Mercedes-Benz aims at a new niche in the SUV market this year with the ML55AMG, a high-performance version of its M-Class tweaked by AMG, a customizer that enhances other Mercedes-Benz models with performance and appearance tweaks. The M-Class, which debuted as a 1998 model, is built at Mercedes-Benz's plant near Tuscaloosa, Ala. Buy any Mercedes-Benz this year and scheduled maintenance is free for four years or 50,000 miles, which matches the duration of the warranty.
Along with Volvo, Mercedes-Benz has always been a leader in safety and innovation. All M-Class models now come with side-impact airbags for the rear seats as well as the front seats. A new five-inch LCD display with touch controls in the center console operates climate, audio and telephone functions, and on the ML430 and ML55 it also operates the standard GPS-based navigation system.
All versions seat five, and the split rear seat folds for additional cargo space. Leather is standard on the ML430 and ML55, optional on the base ML320.
Wider fender flares, rocker panel extensions, chrome grille accents and fog lights integrated into the front bumper give the ML55 a unique appearance. The ML55 rides on 18-inch tires, the others on 16- or 17-inch tires. All models have four side doors and a one-piece liftgate.
Under the Hood
The model designations denote engine size. The ML320 uses a 3.2-liter, six-cylinder with 215 horsepower; the ML430 a 4.3-liter V-8 with 268 horsepower; and the ML55 a 5.5-liter, V-8 with 342 horsepower, which is three less than the Chevrolet Corvette.
All come with a permanent 4WD system that automatically distributes power among the four wheels as needed. Unlike rivals such as the Lexus RX300 and new BMW X5, Mercedes says the M-Class is a true off-road vehicle. How many will take this $40,000 vehicle off-road remains to be seen.