What's New for 1998
Mercedes enters the sport-ute fray with the introduction of the ML320. Designed from a clean sheet of paper, the ML320 offers the best of the car and truck worlds.
Despite increased sales during the last few years, the good people at Mercedes recognized a gaping hole that had existed in their lineup since 1993. That was the last year that Mercedes offered any sort of AWD vehicle, and the cancellation of their 4Matic sedans and wagons for the 1994 model year left them rather vulnerable to attacks from Audi, Subaru and Volvo. Recognizing this weakness, Mercedes introduced AWD availability to the E-Class of sedans and wagons, and has gone one step further than the competition by developing a true sport-utility vehicle.
Unlike other luxury off-roaders, the ML320 is neither derived from an existing SUV, like the re-designed Lincoln Navigator, nor built on a hybrid car platform, like the Lexus RX300. Instead, the ML320 was designed from the ground up as a unique Mercedes, capable of taking people off road or through poor weather without sacrificing the luxury, safety or performance that Mercedes' clientele have come to expect.
This means that the ML320 combines many technologies that have heretofore been exclusively car or exclusively truck. Mercedes, for example, has decided to use a separate frame for this vehicle. Boxed at both ends, this frame gives the ML320 the sort of torsional rigidity that is necessary for serious off-road maneuvers. To this truck-tough frame, Mercedes has attached a four-wheel independent double-wishbone suspension, the first ever application of double-wishbone suspension technology at all four wheels of a truck. The result is a fantastic on-road ride that enables this tall vehicle to hustle through the slalom at the same impressive speed as the E320 sedan.
The ML320 has all of the touches that we expect of a car that carries the three-pointed star on its hood. Interior materials, except for the plastic on the dashboard, are first rate, the chairs are comfortable for all-day driving, there are multiple cupholders for front and rear passengers, the stereo sounds great and the secondary controls are thankfully devoid of the confusing pictographs that have adorned many of M-B's previous efforts.
Mercedes has priced the ML320 aggressively, making it, in fact, the second cheapest vehicle in their entire lineup. Compared to trucks like the Ford Explorer Limited and Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, the ML320 is easily the superior vehicle in all but the most demanding of off-road challenges. On-road, these American contenders can't touch this Teutonic trailblazer. If your vehicle purchase is leading you to the four-wheel drive neck of the woods, not looking at the Mercedes-Benz ML320 is the biggest mistake you could make.