Mercedes-Benzs luxury sport utility vehicle gains a bigger 5.0-liter V-8 engine, which changes the name of the ML430 model to ML500 for the 2002 model year. Fresh lower bodywork and some interior revisions are also apparent.
Built in the United States, the M-Class comes in three models: the ML320, ML500 and the high-performance ML55. All versions have permanently engaged four-wheel drive with a Low range and a five-speed-automatic transmission with Touch Shift. Traction control works when going downhill and while accelerating. Mercedes-Benzs Tele Aid emergency communication system can summon help or track a stolen vehicle.
Measuring only an inch longer than the rival Lexus RX 300, the four-door M-Class is 180.6 inches overall and rides a 111-inch wheelbase. At nearly 70 inches high, the M-Class is more than 4 inches taller than the RX 300. The high-performance ML55 is slightly bigger than its mates. All models have a one-piece liftgate at the rear.
Seating five occupants, the M-Class has front buckets and a three-person split rear seat that folds to expand cargo space to 85 cubic feet. Leather upholstery is standard on the ML500 and ML55 and optional on the base ML320. The traditional Mercedes dashboard layout is augmented by a 5-inch LCD display with touch controls in the center console that operate climate, audio and telephone functions. On upper-end models, it also operates the standard GPS-based navigation system.
Under the Hood
Topping the range, the high-performance ML55 packs a 5.5-liter V-8 that develops 342 horsepower, and the ML320 uses a 3.2-liter V-6 engine that produces 215 hp. The horsepower rating for the new 5.0-liter V-8 in the ML500 has not yet been released. All models use a five-speed-automatic transmission. Permanently engaged four-wheel drive distributes power among the four wheels as needed to maintain traction. Unlike rivals such as the BMW X5 and Lexus RX 300, Mercedes insists that the M-Class is a true offroad vehicle.
Dual-stage front airbags and side-impact airbags for both the front and rear seats are standard. Toyotas Tele Aid emergency communication system can summon help, and it kicks in automatically if an airbag deploys to call Mercedes roadside-assistance center. The system also can be used to track a stolen vehicle. The standard enhanced traction control system works when going both downhill and uphill or when accelerating.