We've driven the new generation of Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport utes (see the link below), but this year a new engine and some minor tweaks inside have created the new ML550 - and TheCarConnection.com went to Idaho to sample the latest update.
When Mercedes-Benz engineers set out to restyle and improve the V-8 version of their successful M-Class sport-ute, they didn't waste time scratching their heads and waiting for divine intervention.
They went right to the heart of the matter - the ML's V-8 engine. Chucking it out and replacing it with a new V-8 displacing 5.5 liters, they bumped the ML's power up to 382 horsepower (26 percent more) and 391 pound-feet of torque (15 percent more) than before.
The new powerplant is mated to a smooth, seven-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift, drive-adaptive shift logic. Sometimes, the logical transmissions are anything but. While driving the ML550 at higher elevations and twisty mountain roads in Idaho, there wasn't a hint of faltering from the shifter, and the new engine pumped out smooth streams of power and torque at the touch of a paddle.
The ML550 also is equipped with full-time four-wheel-drive, three mechanical differentials, stability control, anti-lock brakes and traction control. In concert with the AIRMATIC air suspension, they keep the ML planted on light off-roading, and even some of the hardcore stuff the Jeep crowds crow about. It helps that the ML550 sits on 255/55R-19 tires and wears big 13.8-inch front brakes and 13.0-inch rear vented discs.
Large and lovely
It's not a lightweight, weighing in at 4819 pounds and a gross weight of about 6300 pounds. But you can't be anorexic and expect to tow 7200 pounds like the ML550 can. You'd think it would get in the way of a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, and a top end of 131 mph (electronically limited), but it doesn't. The punchline, of course, is the ML550's EPA mileage figures, 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway.
In overall size and room, the ML is more than competitive with the likes of Ford's Explorer, Jeep's Grand Cherokee, and their ilk. Its wheelbase is 114.7 inches and overall length is 188.5 inches. With the rear seats folded down, cargo volume is 72.4 cubic feet and 29.4 cubic feet with the seats upright.
The styling of the ML550 is much more aggressive than the ML500, using design cues from AMG versions of the M-Class. It has a vented, chrome grille with the largest Mercedes-Benz logo they've ever put on a vehicle smack-dab in the center. Plus, it wears AMG-styled front and rear bumpers, 19-inch five-spoke AMG wheels, running boards, sunroof, and square exhaust tips put where they should be, at each end of the rear bumper.
The luxurious interior is what you'd expect from a vehicle in this segment. Burl walnut wood trim and a multi-function steering wheel and dash display are included, as are an 80-watt audio system with AM/FM/CD stereo, two deep cupholders, dual rear cupholders, and too many other features to list in a short review.
The ML-Class has a NHTSA five-star crash rating and a four-star rollover rating. Plus, a rollover sensor can activate the belt tensioner and curtain airbags if the vehicle senses an imminent tumbling. Which is to be avoided, we should point out.
Base price for the 2008 ML550 is $53,175, including $775 destination and delivery charges. The M-Class sport utility vehicle is produced at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the first-generation M-Class began production in 1997.
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