More V-8 Power for ML SUV
The last time I drove a Mercedes ML was in October 2005, right after it had been redesigned. The new vehicle impressed me with its sleeker styling, better ride and improved handling. Now, after driving a 2008 model, my opinion hasn’t changed, I’m still impressed.
This year, Mercedes has added a few new wrinkles to the ML lineup. The V-6 powered ML350 gets a limited production “ Edition 10” model, which commemorates the tenth anniversary of the ML with special trim. However, there are more interesting changes to the V-8 model. It gets jazzed up styling, and a bigger engine.
My test car was a V-8, which is now called the ML550. To freshen the look, Mercedes incorporated styling cues from the high performance ML63 AMG. The most noticeable are the 19-inch AMG wheels, new brightwork around the grille, and flashy aluminum running boards. However inside, the ML is about the same as before. Head and legroom are adequate for four adults. Although entry to the back seat is not as good as it could be. The doors are large, but don’t open wide enough to make it easy to get in or out. Yet, access to the storage area behind the back seats is excellent, and there’s room there for a family of four’s vacation gear.
In the engine department, the ML550 sports a 5.5-liter engine that pumps out 382 horsepower, which is 80 more than last year’s model had. The old ML500 was no slug, but the ML550 is even quicker—0-60 in 5.6 seconds, according to Mercedes. Power transfers to the wheels via a seven-speed automatic. This is a very competent gearbox. It responds quickly, and skips gears when needed, to give you a blast of power on a downshift. However, if you desire more control, there are manual shift toggles on the steering wheel to change gears. As in the past, all MLs come with full-time all-wheel drive.
On the road, the ML continues to set a standard with its smooth ride and competent handling. My test car came with the optional air suspension, which enables the driver to choose either a “comfort” or a “sport” setting. In everyday driving, the comfort setting provides a reasonable combination of decent handling and a smooth ride. The sport mode firms up the suspension, and tightens up the steering a notch, so that you have more control on twisty roads. Surprisingly, the ride quality in the sport mode is quite satisfactory on the freeway, but then on rough secondary roads, it’s another story. The stiff suspension will pound you unmercifully.
Mercedes equips the ML550 with high-tech features, like electronic stability control and hill descent and ascent control. The later is like a low-speed cruise control for very steep grades. Also standard is the TeleAid communication system, which enables the driver to call a Mercedes representative when he or she needs help.
My test car also came with options, like a navigation system (still not the easiest one in the world to use) and a more user-friendly DVD entertainment system with screens mounted at eye level on the back of the front-seat headrests. One option that I particularly liked was Keyless Go. This feature enables you to unlock the car and start the engine as long as you have the key fob on your person. It saved me time and aggravation.
The ML 550 has a base price of $53,175. My well-optioned test car had a bottom line of over $60,000.
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