1998 Mercedes-Benz ML320 (195)


Mercedes-Benz pits this ML320 against the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. At $33,950 it debuts in a market where the competition is sterile. For the quality freak, this is a no brainer. If you want or need an SUV run right out – now, don’t pass GO / don’t collect $200, and proceed to your Mercedes dealer and buy one.

Now for the boring details. This first year model comes standard with a V6 engine (V8 is available). It is a true off-road vehicle that combines full-time drive to all four wheels with four-wheel traction control and a dash mounted low range selector button. This unique setup eliminates the need for complicated differential locks and requires no driver intervention.

The M-Class production site in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is the first Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicle production facility in the United States. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the sport-utility vehicle (SUV) has become one of the most rapidly growing parts of the overall automobile market and there should be more growth to come. In particular, the premium segment defined, as SUVs priced more than $28,000, appear to be on the move. There is little doubt that \”Image\” has become an important buying consideration so the ML320 SUV should be at the top of anyone’s list. It is a hands down winner.

Mercedes waited to get into this market and it shows. M-Class does not require scheduled oil changes. A Flexible Service Indicator tells the driver when the next service is needed. On-board computers monitor traction and transmission programs for optimum mileage in all gears. It features independent front and rear suspension where many SUVs have only independent front suspension while some use \”solid\” axles front and rear. Four-wheel independent suspension gives this car the best handling, stability and ride comfort, both on and off-road, along with lower noise levels.

I didn’t try it, but Mercedes claims the cargo area exceeds the capability of the Ford Explorer and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. For example, with the seats down MBZ will hold 82 cases of soft drinks to 54 and 56 for Ford and Jeep respectively. For parents with babies, you can haul 37 cases of diapers in your MBZ to 34 and 27 for Ford and Jeep. And of course you can\’t forget dog lovers who can tote 25 large bags of dog food in this class act Mercedes to 19 and 20 bags for Ford and Jeep. Of all the competition listed here I would pop for the Benz and buy stock in Chrysler with the money left over for not buying the others.

The competition: (Arguably)

Ford Explorer $34,115, Infiniti QX4 $35,550, Isuzu Trooper $26,550, Jeep Grand Cherokee $38,275, Land Rover Discovery $38,000, Lincoln Navigator $42,960, Toyota Land Cruiser $45,950.

Good News:

Priced well. Luxury features, new & different styling, great ride and great safety features. Mercedes generally has a great rating on JD Powers problems per hundred cars and it’s a Mercedes.

Bad News:

Styling is a bit awkward for some tastes. Side and rear visibility weakness.

Standard Equipment:

3.2-liter SOHC V6 engine with 215 horsepower, full-time four-wheel-drive, a five-speed electronic automatic transmission, air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette, power windows, cruise control, tilt steering column and six-way manual front seats. 4-wheel electronic Traction System, 4-wheel independent suspension, double-wishbone design, 4-wheel Anti-Lock disc brakes, aluminum wheels, driver and passenger front airbags and door-mounted side airbags in front. Central locking system with 4-button remote control, panic feature, automatic anti-theft alarm, illuminated entry system, Dual heated power side-view mirrors, rear-window defroster, rear wiper, 4-way head restraints for driver and all passengers, cloth upholstery, seating for five; rear seats, power windows, cruise control, tilt steering

Gas Stats:

17 City and 21 Highway MPG.


MSRP is $ 33,950.

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