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While Mercedes-Benz will always be a quintessentially German automaker, its M-Class SUV has always been an American at heart. To begin with, it's built in Alabama and has been since it first burst onto the scene as one of the first luxury SUVs. The U.S. of A is also the M's primary market, as its sizable dimensions and mostly thirsty engines play much better in Frankfort, Kentucky, than they do back in Frankfurt, Germany.
Regardless of its origins, however, each generation of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class has been better than the last. This is especially true of the second generation, which replaced the original model that soldiered on through eight years of subpar reliability and build quality. As such, used shoppers are urged to consider the M-Class from 2006 and later. If you're interested in a newer model, however, the latest, third-generation M-Class is a subtle evolution of the previous one, upping the ante with even more power and features.
Although it's undeniably a solid choice for a midsize luxury SUV, there are many worthwhile and less expensive competitors in the premium SUV segment. As such, it's certainly worth a look around before you settle on this Germanic American.
Current Mercedes-Benz M-Class
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class midsize luxury SUV's exterior styling strikes a balance between traditional M-Class cues and the latest ones from the Mercedes-Benz line. As always with a Mercedes, however, it's the quality of construction and all-around feeling of solidity that make it stand out. Other key strengths include its diverse engine lineup, comfortable seating and excellent brakes. With only five seats, however, it's less family-friendly than some rivals that offer third-row seating, and its price can be considered quite expensive.
The current M-Class is available in four different trim levels defined by their engine: ML250 Bluetec, ML350, ML400 and ML63 AMG. All come with a seven-speed automatic and all-wheel drive ("4Matic") except for the ML350, which can be had with either rear- or all-wheel drive.
Under the hood, the ML250 Bluetec has a turbocharged 2.1-liter four-cylinder diesel with 200 horsepower and a healthy 369 pound-feet of torque. The ML350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 302 hp and 273 lb-ft. The ML400 features a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that produces 329 hp and 354 lb-ft.
A beast apart from the rest of the lineup is the powerhouse ML63 AMG that boasts a turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 with 518 hp and 516 lb-ft. Output is even greater -- at 550 hp and 560 lb-ft ? if you opt for the AMG Performance package. The ML63 AMG also includes active roll stabilization, sportier suspension and steering tuning, 20-inch wheels, stronger brakes and special interior trim.
All M-Class models come similarly equipped with standard items like a sunroof, a power liftgate, heated power front seats, the latest COMAND electronics interface, Bluetooth and an emergency communications system. Optional highlights include a panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition and entry and "multicontour" front seats with massage functions. The On/Off Road package is notable for its adaptive air suspension (that improves both ride and handling qualities) as well as its two-speed transfer case, six-mode terrain selector and underbody skid plates.
In reviews, we've been impressed by the Mercedes-Benz M-Class' brisk performance and strong brakes. Handling is confident enough around corners, but the electrically assisted steering is a little too light in effort and lacks the subtle feedback we've come to expect from Mercedes-Benz. Interior quality is excellent, as expected, though the more rounded dash design reminds us more of the distantly related Jeep Grand Cherokee in its appearance than its squared-off Mercedes siblings. Overall, the M-Class is solid choice for a luxury SUV, but as there's so much to choose from in this segment, taking a look at a few different competitors as well is a good idea.
Used Mercedes-Benz M-Class Models
The current third-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class debuted for 2012. The following year brought the optional On/Off Road package (replacing the Dynamic Handling package) as well as the massage functions for the front seats.
Note that these M-Class models differed from today's lineup in terms of a few engine offerings. Specifically, compared to the current ML250 Bluetec, the 2012-'14 ML350 Bluetec had a more powerful but less fuel-efficient turbodiesel V6 with 240 hp and 455 lb-ft. Also available those first three years was the ML550 with its 4.7-liter turbocharged V8 good for 402 hp and 443 lb-ft.
The previous, second-generation M-Class was produced from 2006-'11. Though similar in appearance to the current model, this M-Class differs in its engine choices, hydraulic versus electric steering, slightly lower-quality interior, and electronics controls that were less user-friendly than those of its contemporary competitors.
This generation was introduced with only two trims. The ML350 came with a 3.5-liter 268-hp V6, while the ML500 was powered by a 5.0-liter 302-hp V8. Both came similarly equipped.
The next year saw two additional models join the line. The ML320 CDI featured a relatively fuel-efficient diesel engine (215 hp, 398 lb-ft of torque) that didn't have California emissions approval, while the performance-oriented ML63 AMG came with a 6.2-liter V8 good for 503 hp. It also included a number of other performance and handling upgrades.
The ML550 replaced the ML500 for '08, boasting a 5.5-liter V8 good for a much healthier 382 hp. The following year saw the advent of the 50-state-compliant and renamed ML320 Bluetec, along with a base rear-wheel-drive ML350. Every ML also received a face-lift front and rear and an available updated COMAND system with Bluetooth phone connectivity.
For '10, the diesel model became the ML350 Bluetec and received a smidge more torque, but the bigger news was the addition of the ML450 Hybrid. Featuring a gasoline-electric hybrid system co-developed with BMW and General Motors, this ML featured a 3.5-liter V6, a pair of electric motors and an advanced transmission for a total of 335 hp. It achieved 22 mpg combined, which is good, but the cheaper Bluetec managed 21.
In reviews, our editors found the second-generation M-Class imparted that feeling of impenetrable solidity one expects from Mercedes-Benz. With the optional air suspension, the ride quality was impressively supple. Behind the wheel, one will find plenty of room and excellent support from the premium multicontour seats, as well as superb cabin materials. Major downsides included fussy electronic controls, pokey acceleration with the V6 engine, and higher ownership costs than some other luxury SUVs.
The first-generation Mercedes M-Class debuted in 1998 with the ML320, which was motivated by a 3.2-liter V6 with 215 hp. More standard equipment was added in 1999, as well as a more powerful and luxurious V8-equipped ML430 model. Detail improvements in 2000 included an interior freshening and optional third-row seating on all M-Class models, and in 2001 the TeleAid emergency calling system became standard across the lineup. These early ML models suffered from extensive quality-control issues that often resulted in expensive repair bills, so we wouldn't recommend them as used-car purchases.
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class was reworked and improved in 2002 with the modification of more than 1,100 parts and the substitution of the ML500 for the previous ML430, now featuring a 5.0-liter V8 packing 288 hp. Telltale signs included new bumpers, clear-lens headlights and restyled mirrors. In late 2003, the ML350 replaced the ML320, featuring a larger 3.5-liter 232-hp V6.
Mercedes was also first to market with a high-performance luxury SUV, offering the ML55 AMG from 2000-'03. Sold in limited numbers, this pricey ML had a 5.4-liter V8 good for 342 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, along with a sport-tuned suspension.
If you are looking for newer years, visit our new Mercedes-Benz M-Class page.