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Mercedes ML 320 Sport Ute for 1998: Picks Up Where the Big 3 Compact SUVs Left Off with a Clean Sheet of Paper

27 August 1997

Mercedes Benz, a car company never known for rushing in where fools fear to tread bided their time a few years before letting extensive product and consumer research convince them that the world...yes, the world, was ready for a snazzy, attractively priced SUV that had a whole bunch of features not to be found on competing models from the Big 3 auto makers. So they took a clean piece of paper and designed a relatively high tech, people friendly vehicle and also built a brand new plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala to assemble the unit. For 1998 only 60,000 will be assembled with 30,000 allocated to their 300 U.S. Dealers. The dealer in Newport Beach, Ca. has 300 orders and the vehicle hasn't hit the showrooms yet. What's the attraction ? 1.2 HP per cubic inch for its 3.2 liter V6 twin spark plug motor that sports four valves per cylinder. It will do )-60 in 9.0 seconds which is not bad for a 4200 lb car/truck.

It has full time 4WD, electronic traction control, 4 wheel independent suspension.

It's the only SUV in its category with seat belt tensioners, side impact airbags and crumple zone construction. It sports a larger cargo area than a Ford Explorer plus wider/bigger doors.

The EPA is 17 and 21 and the driving atmosphere is decidedly MB sedan-like. In the cockpit their is no doubt that you are in a well equipped German luxury car however you are sitting higher and are going to enjoy every safety feature imaginable such as 3 point harness, dual air bags, side airbags, and adjustable head restraints.

Also a first in interior design are the adjustable second row of three seats that when pulled completely forward allow the seats to fold flat/flat and give you a large useable cargo area.

Driving the ML 320 with its five speed automatic is kick because it handles so sports-car-like on its big 255/65R16 mud and snow tires. You quickly get the impression that this baby will take you anywhere...and in comfort.

What else can you say about a vehicle that was designed around other/similar vehicles that has traction control that allows you to power out of a sloppy situation with only ONE wheel getting a bite.

At $33,900 it's a lot of automobile/truck and the only options are a sunroof package, interior trim package , Bose sound package and a package with "privacy glass." Tinted to the uninitiated.

90 degree 3.2 liter  V6
Bore     89.9mm
Stroke  84mm
Disp     3199cc     
Valvetrain  single chain driven overhead cam
Drivetrain       5-speed electronic  automatic transmission
Steering    power assisted rack/pinion
Brakes   four-wheel disc with ABS
Wheelbase    111 in
Length  180.6 in
Width    72.2 in
Height    69.9 in
Towing capacity       5000 lb
Fuel capacity   19 gals

Top speed     112 mph   electronically limited
Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel