While Mercedes-Benz will always be a quintessentially German automaker, its M-Class SUV is an American at heart. Built in Alabama and aimed at the American market, the ML was one of the first luxury SUVs. Its sizable dimensions and thirsty engines played better in Frankfort, Kentucky, than they did 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 2006-'11 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 2012-2015 third-generation M-Class is a subtle evolution of the previous one, upping the ante with even more power and features. In 2016, the M-Class was renamed the GLE-Class, following Mercedes' new naming scheme for its SUVs.
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.
Used Mercedes-Benz M-Class Models
The third-generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class debuted for 2012 and remained in production until 2015. The exterior styling of the third-gen M-Class struck a balance between traditional M-Class cues and those of other Mercedes vehicles. As always with a Mercedes, it was the quality of construction and all-around feeling of solidity that made it stand out. Other key strengths include a diverse engine lineup, comfortable seating and excellent brakes. With only five seats, however, it was less family-friendly than some rivals that offer third-row seating.
Initially, the third-gen M was offered in four models: V6-powered ML350, diesel-powered ML350 Bluetec, V8-powered ML550 and hot-rod ML63 AMG. All came with a seven-speed automatic and (initially) 4Matic all-wheel drive; a rear-drive version of the ML350 was added in 2013.
ML350 models had a 3.5-liter gasoline-fueled V6 that produced 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, while the ML350 Bluetec got a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V8 that produced 240 hp and a mighty 455 lb-ft of torque. The ML550 was powered by a 402 hp/443 lb-ft twin-turbo V8, while the ML 63 AMG featured a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 good for 518 hp and 516 lb-ft, which could be bumped up to 550 hp and 560 lb-ft with an optional performance package. The AMG model was further enhanced with active roll stabilization, sportier suspension and steering tuning, 20-inch wheels, stronger brakes and special interior trim.
There were two engine (and model name) changes for 2015: The diesel option was changed to a 2.1-liter four-cylinder rated at 200 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque; the corresponding model was named ML250 Bluetec. The ML550 was replaced by the ML400, which had a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that developed 329 hp and 354 lb-ft. The ML350 and ML63 AMG retained their existing engines, but all four engines received a fuel-saving auto-stop feature. Other than the engine swaps, changes over the model run were modest: 2013 saw improved electronics, new safety features, massaging front seats and an off-road package. For 2014, the ML350 could be had with the same AMG styling cues as the ML550.
All third-generation M-Class models came 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 included a panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition and entry and, in later models, "multicontour" front seats with massage functions. The 2013-and-later 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 were 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.
The second-generation M-Class was produced from 2006 to 2011. 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.
In 2007, two additional models joined 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 technology interface 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 mpg.
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. It featured 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 to 2003. 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.