It may seem hard to believe, but the M-Class has now entered its thirteenth model year. The first ML350 was introduced as a 1998, and was the first SUV Mercedes sold in North America. Sales were brisk, as the M-Class stood alone. It would be another year until the BMW X5 went on sale. While the demand for a premium, German-engineered SUV (M-Classes are built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama) was certainly present, there were some problems. Critics complained that for an SUV, it had a minivan look to it. Worse, the M-Class debuted at a time where many felt Mercedes had lowered its standards of quality, particularly with the interior.
The second generation M-Class was introduced as a 2006 model, and was refreshed in 2009. While the M-Class is well into its life cycle, this is The Garage’s first chance to spend some quality time with the Mercedes SUV that started it all in North America. But there are lingering questions-have the problems that dogged the first M-Class been addressed? Four years into its life cycle, is the current M-Class still competitive? Click continue to find out!
First off, Mercedes learned its lesson. If you make an SUV that reminds some people of a minivan, you are going to turn off buyers-specifically men, who flocked to the BMW X5. Our ML550 more than makes up for mistakes of the past. To start, you have all the hallmarks of Mercedes design done right-class, elegance, and style. Distinctly Mercedes-Benz, and not at all overdone. With the ML550, you get AMG goodies, like the 19″ wheels, and AMG designed front and rear bumpers.
The delightful result? Our ML550 was absolutely menacing. I found myself biting my lip as did my first walk around. This is a serious looking vehicle. But that’s just the beginning. The ML550 has remarkable road presence. Barreling down I-95 at an effortless 80mph, the ML parts traffic like Moses parted the Red Sea. Of all the cars I have ever tested, none make slower traffic step aside like the ML550.
Ok, so Mercedes took care of the exterior, what about inside? I’m pleased to report that Mercedes listened to the critics. In fact, I am tempted to go so far to say that Mercedes have redeemed themselves. Quality, high grade materials, and excellent workmanship are evident all over. While basic controls for audio and climate control are intuitive enough to use, there are enough buttons and whatnot that cracking open the owners manual might be a good idea to understand how to work all the car’s features. The turn signal, whose stalk rests lower than what most are accustomed to takes some adjusting. Otherwise, the ML550’s interior is well executed, and quite comfortable.
The ML550 is powered by a 5.5 liter V-8, pumping out a healthy 382hp, mated to a 7-speed automatic. ML550’s are available with 4Matic all-wheel drive only. Mercedes is currently producing some of the best V-8 engines out there, in terms of performance and sound. For a fairly substantial SUV, acceleration is almost astonishing, and the soundtrack that accompanies the rush of acceleration makes the experience all the sweeter. Mercedes confirms the quickness-0-60 mph in a scant 5.6 seconds. Ã‚Â Obviously, all this fun, combined with considerable heft, makes for a thirsty car. EPA ratings of 13/18 city/highway MPG may turn off buyers, but Mercedes will happily sell you a V-6, hyrbid, or diesel M-Class if that is a concern. Meanwhile, us hedonists will continue to enjoy the magic of the 5.5L V-8.
Like Toyota/Lexus, Mercedes has received some criticism for offering too many options for crossover/SUV shoppers. Having reviewed the GLK350 over the summer, the M-Class is the ‘just right’ SUV from Mercedes. A roomy, comfortable cabin, plenty of room in the rear for luggage, gear, or whatever your fancy, and enough engine choices to please most any buyer.
Of course, all this fun and opulence comes at a cost. The ML550 starts at $57,590USD. Our heavily optioned test car rang in at a considerable $$70,175. Before you start howling at the price, consider that the insane ML63 AMG has a starting price of $92,590. The ML550 provides all the performance you need and then some, so in that light, the smart Mercedes SUV buyer will take the ML550, it’s wicked V-8, and AMG styling touches, and laugh themselves all the way to the bank.