SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 64,900 Price As Tested $ 65,545 Engine Type SOHC 24-valve 5.4 Liter V8 w/SMFI* Engine Size 332 cid/5439 cc Horsepower 342 @ 5500 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 376 @ 3000 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 111.0"/72.2"/180.6" Transmission Five-speed automatic Curb Weight 4679 pounds Fuel Capacity 23.7 gallons Tires (F/R) 285/50R18 high performance Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/all-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/five-door Domestic Content N/A Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) 0.39 PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 14/17/16 0-60 MPH 7.0 seconds Maximum towing capacity 5000 pounds Top speed 140 mph * Sequential multi-port fuel injection
Mercedes-Benz is a very old and conservative company, according to Bob Hagin. Matt Hagin says that M-B's newest SUV is anything but conservative in the performance arena.)
BOB - Sometimes a new car just doesn't make sense and the new Mercedes ML55 sport/utility vehicle is one of them. Luxury SUVs are now a pretty common phenomena but none can crack off 140 mph road speeds like this new Mercedes. An SUV is, by conventional definition, a vehicle that can be equally at home on a superhighway or a fire trail. This 342 horsepower ML55 is capable of great acceleration for an SUV and its super-sticky 285/50R18 low-profile tires keep it glued to the road like a sports car - up to a point. Even though its suspension system has been "tweaked" a bit for better handling, it's still a tall vehicle built on a truck-like chassis.
MATT - And with that tall commanding view of the road, an ML55 driver gets a birds-eye view of the other drivers he passes by, hopefully using only a portion of its top speed. The ML55 is actually a hot-rod version it the ML430 that came out a few years ago. The ML430 carries a 4.3-liter V8 engine, but the AMG version takes this engine and expands it to 5.5 liter. It is then given a mechanical "massage" by AMG, the performance subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz. AMG stands for Aufrecht (the originator's name), Melter (another of the original owners) and Grosspach, which is Aufrect's home town. The company used to be an independent organization but over the years, its tie-in with Mercedes got so close that M-B bought the whole company in '98. The V8 in the ML55 is pretty sophisticated in its original form with two intake valves, a single exhaust valve and two spark plugs per cylinder.
Bob - The AMG version puts out around 75 more horsepower than the standard ML430 engine, and considerably more torque, which should give it more "grunt" for going through the off-road rough stuff but I suspect that most ML55 owner will not be storming up rocky backroads. The standard tires are low-profile 18-inch performance units that would be at home on the a supercar, yet with just enough tread to be able to handle snow-covered mountain roads. The best bet would be a second set of all-terrain tires on separate wheels so snow or mild off-roading wouldn't destroy the performance tires that come standard.
MATT - So the owner would have to change the tires back and forth? That sounds like a lot of work, Dad. This thing has systems to reduce the risk of its driver getting into trouble on slippery roads. A standard traction control system automatically sends a message to the brakes to slow a slipping wheel and send power to the wheels with the best grip. The all-wheel-drive system is separate, and it's full-time so there are no levers to pull, buttons to push - nothing, except for a dashboard button to engage the transfer case's low range gearing. I can't see using it much, though.
BOB - The low gearing works well on slippery boat ramps or if the ML55 is stuck in a snow bank, but you're probably right. Mercedes could save money by eliminating the low range gearing. The upgrades to the all-independent suspension is money well spent in my opinion. AMG added different shock rates and tighter suspension springing to make it handle better, even though the chassis is a truck-type full-length frame with separate sub-frames front and rear. The front springing uses torsion bars, while the rear springs are coils.
MATT - I'm sure M-B engineers would rather have started with more of a race car chassis, but they did a great job with what is essentially a truck. Inside, the comfort levels of the interior are in keeping with a vehicle this expensive, but polished real wood on an SUV still puts me off a bit. I did like the CD system that can not only play tunes but it is integrated with a programmable navigation system that reads out on a small dash-mounted screen.
MATT - Dad, I find that as you get older, you're more and more impressed with vehicles that give the driver a road map.
BOB - You're right. I still hate to have to stop and ask directions.