Mercedes-Benz's conventionally styled luxury sport utility vehicle gained a larger 3.7-liter V-6 during the 2003 model year, which prompted a change in its ML320 designation; it's now named ML350. A DVD-based navigation system became a factory option on the ML350 for 2004 but is offered as standard equipment on the more-powerful ML500.
Minor exterior and interior enhancements on the SUV mark the 2005 model year. A new Special Edition replaces last year's Inspiration Edition. It features body-colored running boards, unique 17-inch wheels, a power dome hood, silver-painted chrome grille and smoked taillamp lenses. All models have Mercedes-Benz's Electronic Stability Program stability system.
The M-Class is built in Alabama; its competitors include the Acura MDX, BMW X5, Ford Explorer and Lexus RX 330. Unlike its X5 and RX 330 rivals, Mercedes insists the M-Class is a true offroad vehicle. A redesigned M-Class is scheduled to debut as a 2006 model.
Measuring an inch shorter than the X5 and 3.6 inches shorter than the RX 330, the four-door M-Class is 182.6 inches long overall and rides on a 111-inch wheelbase. At 71.7 inches, the M-Class is 5.6 inches taller than the RX 330. Body-on-frame construction is used. M-Class models have a one-piece liftgate at the rear. Alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires. Xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights and a power sunroof are available.
The M-Class seats up to five occupants on front buckets and a three-place 60/40-split rear seat that folds to expand cargo space to 81.2 cubic feet. An optional two-place third-row seat increases passenger capacity to seven. Leather upholstery is standard in the ML500 and optional in the ML350. The traditional Mercedes dashboard layout is augmented by a 5-inch LCD display with touch controls in the center console that operate the climate, audio and telephone functions. This feature also controls the standard navigation system in the ML500.
Options include a Parktronic rear-obstacle detection system. Several special "designo" option groups that combine metallic paint, two-tone Nappa leather upholstery and Poplar wood trim remain available. In addition to the seats, designo Nappa leather covers the door pulls, door panels, front center armrest, gearshift lever and steering wheel.
Under the Hood
The ML350 carries a 232-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6, while the ML500 comes with a 288-hp, 5.0-liter V-8. A five-speed-automatic transmission features Touch Shift manual gear selection. Permanently engaged four-wheel drive has a Low-range gear.
Standard enhanced traction control works while accelerating and when going uphill or downhill (in Low range).
All-disc antilock brakes, door-mounted side-impact airbags for the front and rear seats, and side curtain-type airbags are standard. The company's Tele Aid emergency communication system can summon help, and it kicks in automatically to call Mercedes' roadside assistance center if an airbag deploys. The system can also be used to track a stolen vehicle.