2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class Review


Pros & Cons

  • Safe, comfortable, car-like ride and handling, excellent bad-weather vehicle.
  • Reputation for poor build quality, looks like a minivan, not particularly adept off-road.
List Price Estimate
$1,166 - $2,025

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Edmunds' Expert Review

In spite of this year's improvements geared toward off-road use, the M-Class is still better suited for safe and luxurious transport in foul weather than it is for trail bashing.

Vehicle overview

Since it's the M-Class' introduction, Mercedes has made constant improvements to it, upping the feature content and performance, improving its looks and addressing the build-quality issues that plagued early models.

The base ML320 is powered by a peppy 215-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 while the upscale ML430 offers an authoritative and advanced 4.3-liter V8 that makes 268 horsepower. The truly brutish AMG-designed ML55 manages 342 horsepower from its massaged 5.5-liter V8. All engines are mated to a driver-adaptive five-speed automatic with TouchShift control for manual shifting.

New this year is an expanded full-time four-wheel-drive system that offers 50/50 torque distribution through the M-Class' front and rear fully independent suspensions. A new downhill traction control system (no doubt inspired by BMW's Hill Descent Control available on that company's X5 SUV), which maintains a low vehicle speed when descending steep grades with loose footing, is accompanied by a new "two-foot" crawling mode that has the same effect as applying the brake while climbing a steep hill. This mode can be engaged when the M-Class is in low range and is traveling under 3 mph to maximize traction. Contributing to these new off-road maneuverability improvements, an active brake booster builds pressure assistance faster, allowing spinning wheels to be slowed with quicker response.

In addition to advanced drivetrain technology, safety features such as TeleAid, traction control, stability control, ABS, dual-stage "smart" airbags and 24-hour roadside assistance offer safety on par with Mercedes' best sedans. In fact, the M-Class is so crashworthy that the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety even rated it as the "Best Pick" in the SUV class in terms of occupant protection.

But don't buy this SUV just for safety reasons. The interior of the base ML320 features such niceties as leather and burl walnut trim, while the 430 model gets standard GPS navigation, 17-inch wheels and leather seats. A third-row seat can be had in either model, and a new sport package, with unique body cladding, integrated foglamps, a chrome exhaust tip and 17-inch alloy wheels, is available to curtail some of the ML's "minivan" look. If the sport package still isn't sporty enough, consider the ML55, which includes a powerful V8 engine, 18-inch wheels, a power dome hood and red brake calipers.

Blend these safety features with its solid performance on pavement and in the slippery stuff, along with the M's cavernous 80.2 cubic feet of maximum cargo space and long list of standard equipment, and the ingredients for a perfect luxury sport-ute are in place. But even with this year's drivetrain improvements, true off-road aficionados will want to shop elsewhere for wheels. The M-Class, despite its boxed frame and four-wheel drive, is much more suited to Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway than scurrying across the Continental Divide.

2001 Highlights

The TeleAid emergency calling system is now standard on every M-Class model, and smart dual-stage front airbags know when to deploy with partial force or full force. All models also feature expanded off-road capabilities with new downhill traction control and a new crawling mode for very slow and steep off-roading. Finally, a new M-Class sport package debuts this year.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Reliable family car
Bought it with 35,000 miles and I have just put 37,500 more miles in 4 years. It had brand-new tires and brake-pads when bought and it is just about time to replace them. I have spent about $500 a couple of time extra for repairs (not regular maintenance) and my only complaint would be that I have to keep an eye on the engine oil level. If I drive over 70 miles per hour on a hot day, it will surely burn oil. Other than that I am pleased with this SUV.
9 Month Update
This is my 2nd review of this car. I just bought a 24' boat and I'm using the ML320 to pull it. I'm extremely pleased with the towing capacity of this somewhat small SUV. It pulls a 4600lb boat with no problem and I live on a large hill. The low gear is a great feature that works well. We have had no issues with the vehicle and it has been fantastic. I drove it 2200 miles across country without an issue. I noticed the battery comment in a previous review. Be careful - Germans don't like maintenance free batteries so you need to check the water levels in your cells or it will die with no warning. I'm really impressed with the capabilities of this vehicle.
Thought it would be better
Great car until it hit 107,000. New power steering pump $1000. Next month emmission air pump $1400. Drove it 4 miles check engine light came on again. Must clean engine vents. Maybe cleaned externaly for $650. If that does not work - $2000+. m selling the car. Lots of little stuff goes wrong.
Performance and Style
I bought this car for 12K, it was a one owner. The engine performs great for an SUV. Handling is awesome for a "boxer" style car. Fun to drive plus very safe. I always feel I am in control while driving this auto. I did have to replace a Power steering pump ($625), but I expected to pay more for the service type work. I would strongly recommend this car.

Features & Specs

See all Used 2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class features & specs


IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Not Tested
  • Roof Strength Test
    Not Tested
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test

More about the 2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
More About This Model

Now in its fifth year, Mercedes' M-Class SUV faces significantly more competition than it did when it debuted. Back in 1998, all the ML320 had to worry about in the midsize luxury SUV category were the Infiniti QX4 and the Land Rover Discovery. But now, there are also the Lexus RX 300, Acura MDX and BMW X5 battling for country club supremacy.

Although the first M-Class effort was generally well-received, it did have some problems. Specifically, reliability was not up to Mercedes standards and some of the switchgear, such as the turn signal and wiper control stalks, felt as if they were sourced from a Cracker Jack box. But since then, Mercedes has improved the truck and introduced V8 versions, as well, in an effort to stay in the thick of the luxury-ute hunt.

