Just a year off its 2006-model-year redesign, two new versions of the M-Class debut for 2007. Both a diesel and a high-performance AMG version are available, but little else is changed for the M-Class.
Eckhard Cordes, head of the Mercedes Car Group, said the current M-Class is less trucklike in appearance than the original M-Class and promises cultivated performance with its full-time four-wheel-drive system.
Four trim levels are available: the ML350 with a V-6 engine; the ML500 and ML63 AMG, both with V-8 power; and an ML320 diesel model, which will debut in the fall of 2006.
Mercedes-Benz promotes the aggressive wedge shape and sweeping front fenders of the M-Class. The grille consists of three wide louvers with pronounced air vents and is complemented by a chrome three-pointed Mercedes-Benz star.
Two vent grilles on the hood incorporate the fin trim that's common on many Mercedes-Benz models. Widely flared wheel arches, angled C-pillars and a sharply angled windshield complete the picture. A prominent rear spoiler and twin tailpipes go in back.
The M-Class is 5.9 inches longer, 2.8 inches wider and 0.4 inch lower than its predecessor. Riding a 114.7-inch wheelbase, the M-Class is 188.5 inches long overall.
A black grille and seven-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels are standard on the ML350. The more-powerful ML500 has a silver-colored grille with chrome ribs, chrome door handles and standard five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels. AMG Sport or Appearance packages include 19-inch wheels.
The M-Class seats up to five occupants and has a sport-oriented instrument panel and a multifunction steering wheel. A 60/40-split rear seat creates a level load surface when folded. Cargo volume totals 29.4 cubic feet with the seats up and 64.6 cubic feet with the backseat folded. Options include Parktronic parking assistance and a DVD-based navigation system.
Under the Hood
Four engines are available in the M-Class. The ML350 features a 3.5-liter V-6 that develops 268 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque at 2,400 rpm. A 5.0-liter V-8 in the ML500 generates 302 hp at 5,600 rpm and 339 pounds-feet of torque at 2,700 rpm. The ML63 AMG makes 503 hp and 465 pounds-feet of torque from a 6.3-liter V-8. An ML320 diesel will produce an estimated 221 hp and 398 pounds-feet of torque when it debuts later in 2006.
All gasoline engines team with a seven-speed automatic transmission that uses driver-adaptive shift logic. TouchShift manual controls sit behind the steering wheel. When properly equipped, an M-Class can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Side curtain airbags incorporate rollover sensors, and side-impact airbags are also installed. An Electronic Stability Program is standard, and antilock brakes include brake assist.
Despite its undeniably firm suspension, the M-Class recovers smartly from rough spots on the pavement, so the ride is more tolerable than in some SUVs. The M-Class is able to cope with a variety of conditions without turning gentle, which helps impart a premium feel overall.
Somewhat heavy steering is appropriate for the vehicle, and agility ranks a tad above average. Stability isn't an issue. The M-Class stays as flat and sure-footed as most SUVs — and better than many.
Performance with the V-6 is vigorous from a standstill and good for passing and merging. Transmission shifts are generally seamless, but a grabby sensation often emerges when the vehicle slows toward a stop.
Front and rear space is ample. The seats are supportive and comfortable, except for a hard seatback in the center rear position. The front seats have long bottoms. Huge space behind the rear seat is easy to load with luggage, and overall construction feels solid. Wide C-pillars and somewhat wide forward pillars impede visibility somewhat but not severely. The electronic gear selector works easily, but some controls are confusing. Cars.com has not tested the AMG and diesel models.