By KBB.com Editors
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV is a far cry from the original model. Whereas the first M-Class featured body-on-frame construction, the newest ML employs a unit-body design. This creates a stiffer chassis, which helps eliminate rattles and vibration as well as quiets 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. The M-Class' BlueTEC diesel engine option is unique in this class, and Mercedes-Benz promises the engine will meet all 50 state's stringent emissions standards.You'll Like This Car If...
If you're seriously shopping in the upscale SUV category and are drawn to the Lexus RX 350 and/or the BMW X5, you may very well find your new home away from home behind the wheel of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class.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 elsewhere. Mercedes-Benz does, however, offer a third-row seat in its slightly larger and pricer GL-Class SUV.What's New for 2009
The M-Class receives some modest interior and exterior upgrades including a revised grille and headlamp treatment, four-way power-lumbar support for the driver and a new audio head unit. The PRE-SAFE preventative occupant protection system is made standard, as are newly designed 19- and 20-inch wheels.Driving It Driving Impressions
By having unibody construction instead of a ladder-frame platform the 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class transcends any comparison with the first generation M-Class. The 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 ML550, the torque-happy ML320 BlueTEC is equally satisfying.Favorite Features
A long list of safety equipment includes traction and stability control, multiple airbags, active headrests and Mercedes-Benz's 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 2009 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, with a new four-way power adjustable lumbar support for the driver and a new four-spoke steering wheel with gearshift paddles. The roomy M-Class cabin delivers plenty of room for five adults, but only average cargo space behind its second-row seat.Exterior
The sleek 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML is a sharp looking ride and is particularly menacing when clad in AMG trappings. Body additions from AMG impart a sporty look, and the big 20-inch wheel and tire package is downright aggressive. A new front end treatment sees a wider grille and larger headlamps, along with stainless steel skid plates and larger side mirrors. Though larger in every way than the original ML, the current model retains a comfortable size that is as easy to manage in traffic as in confined parking situations.Notable Standard Equipment
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML350 features a 3.5-liter V6, seven-speed automatic transmission, permanent all-wheel drive, automatic climate control, multimedia head unit with in-dash six-disc changer and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, cruise control, automatic headlamps, heated and auto-dimming exterior mirrors, multifunction steering wheel, outside temperature display, 19-inch wheels, power glass sunroof and a four-way adjustable steering column. Standard safety equipment includes the PRE-SAFE system as well as 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 its 5.5-liter V8 engine, the ML550 includes wood trim, the AMG trim package and other features. Additional options for all ML models are, for the most part, grouped into packages, but 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 and a harman/kardon premium six-disc audio system. For the lucky few, the ML63 AMG offers the ultimate in ML performance and luxury.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 BlueTEC 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: 15/20
3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel
210 horsepower @ 3800 rpm
398 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1600-2400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/24
382 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
391 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2800-4800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 13/18
503 horsepower @ 6800 rpm
465 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 11/15
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML350's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starts close to $46,000, while the diesel-powered ML320 is about $3,000 more. The ML550 starts around $55,000 and, when fully loaded, tops out around $80,000; some $10,000 less than the starting price of the 503-horsepower ML63 AMG. By comparison, the six-cylinder BMW X5 starts in the upper-$40,000 range and the V8 version in the mid-$50,000 range. If you can live without full-time all-wheel drive, a front-wheel-drive Lexus RX 350 starts below $40,000. 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.