A couple weeks ago, my hairstylist and I got into a discussion about pet peeves. Her No. 1 irritation? People who drive too slowly in the left lane. This opened the door for us to discuss all kinds of vehicular pet peeves. While I certainly get ticked off when people aren't using the left lane properly, they're out there in the world and I can't control what they do. My worst vehicular peeve is what happens inside the car with someone you typically consider a friend or loved one - it's when they annoyingly transform into a backseat driver.
Back when I went to a media launch of Mercedes' ML550 SUV with its new engine, I initially had some minor bonding issues with the ML because of a backseat driver. I didn't realize how much power the ML had, and when I went into the first turn I was going faster than I thought. This made for a crude, brake-filled, wobbly turn. First turn of the day, people - in fact, first turn ever in the ML, but of course my co-driver immediately felt compelled to launch into an explanation about how to take turns, making me want to scream. It took some time to figure out the ML (all while trying to tune out his instructions), but I got better by the end of the drive. Once my turn driving was over, the irritation was history; we switched places and I got to sit back and take in this car's heavenly interior. (Check out what's different about this year's ML500 here.)
Long after the media event, my fear now is that the ML550 has turned me into a pet peeve myself. No, I haven't engaged in backseat driving, but when the ML arrived at Mother Proof's Global Headquarters, I pestered my boss endlessly to give it up. I literally grabbed the keys out of her hand, made her take her kids' car seats out and give it to me (in the freezing cold, after a party she had hosted, no less). I haven't been so selfish and ornery about anything in recent memory, and I'm sure she is now telling everybody I am her new pet peeve (with good reason).
Happily, I was rewarded for my grubbing. It really says something to me when I wake up in the morning excited to get into a car. That excitement didn't wane one iota during my test drive. The ML550 I drove had a V-8, meaning it has amazing power that is incredibly responsive and manageable (once you get used to it, of course, and as long as no one's telling you how to drive). For those of you whose pet peeve is the cost of gas, however, there's a downside: The ML has a huge gas tank (25.1 gallons), and an even huger thirst that requires premium fuel. This equals $75 a visit at the gas station, which I'd guess is slightly larger than your average pet peeve. I averaged 16 mpg in it, but the plus side is that there's also an ML320, which is similar to the 550 but has a more efficient diesel engine (18/24 mpg).
Navigation and entertainment systems are usually major pet peeves of mine; navigation systems tend to irritate me, and, well, I still have a hard time with the idea of TV in the car. The ML's navigation system is predictably tricky to use, but the entertainment system was easy. The one hitch is that the DVD player is under the backseat, practically begging to be placed somewhere more practical. I like that the video screens are mounted in the back of the front headrests, keeping my view out the back and sides clear. Lastly, I like that the entertainment system comes with headphone jacks so you can use your own. I know the wireless headphones that come with other systems are cool, but their larger size and the buttons on the sides make them tricky for younger kids.
A trip to the mountains became the most enjoyable event ever in the ML550. The kids looked out the window until they couldn't stand waiting for the movie anymore (about 15 minutes), then enjoyed a flick while we headed west. Maybe I should rethink my position on TV in the car. They also had their own cupholders and climate controls. We squeezed in a large - strike that, HUGE - suitcase and two kid-sized ones, a cooler, a couple of backpacks, a grocery sack of food and my husband's bike, and there was still ample visibility out the back window. The gearshift is on the steering column, which creates lots of extra room on an uncluttered center stack and console. The lined drawers for change or cell phones were blissful. An automatic tailgate made unloading a breeze, not just during a trip to the mountains but on one to the grocery store as well. It eliminated a personal pet peeve of mine that involves jumping up and hoping to reach the handle of the hatch.
While I've still got a pet peeve about cars that have so many over-the-top, fluffy features, there are several that do make me happy on a day-to-day basis, including ones that contribute to a smoother, safer ride. The adjustable suspension, which allows for a cushier ride, is fabulous, but switch it into Sport mode and the ML is a joy on mountain passes with switchbacks and climbs. Heated butt warmers are always a plus for this girl, and the adaptive headlights were downright awesome while driving on dark hills with no streetlamps. I could see all around me and even managed to avoid a skunk (hallelujah).
At the end of the day, I had no pet peeves with the ML. Once I ditched that backseat driver, I quickly became one with the ML. Except for the excruciating heartbreak I experienced when I had to give it back, the ML550 was the perfect test drive.
*For more information on the Mercedes-Benz ML550 and its safety features, visit Cars.com. With questions or comments regarding this review, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
LET'S TALK NUMBERS
Latch Connectors: 2
Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove On): Groove On
2008 Mercedes-Benz ML550
Base price: $52,400
Price as tested: $67,800
Engine: 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8
Fuel: 13/18 mpg
Ground Clearance: 8.3"
Turning Radius: 19.0 ft
Cargo space: 29.4-64.6 cu. ft.
NHTSA Crash-Test Ratings
Driver's side: n/a
Passenger's side: n/a
Front occupant: n/a
Rear occupant: n/a
Rollover resistance: n/a