Mercedes-Benz ML320 (1998)
We admit to being just a little bit disappointed with the new Mercedes ML320. This probably would not have been the case, had there not been quiteso much hype about this particular sport utility. From all the hype, weexpected a vehicle that was going to be absolutely magical; a truck thatactually drives like a Mercedes sedan. Well, we were disappointed todiscover that it drives like, what? A truck. A very, very nice truck--don't get us wrong. But a truck nonetheless.
There was no revelatory moment where we crossed the time/ space/car/truckboundary and were transported into a better world. What Mercedes has doneis put together a very nice sport utility vehicle that instantly jumpsahead of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer in the high end of theSUV market.
Unfortunately, we didn't think for a minute that we were driving a Mercedessedan... we felt like we were driving a Nissan Pathfinder or any other goodquality sport ute. Granted, if we had immediately driven a Pathfinder or aCherokee, we would have noticed a difference. But, the ML320 is no MercedesSedan, at least when it comes to the ride.
The ML320 handled well, and it was comfortable over long distances. Theengine and transmission were flawless, as one might expect from MB. And, incase you hadn't noticed, this is one wide vehicle. As Raymond canpersonally attest (along with Father Giovani-- our apologies, Signor!), youdefinitely need to watch out for those side mirrors!
As with all our test vehicles, we did our obligatory time in the back seat.Ray, his son and wife attempted to ascertain just how commodious it wasback there. As it turns out, the backseat is really quite comfortable. Itseats three across very nicely, and you'd be hard pressed to do that inmost other sport utilities. Incidently, Mercedes is planning to offer anoption for a third, rear seat-- but we have no idea how they're going tosqueeze anyone back there. You'd have to be Danny DeVito or Tara Lipinskito sit comfortably in the cargo compartment.
The ML320 is also reputed to be very good in real, off-road conditions. (Asif 99% of the people who buy it actually care!)
One thing's for sure: we felt extraordinarily safe in the ML320. After all,this is a Mercedes, and its got all their usual safety features, includingside air bags, crumple zones, and all the other goodies that help keep youalive to make the next car payment.
What's the downside to this being a Mercedes? Put it this way: when thewarranty period is over, and you need to pay for repairs, you'd better haveseveral credit cards handy-- and each of them should have its own fivedigit line of credit.
Surprisingly, there were a few things that didn't work well-- or didn'twork at all. For example, the rear windshield wiper broke the first time weused it. Ray had to jump out, run to the back, and clobber the livingdaylights out of it to get it to move away from the middle of the window.From that point on, the ill fated rear wiper worked-- but only on the washcycle.
For the price, we would probably buy an ML320 over any of the currentcompetitors. Remember: it's still a Mercedes, and to be getting a Mercedessport utility in the high thirty-thousand dollar range is a pretty darn gooddeal-- especially when the fully dressed up Grand Cherokees and Eddie BauerExplorers are in the low to mid thirties. We're a little suspicious thatMercedes is trying to accomplish the same feat that Lexus and Infinitipulled off ten years ago ago. They introduced incredible new cars atextremely competitive prices. (The Lexus LS400 and Infiniti Q45 both soldfor $35,000 when they first came out.) Word got around that these carswere great deals, and it took people several years to catch on that theprices had snuck up to $55,000-- and they weren't such good deals anymore.So, keep an eye on the price.
But bottom line? If you can live with the snob factor associated withowning a Mercedes, go buy yourself an ML320 now-- while the price is stilldecent!
View cars.com model report on this vehicle.