2002 Mercedes-Benz M-Class

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2002 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Available in 3 styles:  2002 Mercedes-Benz ML320 4dr AWD shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

14–15 city / 17–19 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 3
2002 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 4.6 7
$ 2,034-9,290
February 3, 2002

It appears that all that was needed to spice up the stew that is today's bubbling world of SUVs was a dash of Cayenne.

That's the name of the long-awaited, high-performance SUV from Porsche that should debut sometime this year. Rumors of sleek design and thundering power swirl around its anticipated unveiling.

Meanwhile, the folks whose SUV sales may be most directly affected by the Cayenne - BMW and Mercedes-Benz - are already reacting.

If Mark Twain were alive to write car reviews, he might call this one "The leapfrogging SUVs of Calaveras County." That's because, in their drive to claim the high ground of power before the debut of the Cayenne, the BMW X5 and the Mercedes M Class SUVs have been jumping over each other.

Mercedes, whose ML 430 was slower and less powerful than BMW's X5 4.4i, performed a midcycle overhaul of the 430 and redubbed it the ML 500. Where the 430 delivered 268 horsepower to the 4.4i's 282, the 500 leaped over it with a bigger bore V-8 that delivers 302 horsepower. That's the car we tested here, and the increase in oomph is noticeable. Of course, we can now leapfrog the ML 500 with the latest BMW X5, the X5 4.6is, and its 340 horsepower (but that's a subject for next week's review).

With the Cayenne looming on the high-performance horizon, it's fair to ask whether any of these are really SUVs anymore considering that, though they are capable offroad vehicles, the suspensions, wheels, tires, and other design characteristics needed to handle high onroad speeds don't lend themselves to serious offroad bashing.

Even the look of the ML 500, for instance, says speed more than it does rugged utility. Its new front bumper molds to the body, droops low, and houses the fog lamps. Clear, bi-xenon headlights sit above the bumper and below the sloping, aerodynamic nose and hood (no rectangular, challenging snout here). As upfront, the rear bumper is integrated with the body and does not have the rugged look of a true offroad bumper.

Inside, standard Mercedes-Benz luxury abounds. The seats are leather and heated, with eight-way power adjustments upfront. The trim is leather and burl walnut. There are even five cupholders, a very un-Teutonic touch. Also standard are a roof rack, lockable safebox, and trip computer.

Standard safety features include four-wheel traction control, brake assist, a downhill traction system, dual stage front air bags, front and rear side air bags, and front and rear side window air bags.

From a base price of about $45,000, options such as special silver paint ($495), a power sunroof with power rear quarter windows ($1,295), memory for the power front seats, rain sensors and power folding mirrors ($800), and an upgraded sound system ($1,200) push you toward $50,000.

As with any vehicle that might get both highway and offroad use, Mercedes-Benz had to compromise on the suspension of the ML 500. This one has fully independent suspension with double wishbones and swaybars front and rear, while the front gets a torsion bar/spring setup, and the rear gets coil springs and gas pressure dampers.

The result is a butter soft glide on the highway (which I suspect most folks who buy this car will want). It moved gracefully, at high commuter speeds on the highway. On lesser, winding roads, it had a tendency to lean heavily in hard, fast cornering. It was also soft in offroad tests where stiffer suspension would have limited the bouncing - side-to-side, and front-to-rear, and-rear-to-front - that occurred in heavy bumps.

The full-time four-wheel drive system is aided by an electronic stability program that uses engine torque and braking to control wheel spin. It is possible for three wheels to be slipping while one moves the car forward.

A hill descent control, activated by a button on the dash, is a wonderful feature. While few ML 500s will be taken offroad, where the descent control is a real treat, the featurewill prove invaluabl to those with steep, slippery driveways at home or at their ski houses, or on those times when they are caught in a storm in hilly country.

Since power was part of the goal in this midcycle revamp, I give the ML 500 credit for the horsepower boost. It is particularly noticeable in a flat torque band that provides seamless power between around 2,800 rpms and up to about 4,300 rpms. That's good power for passing or for hauling a car full of people and heavy vacation gear. The five-speed automatic transmission handled the extra power with barely noticeable shifts, though I did sense a slight lag in acceleration when the throttle was pushed hard.

Of course, if real screaming power is what you want, there is always the option so common to Mercedes-Benz models. You can turn to the folks at AMG and opt for the ML55 AMG, with its 355 horsepower.

That would leapfrog you right over the BMW 4.6is and its paltry 340 ponies.

2002 Mercedes ML 500

Base price: $44,950

Price as tested: $49,385

Horsepower: 302

Torque: 339 lb.-ft.

Wheelbase: 113.6 inches

Overall length: 196.6 inches

Width: 73.1 inches

Height: 55.0 inches

Curb weight: 4,070 lbs.

Seating: 5 passengers

Fuel economy: 16.2 miles per gallon

SOURCE: Daimler-Chrysler Corp.; fuel economy from Globe testing.

Nice touch

The two-foot option for low-range travel. It lets you play serious offroader by applying the brakes even as you depress the throttle, a common trick for power and control in delicate offroad situations.


I'd like to see more aggressive seats -- a bit firmer, better bolstered -- in a car that wants to make a high-performance statement.

    Expert Reviews 2 of 3

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