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Best Bets get above-average mpg, class-average or better reliability, class-average or better crash-test ratings, and our recommendation.
Expert Reviews 2 of 5
By Larry Printz
The Morning Call and Mcall.com
October 1, 2000
Old speedsters sputtered and chugged across the dew-covered grass, gasoline fumes broke the crispness of the autumn air. The 1910 Pullman had just pulled onto the grounds of the Radnor Hunt, site of the 4th annual Concours d'Elegance. Next, it was
the Bugatti's turn, joining two others that had shown up that morning. It was enough to make any car lover smile, even automotive historian Beverly Rae Kimes. "You can never have too many Bugattis," she quipped. Bugattis are now just revered
relics of a glorious motoring past, one this show celebrates. But if there's any combination of letters that sets modern enthusiasts' hearts aflutter, it's AMG, the performance arm of Mercedes Benz. Those letters mean blitzkrieg-like power and handling
and for the first time, the folks in the land of the three-pointed star give the M-Class a hefty dose of vitamins. With such a wonderful vehicle at my disposal, what better way to spend it than at the Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance? Although the
timing was strictly accidental, it seemed fortuitous to have this sport-tuned SUV in time to roam the rolling hills of Chester County. This was accommodated courtesy of a distance rally held in conjunction with the show. It was really just a long
drive, not a race. A sheet of cryptic directions tells you where to drive. Your mission is to do it correctly. The instructions usually go something like "Turn left at the right arrow." My navigator and I took in 72 miles of disgustingly
breathtaking horse farms, covered bridges and lots of stone and brick farm houses. The Mercedes Benz ML55 seemed to be the perfect companion to escort us through fox-hunting country. Although the ML is available as the 320 (with a 215
horsepower 3.2-liter V-6) and as the 430 (with a more powerful 268 horsepower 4.3-liter V-8) it's the ML55 (with its 342 horsepower 5.5-liter V-8) that makes a long drive in the country palatable. When you need to turn around, the ML55, being an SUV, can
do it, even if you have to go off-road. Navigating the narrow 18th-century roads, the ML55 proved up to the challenge, taking the turns, dips and corners with ease. Since this was not a timed rally, it was easy to take in the sights and enjoy the
challenge of the back roads. Although the all-aluminum engine is capable of speeds of over 150 mph, on this drive it just provided a pleasant amount of grunt. AMG modifies the 5-liter overhead-cam V-8 through increased displacement. It was done by
modifying the engine's crankshaft, allowing for greater stroke of each piston. The manifold was modified and electronics changed, all with the intention of increasing power. This ML pulls very strongly, with a smooth, surly growl to remind the driver that
this is no ordinary truck. A five-speed automatic obediently clicks off the shifts, although manual shifting via a side-to-side activated shifter is standard. It's not needed however, as the autobox does
a good job of reading the driver's intentions. The fully independent suspension, unusual in this class, did a good job of insulating passengers from road shocks. The full-time four-wheel-drive system provides a 50/50 torque split and makes sure that
this SUV stays on track. Combined with the traction control system, grip is exceptional for a sports truck, even in damp weather. The AMG comes with outrageous 285/50R18 tires and special 5-spoke wheels housed under bulging fenders. Red brake
calipers are visible through the wheels and they do an excellent job of stopping the vehicle. But pedal action was disappointing, with a soft feel that hindered the otherwise smooth operation. The other disappointment was the amount of wind noise
at highway speed, making it noisier than one would expect. But after taking roads and matching speeds with Porsches, it was easy to see how this truck seemed appropriate to drive to such an exquisite, low-key show. Th e Radnor
Hunt Concours was extremely successful this year, having a good turnout and perfect weather in addition to a stunning field of rare cars. The 1947 Franay-bodied Bentley Mark VI Convertible was exquisite to view. Ditto the flawless 1930 Packard 745 Derham
Roadster and an awesome 1934 Riley Imp. The mouth-watering black 1958 MGA Roadster stuck in my mind. Equally hard to forget was the 1927 Bugatti Type 35C. It won the Grand Prix of Barcelona and was hidden during the Spanish Civil War, only to be
rediscovered in 1962. With an exposed running gear in the cramped cockpit, this car's patina would be tough to replicate. The show this year spotlighted DuPont, a rare luxury marque that was manufactured through the early 30s. Everett DuPont was on
hand, having driven his DuPont LeMans Speedster over 30 miles to the show. This is one collector who likes to drive his cars. Although proud of the car's heritage he does make one admission. "It's a chore to drive," he said reluctantly. That's one
thing that can't be said of the ML55, especially inside. In true M-B fashion, the cabin gets the typical full-lux treatment. Leather and smoked wood trim afford the truck a unique feel, especially given the black interior of the test vehicle. The
dash has unique black-on-white gauges trimmed in chrome. The stereo, phone pad and GPS system are all integrated into one unit. To get at the otherwise excellent audio system's cassette or CD slots, one must push a button and wait for the GPS/audio screen
to lower. How long will this unit last? The dash was easy to figure out, if you're familiar with Mercedes Benz vehicles. Two minor appointments seemed glaring in their absence: The tilt wheel had to be adjusted manually, as did the climate control.
Surprising given the sticker price. But this vehicle was an extremely safe one. Front and side airbags are standard, as are anti-lock four-wheel-disc brakes. This is in addition to traditional safety systems such as the Mercedes Benz Baby Smart
system, which detects the presence of a child seat up front and deactivates the airbag. So this vehicle could be the one vehicle that does it all, with comfort, off-road agility and on-road performance, a rare combination to be sure. But would it
be your only vehicle? It depends. For some, one vehicle is never enough. Back at the show, collector Ray Carr, with his wife, was looking over an exceptional Jaguar Mark V Drophead. "Wouldn't you rather just have one car like that rather than 25?"
she asked. Carr's answer was short and sweet. "No" I'd agree. 2000 Mercedes Benz ML55 Engine: 342 horsepower 5.5 liter V-8 Transmission: 5-speed automatic Wheelbase:111 inches Length: 180.6 inches Width:72.2 inches Curb
weight: 4,653 pounds Towing capacity:5,000 pounds Ground clearance:8.4 inches
Base price: $64,900 As tested: $65,545 EPA rating: 14 city, 17 highway Test mileage:15 mpg Fuel type:Premium
Expert Reviews 2 of 5
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