Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - M-class - ML320 Luxury 5-dr wagon
Keen pricing, car-like performance and handling
Room for improvement
Lack of off-road ground clearance, fit and finish below usual Benz standards
17 May 2001
IN contrast to the utilitarian, yet expensive, G-wagens sold in Australia during the 1980s, the Mercedes-Benz off-roader is stylish, well-equipped and competitively priced.
Despite weighing a hefty 2010kg, the ML320 has brisk response and respectable off-the-line performance, thanks to the smooth 3.2- litre V6 engine.
The electronic five-speed automatic slurs between gears almost imperceptibly and provides a good spread of ratios.
On tarmac, power is distributed to the front and rear wheels in a 48/52 split which, complemented by the ESP stability control program, makes for surprisingly sure-footed handling.
The electronic two-speed transfer case enables selection of low range simply by selecting neutral and pushing a button on the dashboard.
Mercedes says the vehicle is capable of one of the lowest crawl speeds in its class, which simplifies the task of tackling steep terrain.
A drive program through Canberra's Stromlo Forest showed the ML320 was easily capable of going up and down slopes of up to 30 degrees.
The 4-ETS traction control system apportions torque to the wheel or wheels with the most grip. This makes getting bogged improbable, even when traversing deeply rutted tracks.
Perhaps what impressed most was the ride quality with the all- independent double-wishbone suspension, a rarity in genuine off- road vehicles, soaking up a wide range of surface irregularities. The well weighted rack and pinion steering also relays little kickback to the hands of the driver.
The interior features the familiar Mercedes-Benz dials and switchgear but, thankfully, the usual large, hard-rimmed steering wheel is replaced by a smaller, softer item.
Its long wheelbase means there is ample head and leg room for five passengers and 1060 litres of cargo capacity, or up to 2020 litres with the second-row seats folded down.
Overall build quality was good but not quite up to the usual Mercedes-Benz standard. A couple of rattles were evident in the test vehicle and the doors closed with a tinny "clang" rather than a solid "thunk".
But as a genuine all-rounder that can confidently head bush in convoy with Range Rovers, LandCruisers and Patrols while also displaying capable on-road behaviour, the Mercedes-Benz M-class has no peers.
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