San Francisco: When
Mercedes Benz leaped into the American sport utility market back in
1997, they modeled their new ML series on the popular SUVs of the day,
such as the Ford Explorer. They even built a brand-new assembly plant in
Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Over the years, more than half a million units have
rolled out of that factory, about half of them exported out of the U.S.
Back in the late 1990s,
the biggest difference between other midsize and large SUVs and the
Mercedes entry was that this car was not based on a truck platform. That
gave the ML series vehicles a more comfortable ride and better handling.
Mercedes Benz was the first German company to take the SUV seriously.
Today, a wide selection
of luxury SUVs is available. So, the ML was overdue for a redo, and the
2006 model is truly transformed. Its appearance echoes the design
philosophy of the Mercedes cars since 1997. The sides are deeply
sculpted, the headlamps glittery. The grille is toothier. The vehicle
looks like itís ready to pounce.
The interior is
completely revamped as well. It conveys a much more luxurious and
vivacious feeling than the old model, which always seemed a little plain
to me. The new ML evokes the E Class and S Class sedans. The gleam of
metallic accents, a popular styling trend, perks up what used to be a
somber Teutonic interior. The handsome chrome ringed gauges poke out
artfully from under their binnacle, and the center vents on the dash jut
out from tubes. Everything is in motion, conveying quick transit whether
youíre sitting behind the wheel or at a light in another car, checking
the ML out.
The new ML is
significantly larger, adding 3.7 inches to the wheelbase and nearly six
inches to overall length. Wheelbase increases generally mean more
legroom, and the new ML delivers. Underneath is an all-new unit body
platform with upgraded suspension bits. The four-link rear suspension is
much more sophisticated than that of a typical SUV.
You can choose from the
ML350, with a 3.5-liter V6 with 268 horsepower, or the ML500, with its
five-liter V8 boasting a macho 302 horsepower. My Iridium Silver test
unit was of the latter group. Naturally, you pay at the pump with this
much potency under the twin-vented hood. The EPA gives the car a 14
City, 19 Highway rating. Because the fuel economy display reset is hard
to find, no one had ever reset it, so I was able to see the accumulated
mileage of the carís entire 2,814 miles and it delivered 16.3 mpg.
The ML500 boasts an
amazing seven-speed automatic transmission. With a wider range of gears
to choose from, it shifts more quickly and also gives greater fuel
economy. The electronic controls enable instant downshifts of more than
one gear at a time, so the engine can be engaged at the best spot for
high performance. You can hardly feel it working. The tiny shift lever,
mounted on the steering column, is easy to use, but feels a little like
a toy at first.
Itís unlikely that most
owners will risk taking their pride and joy off road, but the ML500 does
have full-time four-wheel drive. It uses three open differentials, so
you can drive in snow, ice, dirt, or even on the highway without having
to make any manual changes.
For extra safe
offroading, the ML comes with Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR). You set a
speed between 4 and 12 miles per hour and the car automatically moves
downhill at that speed without driver intervention. When climbing, a
hill holder system keeps the brake engaged while you change your foot to
the accelerator. So San Francisco is easy to drive in again.
The ML is loaded with
the expected equipment, such as power windows (all four windows go up
and down with one touch), cruise control, rain-sensing windshield
wipers, a dust filter, and a two-zone air conditioning system. The
cupholders are illuminated. But I was surprised that in a car of this
level the steering wheel tilt and telescope were manual adjustments, and
that a standard flip-it-yourself day/night mirror hung from the ceiling.
Driving a car like this
spoils you. It is big without being boat like, luxurious without being
ostentatious, powerful without being overwhelming, and the fittings and
surfaces are exquisite.
The ML350 starts out at
$40,525 and the ML500 begins at $49,275. This is not a cheap car. Even
at this elevated price level, thereís a lot you can add. My tester, for
example, charged $690 for the silver paint! The Sunroof Package ($1,290)
added, as expected, a sunroof and threw in rain sensing wipers. The
Premium Package ($3,750) brought leather-covered multi-contour seats,
real burl walnut trim, a navigation system, a beautiful wood and leather
steering wheel, a power liftgate (slow but effective), and premium
lighting. Shouldnít leather seats be standard on a $50,000 car?
For $55,000 and
change my Mercedes-Benz ML500 was the kind of car youíd be glad to
drive, or ride in all day long. While the original ML felt a little
ordinary, this one delivers 100 percent of what Mercedes-Benz customers
Steve Schaefer © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Mercedes Home Page
Byline: Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo ©
new ML500 delivers what MBZ customers want
2006 Mercedes Benz ML500
2006 Mercedes Benz ML500
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2006 - 12
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2006 Mercedes Benz ML500