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1998 Mercedes-Benz M-Class

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1998 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Available in 1 styles:  ML320 4dr AWD Classic shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

17 city / 21 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 7
1998 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 4.0 4
$ 1,227-6,043
January 7, 1998

If many sport-utes, such as the GM Suburban or the Ford Explorer, have always seemed a bit too blue collar for your taste, Mercedes-Benz has a better blue-chip choice - its new sport-utility vehicle, the ML320. The new ute has already won at least a dozen honors from the automotive press. We listed it in our Top 10 choices for 1998 based on our experience with a prototype ML320.

Unfortunately, we were disappointed with two factory production models we drove in December, including one that had major mechanical difficulties with its windshield wipers. Our overall assessment: The new Mercedes sport-ute won't live up to its legendary brand name until the company can fix some of its quality flaws.

She: My experience with the new Mercedes was more than disappointing. I was driving in the high-speed lane of one of our local freeways in the middle of a snowstorm when my wipers wound around each other and jammed in the middle of the windshield. Because the snow was heavy and sticky, it clung to the glass and seemed to freeze up immediately. I was lucky to get across four lanes to the exit just using my side mirrors. And boy, was I mad. There's nothing I hate more than having to call a tow truck - or you - to come and rescue me. Mercedes spokesman Chuck Johnsen said later that one of the wipers froze to the windshield and a bolt had loosened on it, causing it to "go off the track." He added that "I've never heard of it happening before. It's not a big problem."

He: Tell that to the woman or man who just dropped $40,000 on a new ML320. I don't think you'd find a happy camper. And it makes me wonder how the Mercedes would perform under really extreme winter conditions. We're talking about an early season snowfall in Michigan where the temperature had dipped just below freezing. To me, this is a serious problem worth further investigation by Mercedes. Unfortunately, it raises doubts in my mind about a vehicle that, early on, looked like it had the potential to be a real winner in this price segment.

She: Even if my experience was a one-time fluke, I had a list of at least 11 gripes about the Mercedes and that surprised me almost more than the wipers. If you want to get a sense about the quality on this vehicle, flip down the door on the glove compartment and notice how cheap the plastic feels. I have old Fisher-Price toys in the basement that feel more solid and well built. And that's just for starters. The windshield had an annoying whistle at around 75 miles an hour, the cabin felt too small, there were gaps in the trim that you wouldn't see on a Mercedes product like the E-class sedan and the seats in the rear felt like they belonged on a $10,000 Neon. I'm going to shut up now, even though I haven't gotten through the entire list. I have two New Year's resolutions: Floss twice a day and try to mellow out on test drives.

He: Well, Flossie, I think you've just torpedoed the new Mercedes sport-utility vehicle.

She: Now that I've caught my breath, let me finish. The power seat doesn't work unless the ignition is on, the exterior design is too ugly and van-like. The Mercedes star logo on the grille is as big as a headlight and too gaudy. Running boards are extra and they should have been standard ...

He: Whoa, Nellie! This is starting to sound awfully one-sided. So let me tell you all the things I like about the Mercedes. The full-time four-wheel-drive system is terrific in snow and in mud. The 3.2-liter V-6 has plenty of muscle, and there's a new 4.3-liter V-8 on the way for 1999. Fuel economy is better than we've come to expect from utility vehicles in this class. It's pretty tough to beat the safety package. Standard equipment includes front and side air bags, plus antilock brakes and traction control. In terms of stability and security, the Mercedes is at or near the top of the class.

She: Oh, there's no doubt that this will be a trophy vehicle for many people. In fact, on the f occasions where I passed other women driving the ML320, they glared at me as if I were wearing the same dress as them at a cocktail party. You buy it and it just feels so exclusive. That's almost priceless. There are nice Mercedes touches, too, like the flip-down cupholders built into either side of the instrument panel. And if you need other reasons to talk yourself into it, how about that optional third seat, which you can't get in an Explorer?

He: Although buyers should be forewarned that it's not all that easy to access the third seat, and it really cuts down on cargo space, having said that, the regular five-passenger version has oodles of room in the cargo area - considerably more than Ford or Jeep.

One quick heads-up to anyone shopping in this price class. Mercedes is going to be facing a new and formidable competitor in just a few months when Lexus puts its new RX300 on sale. Now THAT should be a real dogfight.

What we liked: Conveniently located cupholders, excellent warranty and roadside assistance plan, impressive safety package, lots of cargo space, wearing the right label for lots of buyers (Anita)

What we didn't like: More than the usual number of squeaks, whistles and rattles for a new Mercedes; interior doesn't feel up to the standards of a $40,000 vehicle; serious mechanical problems with the wipers on our test car; styling seems big, boxy and a bit too van-like; cabin felt too small.

Mercedes-Benz ML320

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger sport-utility vehicle

Price: Base, $33,950; as tested, $40,115 (including $595 destination charge)

What's new for '98: All-new for 1998

Standard equipment: Air conditioning with pollen filter, alloy wheels, power windows, split rear bench seat, tilt steering column, cruise control, dual-range transfer case with pushbutton low range, carpeted floor mats, remote central locking, visor vanity mirrors, reading lamps, front and rear power outlets, four folding cupholders, AM-FM-WB stereo cassette, roof rack, tinted glass, door storage pockets, center armrest, four-wheel power disc brakes, antitheft system, heated rear-view mirrors, rear defroster, rear wiper/washer, rear fog lamp

Safety features: Dual front and side air bags, antilock brakes, traction control, height-adjustable seat belts, front knee bolsters

EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway

Engine: 3.2-liter V-6; 215-hp at 5500 rpm; 233 lb-ft torque at 3000 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Specifications: Wheelbase, 111.0 inches; overall length, 180.6 inches; curb weight, 4200 pounds; legroom, 40.3 inches front/38.0 inches rear; headroom, 39.8 inches front/39.7 inches rear; shoulder room, 58.3 inches front/57.9 inches rear

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,392. Rates based on an average family of four from the Livonia area whose primary driver is aged 40 with no tickets who drives 3-10 m iles each way to work. Rates reflect multicar discount and, where appropriate, discounts for air bags and seat belts.

Where built: Vance, Ala.

    Expert Reviews 2 of 7

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