SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 43,750 Price As Tested $ 46,365 Engine Type SOHC 24-valve 4.3 Liter V8 w/SFI* Engine Size 260 cid/4266 cc Horsepower 268 @ 5500 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 288 @ 3000 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 111.0"/72.2"/180.6" Transmission Five-speed automatic Curb Weight 4678 pounds Fuel Capacity 19.0 gallons Tires (F/R) P275/55R17 mud & snow 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 15/19/18 0-60 MPH 8.0 seconds Maximum cargo capacity 1340 pounds Maximum towing capacity 5000 pounds * Sequential fuel injection
The luxury segment of the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) market is a battle for sales and the Mercedes-Benz M-Class is deep in the fray.
Introduced in '98, the M-Series has gotten more powerful (a V8 engine) and more exotic (the hot-rod ML55 AMG). As a result, other luxury car makers are following suite with variations of their own.
OUTSIDE - Some have criticized the M-Class as looking too much like a minivan and its lack of edgy styling may, indeed, be a minus since current SUV styling trends are leaning toward sharper corners and pronounced creases. Mercedes-specific headlights taper down into its recognizable grille, while the hood slopes upward to a steeply raked windshield. Mercedes designed the M-Class with a low frame and low bumpers, so it's less likely to override a smaller car in the event of a collision. The doors are wide and tall, which makes climbing in and out easy, while the rear hatch swings up high so tall grocery-loaders won't hit their heads. But we'd like to see a separate swing-up rear window which would come in handy. A sturdy roof rack, rated to hold up to 220 pounds, is standard, as are body-color bumpers, side cladding, door handles and outside mirrors. Large 17-inch, 55-series all-season tires are also standard, and mated to a set of spoked alloy wheels.
INSIDE - Large, firm front bucket seats provide ample support, while grab handles over each door make access easier. Storage includes a sliding drawer under the front passenger seat, a deep bin in the center console and map pockets in each door. An optional third-row seat is new this year, giving the M-Class the ability to carry up to seven passengers. Also new is a standard navigation system consisting of a video screen in the dash linked to the stereo system in which a map CD can be used. Softer materials on the dash and door panel surfaces are another new feature for 2000. Folding the seats is a multi-step job, but it's easy and opens up a sizable amount of space. Standard features include climate control, power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, a HomeLink system, heated/power front seats, keyless entry, auto-dimming mirrors, variable-speed wipers and leather upholstery.
ON THE ROAD - There are three different powertrains available in the M-Class. The first is a 3.2 liter V6 that powers the ML320. The ML55 AMG uses a 342-horse, 5.5 liter V8 while the ML430 we tested came with a 4.3 liter V8. Each uses a single overhead camshaft, which Mercedes says is more efficient and economical than other designs, and three valves per cylinder. New this year is a program that gives buyers of 2000 model year M-Class SUVs free routine maintenance for the first four years or 50,000 miles. The 4.3 liter V8 in the ML430 develops 268 horsepower and 288 lb-ft of torque. Power is more than adequate, though its acceleration is not lightning-quick. Rather, power comes on smoothly and deliberately, with a sweet V8 exhaust note emanating from the tail pipe. Mated to this is a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel drive. This system is unique in that it uses three open differentials to deliver power evenly throughout the system. It also has a button-controlled low range.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - The M-Class rides on a full frame chassis and its four-wheel independent multi-link suspension is almost unique in the SUV world. Handling would be above-average for any vehicle, let alone an SUV with a high center of gravity. Mercedes' own Electronic Stability Program (ESP), is a computer-controlled safety system designed to work in conjunction with the vehicle's anti-lock braking system (ABS) to help reduce the risk of oversteering (the tail end begins to slide sideways), or understeering (the front wheels "plow" ahead in corners). Its power rack-and-pinion steering system is responsive and gives plenty of road feel. Our ML430 carried enlarged four-wheel disc brakes that utilize vented rotors on all corners. The brakes are larger than those on the V6-powered ML320 to better compensate for the potential higher speed.
SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, side-impact airbags, ABS, ESP and emergency seat belt retractors are standard.
OPTIONS - M3 convenience package: $495; Bose-brand stereo: $1,050.