Mercedes-Benz covers a wide spectrum with its M-Class sport-utilities. The ML320 delivers the rugged looks, room, safety and utility that high-end SUV buyers seek along with a V6 engine that keeps pricing down to earthly levels. The ML500 offers all that, plus considerably more oomph from its V8 engine. And the ML55 AMG hammers you with high performance.
New for 2002, the 5.0-liter ML500, our test vehicle, replaces last year's 4.3-liter ML430.
The ML320 uses a 215-horsepower V6 engine and its base price is $36,300; the ML500 takes a 288-horsepower V8 and costs $44,950; and the ML55 AMG features a hot-rodded version of that V8, raising the horsepower to 342 and the cost to $65,900. (All prices are MSRP and do not include the $645 destination charge.) Some things that were standard on the M-Class in 2001 become optional in 2002, effectively raising the price.
M-Class models still come standard with dual front airbags that know when to deploy with partial or full force, front and rear side airbags, window curtain airbags that drop from the headliner, as well as seatbelt pretensioners and automatic seatbelt force limiters. A child-seat recognition system prevents deployment of the front passenger airbags when an appropriate child safety seat is installed. Beginning last year, the company's Tele Aid emergency calling system was standard equipment, along with new downhill traction control having a crawl mode for slow descents on steep icy streets, or even off-road. The ML500 and ML55 come standard with ESP, Electronic Stability Program, which corrects slides and is invaluable; it works with Brake Assist, which activates the pedal with full force when sensors say it's needed.