High-Performance ML55 AMG Injects Sport into Sport Utility

6 January 1999

High-Performance ML55 AMG Injects Sport into Sport Utility; Mercedes-Benz ML55 Design Study Makes World Debut in Detroit

DETROIT, Jan. 4 -- Mercedes-Benz has unveiled a design study for a new type of high-performance sport utility vehicle based on its highly successful M-Class. Making its global debut during press activities preceding the North American International Auto Show, January 9-17 at Detroit's Cobo Center, the Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG shows the extraordinary potential of the M-Class platform.

If the AMG-inspired ML55 design study should become a production vehicle, it would set a new standard for performance in the sport-utility category, where "sport" is more often a label than a reflection of real performance and technology.

The ML55 AMG Design Study builds on the award-winning M-Class foundation, which already offers levels of performance and safety above and beyond most other SUVs. Poised to redefine the high end of the SUV category, the ML55 Design Study is powered by an AMG-modified 5.5-liter version of the new-generation Mercedes-Benz V8 engine that produces over 340 horsepower. This specially made powerplant is capable of blasting the high-performance four-wheel-drive SUV from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than seven seconds and taking it to a top speed of nearly 150 mph.

AMG is the premier tuner and racer of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and is entrusted with running the company's GT racing effort. With the AMG-built CLK-GTR racecars, Mercedes-Benz captured the FIA-GT championship two years in a row. Mercedes-Benz recently purchased a majority interest in AMG, and will continue to develop Mercedes/AMG vehicles through this partnership.

As with the current Mercedes/AMG C43 and E55 performance sedans, the ML55 Design Study features AMG modifications to the brakes and suspension that ensure the vehicle's handling dynamics and safety match its tremendous performance potential.

The ML55 AMG design study can be identified by its wider fender flares, unique rocker panels and a generally more athletic look, including "power domes" on the front hood that are reminiscent of the legendary Mercedes-Benz roadsters. The grill is accented with chrome bars, fog lights are built into the bumper, and xenon lights with headlight washers are fitted as well. At the rear, a special panel continues the bumper line straight across the liftgate. Wide five-spoke 18-inch wheels and dual chrome exhaust tips complete the picture on the outside.

The interior of the ML55 sport utility exudes the elegance of a luxury sedan, with content surpassing even that of the current V8-powered ML430. High-bolstered AMG sport seats are finished in super-soft leather and contrasted by dark burl walnut trim. The armrests and console storage are leather-covered, as well as part of the walnut steering wheel. The ML55 instrument cluster sports chrome-ringed gauges with white analog faces, while the center console holds a large display featuring an integrated navigation system which is set up for easy add-on modular phone and audio systems.

Using Four-Wheel Drive to Put Power to the Road Efficiently

Since the massive 380+ lbs.-ft. of torque produced by the AMG-modified 5.5-liter engine is distributed among four wheels, power is transferred to the road very efficiently, with little chance of wheel slip on paved roads. The engine is teamed to the company's electronic five-speed automatic transmission that adapts to an individual's driving style as well as to changes in road grade.

The Mercedes-Benz M-Class full-time four-wheel-drive system requires no driver intervention and is one of the most innovative and versatile in the SUV market. The system uses front, center and rear "open" differentials and, under normal driving conditions, has 50/50 torque distribution front/rear.

The M-Class stands apart from most other SUVs because it does not lock its axles in an attempt to maintain traction on slippery or loose surfaces. Instead, the M-Class employs an advanced electronic full-time four-wheel traction control system.

To maintain traction, the system senses wheel slip and brakes the slipping wheels, which transfers the right amount of torque to those tires with the most grip, on virtually any road surface. The M-Class system provides mobility even when three wheels lose traction. A two-speed electronically controlled transfer case gives all M-Class models true off-road capability.

Using traction control rather than locking differentials also aids maneuverability, both on and off-road. In slippery or off-road conditions, the benefit of the full-time system is obvious. Yet, even on dry roads, the system makes its presence known by giving the M-Class models secure, neutral handling characteristics.

The extraordinary Electronic Stability Program (ESP) helps drivers maintain directional stability -- especially on slippery or gravel-covered roads -- by preventing oversteer (rear-end "fishtailing") or understeer (front-end "plowing"). ESP can sense impending loss of control -- at the front or rear end -- and momentarily apply the brake on one wheel to restore stability, something that even a skilled driver cannot do.

Passenger Car Safety in a Sturdy SUV

The Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport-utility vehicles introduced "crash compatibility" to the SUV segment. Unlike most sport utility vehicles, the M-Class frame is designed so that it's unlikely to override a passenger car's body structure in a collision. Such consideration for compatibility could lessen the severity of frontal impacts between different categories of vehicles.

Although the M-Class sport utility uses a body-on-frame design, the dynamics of its crash protection are roughly equal to the renowned Mercedes-Benz E-Class luxury sedan, which has a unibody structure. In addition to a crumple zone built into the nose of the vehicle, the M-Class incorporates an extra crumple zone around the windshield pillars, which can actually help dissipate some of the crash energy around the sides of the vehicle in a severe collision.

The ML55 AMG is equipped with advanced four-channel, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags and door-mounted side-impact airbags in all four doors as well as the BabySmart automatic child seat recognition system. The front seatbelts are equipped with belt-force limiters, and front and rear shoulder belts come with emergency tensioning retractors.

A Chassis Designed Exclusively for a Sport-Utility Vehicle

The chassis of the Mercedes M-Class reveals the foundation on which ML55 performance, comfort and safety could set new standards in the top end of the sport-utility segment. The M-Class has a unit body mounted to a strong separate frame with closed, twist-resistant box-profile sections. The two longitudinal and three transverse frame cross members are welded together for exceptional strength and torsional rigidity. Suspension sub-frames and 10 rubber body mounts provide isolation from road shocks and noise.

Uncommon in its segment, the M-Class features independent front and rear suspension. Many SUVS have only independent front suspension, while some even use "solid" axles front and rear. Four-wheel independent suspension provides class-leading handling, stability and ride comfort, both on and off-road.

All M-Class models use hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion steering, and the ML55 AMG adds a speed-sensitive steering feature. A tight 37-foot turning circle gives the M-Class exceptional maneuverability on any road.

Versatility for Passengers and Cargo

The Mercedes-Benz M-Class was developed with passenger comfort, cargo room and versatility in mind. The largest side doors among its competitors and a low 18-inch step-in height make getting in and out of the Mercedes M-Class much easier than in most SUVs. Its 111-inch wheelbase is among the longest in its segment, and the rear seat row has ample head, leg and shoulder room for three passengers, thanks in part to a relatively flat floor. There's plenty of room for hauling cargo in a Mercedes M-Class, and for added versatility, the ML55 AMG comes with a new-design 60-40 split fold-down rear seat, which incorporates a center armrest.

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