6.3-liter V8 for the sporty AMG model, all of which should be tweaked to deliver more power and at the same time, higher fuel efficiency and reduced emissions.

There's also talk about a next-generation hybrid powertrain with plug-in capability. Just this past April, Mercedes launched the ML450 HYBIRD at the New York Auto Show.

This particular model features a hybrid drivetrain that combines a 3.5-liter V6 Atkinson cycle engine with two electric motors for a total output of 335HP with an EPA-estimated combined fuel economy rating of 22mpg (10.7lt/100km).

We'll see the new ML-Class for the first time in late 2011, most likely at the Frankfurt Motor Show.