What's New for 2000
Mercedes goes overboard on power and performance with the new ML55 AMG. Correct us if we're wrong, but weren't SUVs originally designed for rugged off-road travel?
OK, our national SUV infatuation has officially reached the point of worldwide ridicule with the new Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG. Do we really need a 342-horsepower sport-utility that rides on 50-series 18-inch tires, goes from zero to 60 in 6.4 seconds and reaches a top speed estimated around 145 mph? Furthermore, should we pay 65 large for the privilege of driving a box on wheels that performs little better than a used Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 5.9 at a third of the price? Evidently, the bean counters in Stuttgart told M-Class engineers and super-tuner AMG to go for it, and the result of their collaboration is what appears to be a lowered minivan on steroids with a chrome three-pointed star sitting front and center.
Most SUV buyers at least try to convince themselves they'll be going off-road sooner or later and will need the utility such a vehicle provides. Not ML55 AMG buyers. Wanna bump along two-track trails in luxury? Get a Lexus LX 470. This puppy's made for twisting roads and moving five people in comfort and luxury. Still, it has four-wheel drive and 8.4 inches of ground clearance, so if necessary, it could perform the same tasks as a standard M-Class. But enough of our griping about the disparity between intent of design and reality of use. What's this AMG-tuned, Alabama-built super 'ute made of?
The ML55 AMG is infused with all the power and technologies that Mercedes-Benz could ladle on and still keep the price feasible. Unique styling cues like a power-domed hood, red brake calipers, chrome-accented grille and muscular five-spoke wheels communicate the proper "don't mess with me" attitude to onlookers. Traction control, stability control and ABS with BrakeAssist keep the top-heavy SUV under your command rather than Fate's.
Sport seats, burled walnut wood trim and supple charcoal leather beckon from the interior. A standard Cockpit Management and Data (COMAND) center does not. COMAND controls the navigation, audio, integrated telephone and trip-computer systems, and there's a steep learning curve. Even if you do master the functions, commanding them while driving is not recommended.
Chrome rings around white-faced gauges and AMG embroidered floor mats are an exclusive touch, but ML55 AMG shares other accoutrements with the lower-line ML320 and 430 models. Side airbags are standard in front and rear doors, and a BabySmart child seat-recognition system detects the presence of a dealer-supplied safety seat in the right front passenger position and deactivates the airbag. But you don't need to place the kids up front in the ML55 AMG, because the backseat is quite commodious. Missing from the standard equipment list is TeleAid, a trick emergency cellular service that most other Benz models have for 2000.
Mercedes will likely find more buyers than they need for the limited-production run of ML55 AMGs. Good for them. Let the fleecing of wealthy Americans begin! And while you're at the dealership, tell them to start thinking about an E55 AMG Wagon for the rest of us.