2003 Mercedes Benz ML500 (453)

Overview:

This week I tested the 2003 Mercedes Benz ML500 Sport Utility. I didn’t have the occasion to play golf during the time I had the car, but I’ve got to tell you the snob appeal just went up a couple of points.

Now you can use the Mercedes Communications package (usually meant for emergencies), to make Tee Times on more than 300 golf courses through its Concierge Service. Well, excuuuuse meeeee. One-upsmanship, eh!

The M-Class Mercedes is available in the ML350, ML500 or the ML55 AMG trims. The modular engines are built entirely of aluminum, which seems to be a reemerging trend for many components using aluminum and other lightweight composites in the manufacture of many cars today.

The ride is stiff and much harder than I expected from a Mercedes. Naturally a softer ride is more comfortable but it also means that handling won’t be as good.

General Info:

Parts – n/a

Assembly – USA

Class: – Special Purpose / SUV

Cars: – C Class & Wagon, CL Class, CLK, E Class & Wagon, G Class, M, Class, S Class, SL                  Class & SLK.

Handling & Performance:

The all-wheel drive system is innovative in that it does not use locking differentials to maintain continuous traction. It uses the 4-ETS+ system already used in the make\’s other all-wheel drive vehicles: it includes an electronic system that uses the ABS sensors to control individual wheel rotation and that distributes power to the differential whose wheels have the most traction. For off-road driving, the ML is equipped with a dashboard button that activates a shorter axle ratio.

The height is almost 72 inches, as compared with 62 inches for the Audi, high and a wide 76 inches. Lexus chimes in at about 66 inches high. The Olds comes is the tallest at 74.5 inches but it is among the widest at 75.4 inches wide.

The high center of gravity gives this ML500 a feeling of cornering. I wasn’t happy with the jerky gas pedal and it was constantly annoying.

Styling:

My youthful years and early appreciation of the automobile began at a time when styles were pretty outlandish. Rear fender fins reached to the sky and bulges, scoops, fender skirts and way out anything you can imagine adorned the cars in the 1950’s and 1960’s. But that helped you distinguish one car make from the other. Today cars seem to blend into one another in a cookie cutter fashion with a few exceptions. Land Rover marches to a different drummer and continues to embrace the square box design.

Fit and Finish:

First class as is the case with all Mercedes products.

Conveniences:

Mercedes provides a third headrest for the rear seating area but the bad news is that it blocks the rear view for the driver.

Cost:

Pricing is at the upper end of the range for this class vehicle. SUV’s generally are high profit products. I have driven them all and if the name Mercedes is not a must for your family, the Olds Bravada and the Merc Mountaineer deliver a great option for less money.

Consumer Recommendation:

You’ll want to look closely at the competition because the price difference may not be justified outside of the badge of distinction.

The Competition:

Acura MDX $36-42,000, Audi Allroad Quattro $40-41,000, BMW X5 $39-67,000, Infiniti QX4 $35-36,000, Land Rover Discovery $34-40,000, Lexus RX 330 $35-36,000, Mercury Mountaineer $29-37,000, Oldsmobile Bravada $33-35,000.

Good News:

Powerful, good resale, high snob appeal.

Bad News:

Poor gas performance, narrow door openings, jerky gas pedal and rough ride.

Standard Equipment:

5.0 liter 288 horsepower V8 engine, 5-speed automatic trans, 4-wheel traction control with downhill system, climate control, leather with Burl Walnut Wood trim, power windows with express up and down control, leather heated front seats, cruise control, remote central locking, reading lights, 4 12 volt outlets, 5 folding cup holders, stereo with cassette, GPS navigation system with DVD, 220 lb roof rack, trip computer with compass, Tele Aid calling communications system, front and side air bags, front and rear side window bags, child seat anchors, 4-wheel abs disc brakes, front and rear fog lights, anti theft system.

Gas Stats:

14 City and 17 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $45,350.

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