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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 traditionally 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 new 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. It's a solid choice for a midsize luxury SUV, but there are many worthwhile and cheaper 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 has been completely redesigned for 2012. The 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 in a crowd. 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 and its price can be considered quite expensive.
The current M-Class is available in four different trim levels. The ML350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 302 horsepower. The ML350 Bluetec has a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 that utilizes 50-state-legal clean-diesel technology. It produces 240 hp and a massive 455 lb-ft of torque, while returning a commendable 22 mpg combined. The ML550 comes with a twin-turbo 4.7-liter V8 good for 402 hp. A seven-speed automatic and 4Matic are standard on all.
All of the above 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. The options list is filled with just about everything else you could expect from a midsize luxury SUV, though its Dynamic Handling package stands out with its 20-inch wheels and adaptive air suspension that improves both ride and handling.
Finally, there's the ML63 AMG. It gets a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 good for 518 hp, or 550 when you opt for the AMG Performance package. Besides its extra power, it also gets active roll stabilization, sportier suspension and steering tuning, 20-inch wheels, stronger brakes and special interior trim.
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 very good, 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 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 slotted in above the ML320, featuring a larger 3.7-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.