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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - M-class - ML500 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Cracking acceleration, engine smoothness, high levels of refinement
Room for improvement
Price premium over the ML320 diesel, hefty fuel consumption, still handles and rides like an SUV

Mercedes-Benz logo1 Nov 2007

By JAMES STANFORD

LET'S get this out of the way. Putting a large petrol V8 in a big SUV doesn’t make sense.

At a time when many people are doing things like buying different light globes to reduce emissions, a 5.5-litre V8 petrol engine is not the obvious choice for a large crossover wagon even if it slightly more efficient than the previous version.

A brilliant diesel engine, like that in the ML320, provides nearly as much torque and uses considerably less fuel. Heavy vehicles like the ML and its luxury SUV competitors are never going to be green, but they make less of an impact with a diesel engine.

Of course, Australia is a free society and motorists can buy what ever they want to drive.

About 25 per cent of ML customers are expected to exercise their right to choose the V8 ML.

They are likely to be drawn by its smoothness, its subtle but still noticeable V8 engine note and the way it happily revs out.

Those who are interested in the ML500 are likely to be impressed, as this engine is a great powerplant.

It is not new to Mercedes models, but is still one of the nicest V8 engines around.

Possessing enormous reserves of torque, the four-valve per cylinder V8 revs smoothly and slings the big ML forward with such force that you can forget it weighs 2185kg.

The very fact that the ML500 can blast from 0-100km/h in just 5.8 seconds is an impressive engineering achievement when you consider the vehicle’s weight.

It may use less fuel that its predecessor, but the new ML500 does like a drink when you are punting along and consumption easily rises to the mid-teens.

There is also a pleasant undertone of V8 exhaust note when accelerating, but not enough to destroy the serenity of the cabin.

The Mercedes seven-speed automatic is a very good transmission. Calibrated well, this auto is perfectly suited to the engine, making use of its strength.

It doesn’t have to change down very often to maintain progress and when it does shift, it does so quickly and smoothly. Cruising at 100km/h, the engine lopes along at around 2000rpm.

The air suspension can be left in regular mode, or flicked into sport or comfort modes.

None provide a great level of ride quality on the roads driven at the national launch near Albury this week.

The ride was not terrible, and was not as harsh as its BMW rival, but the big ML just never seemed happy running over the country roads.

In all modes it seemed to cope with the big bumps and rises, but was caught out by the small ruts or lumps that caused the car to wiggle and jiggle.

Perhaps the fact that ML500 has relatively large wheels, 19-inches, and lower profile tyres may contribute to this condition.

It is more comfortable than some sportier luxury SUVs, but is not so well tied down. This means there is a bit more body roll, pitching and diving compared to those vehicles.

Even so, this is by far better than the first-generation ML that wallowed like a ship in rough seas.

The interior of the ML500 is a strong point. Its standard leather seats are comfortable and look good, while the woodgrain trim elements also match the pricetag.

The Luxury pack 1 trim, which is standard, looks good, but that’s not necessarily the case with the sporty Luxury pack 2 which can also be optioned at no extra cost.

The second option, apart from Alcantara/synthetic sports seats, includes aluminium-look instrument panel backing and interior door strips as well as aluminium-look drilled pedals (with rubber stops for grip).

Drilled pedals look out of place. After all, drilled aluminum pedals were developed for super-light race cars in order to save a few more grams, not big, bulky wagons.

Luckily, this pack is a no-cost option rather than standard equipment.

That brings us back to the question of choice.

The ML500 will no doubt please those who want a Mercedes SUV with the punch and refinement of a big V8 engine.

But they do pay a hefty premium for the privilege, apart from the extra fuel, with the ML500 costing $29,000 more than the ML320 diesel.

Even considering the extra gear that comes with the ML500, that is quite a jump.

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