Mercedes-Benz ML500 shows new style with a big engine aboard
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
LEIPZIG, Germany -- Mercedes-Benz, the automaker from Germany with an extensive line of sophisticated and luxurious vehicles, offers three variations for the mid-size ML Class of sport-utility wagons and all are built in the United States at an assembly plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
These three Mercedes wagons drive and ride like plush luxury sedans and they feel as comfortable. Yet they also provide a surprising amount of cargo space in the back bay and carry the go-anywhere attributes of a rugged four-wheel-drive sport-ute.
The line debuted in 1998 with the first wagon, ML320. It stocked a 3.2-liter V6 engine good for 215 hp and linked to the Mercedes five-speed automatic transmission with one-tap clutch-less Touch Shift feature.
In 1999, a second version called ML430 rolled out with the standard Mercedes V8 powertrain. Displacing 4.3 liters, the single-cam aluminum plant worked up 268 hp and peaked torque to 288 lb-ft from 3000 to 4500 rpm.
In the 2000 line, Mercedes developed a special race-tuned AMG treatment for a sport-utility wagon. The result became the souped-up ML55 AMG issue.
Imagine: A refined sport-ute modified for high performance and equipped with a special 5.5-liter V8 pumping 342 hp and capable of propelling the machine from zero to sixty in less than seven seconds, or zipping down a race track at the dizzy clip of 150 mph.
Nothing else in the wagon class even approximates these figures and only a handful of exotic and pricy sports cars in fact can beat it.
For the class of 2002, all three wagons show shapely new bodywork with revamped cabins containing more standard features and improved functions.
In addition, the V8 version changes its name to reflect a larger engine below the hood.
The new ML500 carries a single-cam 5.0-liter V8 that produces 288 hp at 5600 rpm and torque of 325 lb-ft spread between 2700 and 4250 rpm.
These numbers represent a significant improvement for acceleration and overall performance of the ML500 as compared to the ML430 that it replaces.
You may instantly detect that difference in the rush that follows a floor-boarding stomp of the accelerator.
We tested prototypes of the ML500 at autobahn pace on Germany's A14 near Leipzig and discovered the big V8 mustered forceful surges even in the fast lane.
Despite the ability for fast times and powerful acceleration, ML500 also revealed a surprisingly nimble attitude when steered through a wiggly course at lesser speeds, such as the backroad route we followed through villages of Belgershain and Molbis to Espenhain.
It cut quickly into a set of curves and, with gear-reining via the Touch Shift lever, was highly controllable while maintaining a sure-footed stance even when pressed to excess tolerances. Overall drive characteristics more closely resembled a sporty performance car than the typically cumbersome sport-utility vehicle.
At Espenhain, a vast sinkhole created by imploding an underground coal mine served as a challenging off-road course to run the ML500 over dirt paths, though muddy ruts and up and down steep and slippery embankments.
The wagon scampered over the rough stuff as easily as it handled curvy pavement, thanks to four smart wheels.
Its unconventional four-wheel traction system, linked to a computer, distributes power from the engine automatically to each wheel individually, or in sets of wheels fore and aft, so at any time at least one tire can get a good bite of traction.
The full-time four-wheel-drive system does not lock axles to maintain traction in slippery situations, but instead senses a slipping wheel electronically, then brakes the slippage and redirects power to wheels with better grip.
For crossing challenging terrain like we encountered in the Espenhain sinkhole, the 4WD system for ML500 employs an electronically-controlled two-speed transfer case with lower gear settings -- all controlled through a dashboard button. Punch the low-range button to crawl up a daunting grade or plunge through a deep and long trough of mud.
Combine the capable four-wheel traction device with that powerful new engine, the stiff structure and a spacious passenger compartment draped in trappings of luxury, and the result is a vehicle of many purposes -- with plush comforts like a fine sedan, wily manners of a sporty car and go-anywhere attributes of a strong SUV wagon.
All three ML wagons ride on an inherently rigid platform rigged with front and rear suspension sub-frames and fully independent double wishbone suspension for all wheels. Notable mechanical features include power rack and pinion steering, power-assisted disc brakes tied to anti-lock and traction control systems, plus Brake Assist and an electronic stability control program.
Dual frontal air bags and door-mounted side air bags are in place, along with new curtain-style side air bags. Also, a front passenger seat has the Mercedes BabySmart system that disables air bags when an infant seat is aboard.
All ML Class wagons for 2002 also show keen new body styling that looks dynamic and sleek. A thick bumper up front contains foglamps that underscore new clear-lens headlamp clusters. Sheetmetal slabs allow for shapely contours such as the stepped hood and flared wheelwell rings, and exterior mirrors integrate turn signal repeaters.
In the spacious cabin, new elements improve functions and forms. A new center console with integrated cupholder and transmission shifter is framed in burl walnut wood, with the rear section housing controls that adjust climate settings in the rear seat. Ahead on the dashboard cluster containing audio and climate and navigation systems, bold rotary dials of the standard automatic climate system indicate settings in backlit red pinpoints.
Front seats are two form-fitting and supportive buckets that move in infinite directions through power controls.
The second tier bench seats carry three comfortably but add a fold-down center armrest when only two passengers are aboard. Backrests fold forward to expand the cargo bay in various ways. Also, two folding jump seats may be installed in the rear quarters.
Options for the ML500 include a convenience package with the power seats, a power sunroof, Bose sound kit with CD changer and a sport package with 17-inch alloy wheels.
Base MSRP for the new ML500 comes to $44,950 plus a $645 delivery fee. Add all optional gear for $6,645 more and the bottom line caps at $52,240.
| 2002 MERCEDES-BENZ ML 500 VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS
||Mid-size sport-utility wagon
| Model Options:
||Mid-size sport-utility wagon
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||SOHC 3.2-L V6
SOHC 5.0-L V8
SOHC 5.5-L V8
||2 (front) + 2 (side)
+ 4 (side curtain)
| Gas Mileage:
||3.2-L V6: 17/21 mpg
5.0-L V8: 14/17 mpg
5.5-L V8: 14/17 mpg
| MSRP Price:
||$ 37,000 to $ 67,000