2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class

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2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Available in 3 styles:  2001 Mercedes-Benz ML320 4dr AWD shown
Asking Price Range
$1,495–$9,551
Estimated MPG

14–17 city / 17–21 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 4

By 

Boston.com
This is not where you would expect to encounter a Mercedes-Benz.

There's not a Starbucks in sight. No outlet mall featuring fine china and designer duds. No ski chalets or beach houses.

But here we are: two miles back into the woods, up an icy road (gravel in summer) with water running down it like a sluiceway; across the runoff from an overflowing beaver bog; up a steep hill once used as a loading ramp for freshcut logs; moving gingerly over and around the stumps left by the logging operation.

No, folks who buy the Mercedes ML430 - or its lighter stablemate, the ML320 - seldom take them offroad. Usually, it's because such adventures don't interest them. Sometimes it's because, while they might be tempted, they don't realize what they have on their hands.

So, I'll say it here. On the highway, the ML430 is very much a Mercedes-Benz, sedanlike in its ride. But take it offroad, and it gets downright truck-like. Stiff, sure, and ground-gripping.

And so here we are, where a warming winter sun in the midst of a break in the weather has set ice to melt and, in sparse spots, has burned through the ice to gravel beneath. Sometimes, with its traction control system in full operation, the ML430 has three tires set to spinning, yet a transfer of torque and the electronic application of brakes lets the one useful tire - the one on the gravel - grip and move the car. Unlike a lot of its competitors at this high end of the luxury SUV market, I am learning, the ML430 really is an offroad rig. The gauges in the interior are easy to read, but the navigation system is complicated. And that is remarkable, given the luxury of the DeSigno model I am driving. Its front leather bucket seats (two-tone) are slablike in width for broad comfort, yet outlined with strong side bolsters to keep you in place when the going gets rough or sharp.

In the second row of seats, there is good room for three adults - and plenty of legroom fore and aft. A third row of seats is optional and would be fine for a couple of children. There is also ample space behind that second row of seats - a feature lacking in several luxury SUVs.

Ergonomically, there are things I like and things I don't like here.

The gauges are big and easy to read and the grouping of controls for mirrors and windows at the middle of the center console is a nice utilitarian touch. The climate controls, too, are big and easy to understand and use.

The navigation system, however, is more complicated than it needs to be and controls for the audio system are tiny, sometimes recessed, and far too complex to keep an eye on while driving. The $4,000 DeSigno package - special paint, those two-tone coordinated seats, special wheels - adds to an already impressive lineup of standard features that include leather, power and heated front seats, privacy glass, auto-dimming rearview mirror, wood interior trim, trip computer, and a safe box under the front seat.

Standard safety features inc lude four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability control, four-wheel independent suspension and front and side air bags for the front compartment.

It's powered by a smooth, quiet 4.3-liter aluminum V-8 that delivers a respectable 275 horsepower. Its adaptive 5-speed automatic shifts well on the highway and, for offroading, offers low-range and a hill descent control that keeps the car creeping at a preset pace down the steeps.

On the highway, it rides high and slightly stiff, yet the feel is very much sedanlike: smooth and sure. Its tuned suspension allows the ML430 to be maneuvered lane-to-lane even at passing speeds, a needed safety factor considering how SUVs are driven by most people.

Offroad, the rugged body-on-frame construction is evident as the whole car just feels stiffer and wonderfully agile. My only complaint here is - and I discovered this playing around the stumps - that for serious offroad romping it should have a bit more suspension travel. It clunked couple of times when it should have been more absorbing of the terrain.

Of course, this is part of the price you pay for the superb highway ride, and since that's really where most people will use the ML430, it's a fair tradeoff.

This is an SUV meant to compete with the Lincoln Navigator, the Cadillac Escalade, the BMW X5, and the Toyota Land Cruiser. It will run with any of them on the highway and, surprisingly, offroad it's as good as the Land Cruiser, long the leader in this group when it comes to getting gnarly.

Nice touch: The remarkably quiet ride. This is a big, tall box with a big engine. You'd expect more noise when you get it into the wind.

Annoyance: Sure would be nice to have running boards to get into and out of this rig.


    Expert Reviews 2 of 4

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