By KBB.com Editors
The newest Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV is a far cry from the original model. Whereas the first M-Class featured body-on-frame construction, the new ML employs a unit-body design. This creates a stiffer chassis, which helps eliminate rattles and vibration as well as quiet the interior; the design also allows for a more sophisticated suspension, yielding better handling and a more civilized ride. Although it can seat five, the ML is most comfortable with four passengers. It offers a modest cargo bay of 29.4 cubic feet, which is more space than an Infiniti FX35, but less than offered by the Acura MDX. For 2007, the M-Class offers a diesel engine option, a feature unique to this class.You'll Like This Car If... You May Not Like This Car If...
If, like so many SUV buyers today, you'll settle for no fewer than three rows of seats, you'll have to look somewhere else. Mercedes-Benz decided to eliminate its awkward third-row seating in the new iteration of the M-Class.What's Significant About This Car?
Two new models join the lineup: the diesel-powered ML320 CDI and the performance oriented ML63 AMG.Driving It Driving Impressions
By having unibody construction instead of the ladder-frame platform of the previous M-Class, the second-generation M-Class transcends any comparison with its predecessor. Highway ride is as smooth as you'd expect from any of the automaker's stately sedans, with the added benefit of being able to negotiate large rocks (or parking blocks) with exceptional composure. It's this silkiness that makes the SUV's confidence-inspiring cornering ability just that much more impressive. While in a price-is-no-object world we would prefer the V8-powered ML500, the six-cylinder ML350 is also satisfying.Favorite Features
A long list of safety equipment includes traction and stability control, multiple airbags, active headrests and Mercedes' Pre-Safe system that tightens seatbelts and closes windows when it senses an impending collision.
An optional air suspension allows for an extra three inches of ground clearance, while an active damping system lets you choose between Auto, Comfort and Sport settings, to best suit the road ahead.
Some of the first interior details you may notice are the large, circular air vents dominating the dash, and the padded rails at the bottom of the center console that are more of an off-road touch than we expected from the more street-friendly M-Class. What you'll be forced to notice before moving the car an inch, however, is the dainty transmission selector stalk on the steering column. It removes the shifter from the center console and its operation, though not conventional, is easy to get used to. The seats are as comfortable as you'd expect, and the bigger cabin delivers plenty of room for five adults. But even though this new model is a full six inches longer than the last, a third-row seat option is no more.Exterior
Fresh from its complete makeover last year, the new ML is both sleeker and more muscular than the soft shoebox design it replaces. The four inches added between the front and rear wheels and three inches added in overall width deliver increased passenger room and a smoother highway ride.Notable Standard Equipment
The base ML350 features a 3.5-liter V6, seven-speed automatic transmission, permanent all-wheel drive, automatic climate control, AM/FM/CD stereo, cruise control, automatic headlamps, heated and auto-dimming exterior mirrors, multifunction steering wheel, outside temperature display, power windows/locks/mirrors and a four-way adjustable steering column. Standard safety equipment includes an array of passive and active safety technologies, including front, front-side and front and second-row side-curtain airbags.Notable Optional Equipment
In addition to a 5.0-liter V8 engine, the ML500 adds wood trim, multi-zone automatic climate control and bigger wheels. Additional options for all ML models include an active-damping air suspension, DVD navigation, keyless entry and start, power liftgate, active bi-xenon headlights, Parktronic park assist, heated steering wheel and rear seats, rear-seat entertainment system, harman/kardon premium six-disc audio system and a power sunroof.Under the Hood
With an impressive V6 good for 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, opting for the lower-priced, higher-mileage ML350 won't leave you feeling short-changed in the power department. For those who want the towing capability of a V8 with the fuel mileage of a frugal four-cylinder, the ML320 CDI diesel is an excellent choice. Die-hard speed freaks will no doubt drool over the ML63 AMG's 503 horsepower, but the price tag near $90,000 may render this hot-rod SUV little more than a pipe dream.
268 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
258 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2400-5000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/21
215 horsepower @ 3800 rpm
398 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1400-2800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: N/A
302 horsepower @ 5600 rpm
339 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2700-4750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 14/19
503 horsepower @ 6800 rpm
465 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 12/16
The ML350 has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $43,455, while the ML500 is $49,975, the ML320 CDI is $44,455 and the ML63 AMG elevates the asking price to $86,275. By comparison, the six-cylinder BMW X5 starts at $46,595 and the V8 at $55,195. If you can live without full-time all-wheel drive, a front-wheel-drive Lexus RX 350 starts at $38,115. Click on Fair Purchase Prices to compare prices consumers are actually paying for these vehicles in your area. As with most Mercedes-Benz products, the M-Class is expected to hold strong five-year residual values, higher than the Cadillac SRX and Volvo XC90, but not as high as the BMW X5 and Acura MDX.