Full 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class Review
What's New for 2008
The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class sees additions to its standard and optional packages' features lists. Minimal visual changes include newly standard chrome accents (grille, door handles and exhaust tips) that spice up the looks of this year's ML. Last year's ML500 model has been replaced by the ML550 -- the number change signifies a new 5.5-liter V8. It provides 80 more horsepower than the ML500's V8. The ML350 "Edition 10" celebrates the 10th anniversary of the M-Class with special exterior and interior trim, as well as a few more luxury features.
With so many premium-badged luxury SUVs available now, it's easy to forget that just 10 years ago Mercedes-Benz was one of the first with its M-Class. The original, truck-based (body-on-frame) M-Class was a strong seller for the brand, despite a number of early build quality issues related to its new U.S.-based production. A few years ago the second-generation model debuted. Evidently realizing that about the same number of people who actually use their home fitness machines use their SUVs to go off-road, Mercedes gave the new ML (officially now referred to as the M-Class) a carlike unit-body architecture and a revised suspension design that brought a more on-road-biased personality to this premium sport-utility. In addition to improved handling and ride qualities, the second-generation ML received more aggressive styling, higher-quality cabin fitments and new engines.
The M-Class rolls into 2008 with mostly detail changes that include a celebration of its 10th birthday. Mercedes offers the widest array of power plants in the segment, from a fuel-stretching diesel in the ML320 CDI to a supercar-worthy 507-hp V8 in the ML63 AMG. There's also a new mainstream V8 this year. Found in the ML550 model, this latest-generation 5.5-liter V8 cranks out 382 hp -- 80 more than the 5.0-liter V8 found in last year's ML500. The rise in power hasn't come at the expense of fuel economy, either, with the ML500 and ML550 having very similar EPA estimates.
The new engine is welcome, but the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class faces some serious competition in the $50,000 luxury midsize SUV segment. It's not the only fresh-faced ute on the block, as the Acura MDX, Audi Q7 and BMW X5 were all- new or redesigned just last year, and the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg 2 have been heavily revised for 2008. The advantage of the M-Class is that it offers what most folks typically buy Mercedes-Benzes for: a vaultlike feeling of quality and luxury, visible prestige and state-of-the-art safety. What it doesn't offer is a third-row seat. But one can always consider its stablemate, the larger GL-Class, if the ability to carry up to seven passengers is a must.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is a midsize, five-passenger luxury SUV. Four trim levels are offered: ML350, ML320 CDI, ML550 and ML63 AMG. The ML350 and 320 CDI are identically equipped with 19-inch wheels, a sunroof, TeleAid, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, maple wood interior trim and a CD player with an auxiliary audio jack. To celebrate the ML's 10th birthday, there will be the ML350 Edition 10, which comes in either black or white and features split-spoke wheels, tinted headlight and taillight bezels, a two-tone leather interior with birch wood and aluminum accents, heated seats, a CD changer and the obligatory "Edition 10" floor mats and exterior badges.
To the regular ML350, the ML550 adds AMG-style bumpers and (19-inch) wheels, running boards and heated front seats. The ML63 AMG features special interior and exterior styling details, as well as a sport-tuned air suspension, 20-inch wheels, upgraded brakes, active headlights, corner-illuminating foglights and ultra-supportive sport seats.
For all but the ML63, there are many options, most grouped in expensive packages. Feature highlights include an adjustable air suspension, park assist, adaptive cruise control, adaptive xenon HID headlights, leather upholstery, a navigation system with a rearview camera, a rear-seat entertainment system and a Harman Kardon Logic7 surround-sound audio system with satellite radio. Upgraded front seats with driver memory, heated front and rear seats, tri-zone climate control, a sunroof and a power liftgate are also available.
Powertrains and Performance
A variety of engines are available for the 2008 M-Class. The ML320 CDI has a 3.0-liter turbodiesel rated at 215 hp and a stout 398 pound-feet of torque. Being a diesel, it provides better fuel mileage (rated at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway) and range (more than 600 miles) than a comparably sized gasoline engine. Note that due to stricter emissions standards, the ML320 is unavailable in California-level emission states. The ML350 has a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
Offering brisk performance, the ML550 boasts a 5.5-liter V8 that pumps out 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. Should that not be enough, there is the ML63 AMG with a 6.3-liter V8 making a stunning 503 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. That's enough to propel this SUV from zero to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds. All models are fitted with a seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Maximum tow capacity when properly equipped is 5,000 pounds.
Antilock disc brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, hill descent/ascent control and a full complement of airbags (front seat side and full-length side curtain) are all standard. In government crash tests, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class posted perfect five-star scores in both frontal- and side-impact testing. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the SUV a top score of "Good" for its protection of occupants in frontal-offset crashes.
Interior Design and Special Features
Generous fillets of bird's eye maple wood and brushed aluminum trim lend the cabin a warm, upscale ambiance. Large front cupholders and adequate storage cubbies come in handy on road trips. Passenger room is especially impressive, as the ML affords rear-seat passengers more than 39 inches of legroom -- nearly 6 inches greater than the RX 350 offers. Folding down the rear seat provides a maximum 72 cubic feet of cargo room, which is on the small side for the segment.
Although the 2008 Mercedes ML's steering is precise, it doesn't offer much feedback and feels a little dead in the center. The brakes, however, offer a sure-footed pedal and stop this SUV quickly. Despite some body roll, the near 5,000-pound, all-wheel-drive ML is a predictable and stable handler. It offers a confident feel during inclement weather as well as when negotiating twisty mountain roads on the way to the hiking or mountain biking trailhead.