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November 5, 2008 > Auto Review: 2008 Mercedes Benz ML550

Auto Review: 2008 Mercedes Benz ML550

Mercedes Benz has had its M-Class Sports Utility Vehicles for sale in the US for a number of years now. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to drive one. This week's test M-Class had the 5.5-liter V-8 in it. You can also order it with three other engine choices.

Mercedes M-Class can comfortably seat four or five people and all the luggage they can carry. The full-time four-wheel drive system with an electronic off-road program can take those passengers just about anywhere they want to go no matter how bad the road conditions may be. The M-Class's specialty is to carry them in a very luxurious interior.

Features like a glass sunroof, an 8-speaker AM/FM/WB/CD system, 8-way power adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control system with dust and pollen filters, and roof rails are standard throughout the line. You have hook-ups for your MP3 and iPods in the glove box.

All have a full compliment of safety systems. Front dual stage airbags, front and rear side, and curtain airbags are installed. Crash-activated head restraints move forward to help prevent head injuries. Tire pressure monitoring, electronic stability, and anti-lock breaking systems are included.

All M-Class models get a 4-year, 50,000 mile warranty and 24 hour roadside assistance program. The ML550's EPA estimates are 13 mpg in the city and 18 mpg for the highway cycle.

The ML320 CDI uses a 3-liter, turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine that produces 210 HP. Next in the lineup is the ML350 that uses a V-6, 3.5-liter gas engine that increases the output to 268 HP. Our ML550's 5.5-liter V-8 was rated at 382 HP. If you want to go for even more performance, AMG (a company that produces higher performance Mercedes Benz vehicles) has its ML63 AMG ready for you to test drive. It produces a whopping 503 HP from its 6.3-liter V-8.

The entire ML series uses a set 7-speed automatic transmission to get power to all four wheels. Steering wheel mounted shift paddles allow you to play with your ML just like a sports car.

The ML550 was superb to drive. The engine sounded great and pulled strongly and smoothly. It had all the power that you needed for any driving situation. My test car had an optional system that allowed you to change suspension settings to vary the ride characteristics. I like stiffer settings but my wife preferred the softer (smoother) settings.

One thing that I didn't like about the ML was the thick A-pillars between the windshield and the side windows. They were so thick that sometimes they would block your vision while making sharp turns. Another annoying item was the electronic key fob. It was difficult to tell the "Lock" button from the "Unlock" button. Many Mercedes vehicles have 2 stalks on the left side of the steering wheel as did the ML550. One is for the cruise control and one is for the turn signals and it is easy to confuse them.

The diesel engine ML320 CDI starts at $45,425. The ML350's base is $44,435, and the ML550 starts at $53,175. If you want to go fast, the ML63 AMG's base is $87,425.


By Dick Ryan
Freelance Automotive Journalist
Member of the Western Automotive Journalists
RRYAN@FRK.COM

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