Mercedes-Benz recently invited the automotive press to preview its 2002 lineup. The event took place in picturesque Durham, N.C., and one of the vehicles we spent some time with was the ML500.

The first V8 M-Class was the ML430, which debuted in 1999 packing a 4.3-liter three-valve-per-cylinder V8 that sent 268 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque to the wheels. The muscle-bound 342-horsepower ML55, massaged by in-house tuner AMG, was introduced a year later.

For 2002, the ML430 becomes the ML500 due to an increase in engine size from 4.3 liters to 5.0 liters (hence the 500 name). As expected, there is more power with the larger engine, 288 horses and 325 pound-feet. This considerable thrust, touted as the most in its class by Mercedes-Benz, is handled by a five-speed automatic gearbox with driver-adaptive technology and Touch Shift automanual control. The driver-adaptive feature adjusts the transmission's shifting to the driver's style, meaning an aggressive pilot will get higher rpm upshifts while a more laid-back driver will get earlier, more fuel-efficient upshifts. The Touch Shift feature allows manual-style shifting by bumping the lever to the left of the "D" position for downshifts and to the right of it for upshifts.

In addition to the upsized V8, the ML500 has subtle, but worthwhile changes in and out. Borrowing the chrome-highlighted grille from the ML55, the ML500 also sports revised front and rear bumpers and light clusters. It takes a sharp eye to spot the changes other than those grille bars, but look closely and you'll see that there are now clear-lens headlights, turn signals integrated in the side-view mirrors, and resculpted bumpers with fog lamps mounted up front. The ML320 incorporates the same updates less the chromed grille accents.

If that ain't stylin' enough for you, a Sport package adds a bit more pizzazz with fender flares, different bumpers with honeycomb inserts, a chrome exhaust tip and six-spoke 17-inch alloys that fill out the wheelwells with the help of 275/55R17 rubber.

Inside the cabin, a number of functional and aesthetic changes were made to bring this rig further upscale. New climate controls feature an automatic function (single zone) and vents for rear seat passengers. Also, the power windows were relocated next to the gear-shift quadrant.

In tribute to Americans who can't live without their Starbucks, the front cupholders were improved. When the Mercedes representative boasted that the cupholders could now handle a 7-Eleven Big Gulp, I would have been embarrassed for him and Mercedes, were it not for the fact that I could appreciate that huge engineering advance.

Once we were familiarized with the ML500, we hit the road. For a vehicle that tips the scales at nearly 5,000 pounds (4,874 to be exact), the ML500 felt lighter due to its strong performance. Boot the throttle, and the ML scurries forward, the blurring landscape accompanied by the V8's rising but still subdued growl. Mercedes claims that the ML500 will sprint to 60 mph in just 7.7 seconds, and the seat of my pants had no reason to dispute that. Speeding up to merge onto the freeway or to pass dawdling motorists is no sweat, as the ML possesses a healthy midrange punch, as well. Working in concert with the V8, the seamless automatic gearbox did such a good job tailoring its shift points to my (read: performance-oriented) driving style that the only time I touched the Touch Shift was when curiosity struck.

Taking the power to the street (or — horrors! — trail) is the ML500's all-wheel-drive system, which has the ability to automatically send the power to the wheels (or even a single wheel) with the best grip. Additionally, there is a low range and the electronic traction control has a feature that automatically (in low range) keeps the speed down on steep and/or slippery descents. We were unable to test the enhanced AWD system off-road, so four-wheeling impressions will have to wait until we do a full test on the ML500. Considering that most M-Classes will never set a tire off the blacktop, this was not a big concern.

On road, be it curvy two-lane or high-speed freeway, the ML500 acquits itself handsomely. As we maneuvered along some twisty blacktop, the Benz felt reassuringly composed and devoid of any tippy feeling that one would expect from a vehicle that looks like it would have a phone booth's center of gravity. Credit must go to the ML's four-wheel independent double wishbone suspension (with stabilizer bars fore and aft) that did a fine job keeping body roll in check. Feel from the wheel was mixed; it had decent weighting but could use some more feedback. A firm but comfortable ride should please the target market for the ML500 — folks who will primarily be using the vehicle for commuting, shopping and road trips.

Freeway performance is impressive. Running down the Interstate, the ML500's powerful V8 sent it effortlessly down the road at 75 mph or so, with plenty in reserve. Wind and road noise, two typical bugaboos of an SUV, were well muted in the Benz, as befitting a vehicle that is expected to function as a luxury car as well as an SUV. And when it came time to haul it down, the substantial brakes (with rotors measuring around 13.5 inches front and rear) were strong in action and easily controlled through a pedal with a firm but progressive feel.

With excellent on-road dynamics, plenty of safety equipment (including side curtain airbags and stability control), an inviting cabin and several key improvements for 2002, we'd say that Mercedes-Benz has done an admirable job at keeping the ML500 competitive in this insanely popular market segment.

Used 2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class Overview

The Used 2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is offered in the following submodels: M-Class ML55 AMG, M-Class SUV. Available styles include ML55 AMG AWD 4dr SUV (5.4L 8cyl 5A), ML320 AWD 4dr SUV (3.2L 6cyl 5A), and ML430 AWD 4dr SUV (4.3L 8cyl 5A).

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Should I lease or buy a 2001 Mercedes-Benz M-Class?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

Check out Mercedes-Benz lease specials
Check out Mercedes-Benz M-Class lease specials