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2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class

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2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Available in 3 styles:  2001 Mercedes-Benz ML430 4dr AWD shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

14–17 city / 17–21 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 3 of 4
2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 3.9 11
$ 2,073-8,669
February 24, 2001
Just four years ago, Mercedes introduced its much-anticipated ML320, back when the general run of full-size sport-utility vehicles were clumsy trucks, basically variations on Jeep's original Cherokee. The ML turned out to be something completely different, a hybrid blending of truck and car characteristics with all-independent suspension and a carlike interior.

Nowadays, it's pretty routine. The RX300 from Lexus soon followed the ML with a similar size and mission, and even the new Ford Explorer has independent rear suspension, which improves handling and space utilization.

Now we can marvel that not only BMW and Acura have produced SUVs, but also a sports-car stalwart such as Porsche will soon have one.

Built in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the ML320 remains one of the best reasons to buy a sport-utility. ML is a true hybrid, taking on the characteristics of car, truck and minivan, functioning well as each, though too short to accommodate a third row of seats.

Despite the gleaming tri-star on its prow, the ML styling is modest and understated, not nearly as showy as the RX300 or Lincoln's lush Navigator.

Though tall and boxy, the ML feels stable and handles nicely. The steering seems slow at first blush but quickly becomes as responsive and direct as any Mercedes car. Highway cruising is relaxed and quiet.

The 215-horsepower V-6 is adequate for this craft, but if you want more, there's the V-8-equipped ML430 with 268 horsepower, a steeper price tag and decent towing power. Then there's the 342-horsepower ML55 AMG at nearly $66,000, advertised as the world's fastest SUV. But even with the mild-mannered V-6, gas mileage is mediocre.

I didn't get too much off-highway time in the recent ML 320, just a drive up a steep, slippery mud road that proved the ML's electronic traction system is still right on the button. This setup calculates power to each wheel individually, compensating for lapses in traction. Three wheels can have zero traction, Mercedes says, and whichever wheel is on solid ground will pull you out.

A new feature on the 2001 model is downhill traction control, which holds descent in low range at a slow, steady pace. Low range is engaged via a button on the dash.

There's also a new crawling mode that combines the effects of traction control and anti-lock brakes so that drivers can apply brakes and throttle for sure-footed climbing over obstacles.

The ML uses Mercedes' Touch Shift to allow drivers to choose full automatic or self-shifting. This is a nicely functioning system that allows quick access to self shifting without moving the stick into a special position.

In full automatic, the transmission has electronic shifting that compensates for the driving style of whoever is at the wheel. This sounds great on paper, but I find that it makes the shifting unpredictable and sometimes annoying.

A bit more history: Man y early buyers of the ML320 were disappointed in its reliability, haunted by various mechanical and electrical gremlins. That supposedly was ironed out after the first batch, and the latest MLs are reputed to be as durable as Mercedes' other products.

The ML comes loaded with special features, including many for safety. The tester included something called a convenience package priced at $1,150, which included the electronic stereo/climate control/GPS mapping display, and a luxury package at $1,600. The Bose stereo upgrade went for $1,075; a glass sunroof cost $1,095; and the metallic paint job cost $485.

All this stuff boosts the ML320's price into high-end territory.

The ML-class remains a top choice in the SUV world, even in the face of a new generation of hybrids. It's versatile and capable, and does most things quite well.

    Expert Reviews 3 of 4

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