2007 Mercedes ML500 car reviews

Review Notes: Mercedes-Benz ML500
Personality Luxury car that goes offroad
EPA gas mileage 14 city, 19 highway
Price $63,515 as tested
Notes Review by guest writer Terry Parkhurst

  Heading deep into the area just south of the Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington State with a brand new Mercedes-Benz ML 500 is more fun than you’d expect. You’d never guess it to look at the thing, whose mien seems to be a station wagon with a bit of lift, but it heels well to the dirt road that follows the Taylor River. The Upper Middle Fork road along the Taylor River provides a near wilderness trip within the hour's drive of the Seattle metropolitan area. It also provides immense dirt potholes, rocks the size of a fist and snow that challenges the new M-class suspension of front control arms and a four-link setup in the rear. But surprise-surprise it maintains stability, while offering the occupants reasonable comfort, even when negotiating around the largest of holes that look as if roadside bombs had just been set off. Of course, it also helps to have the addition of an optional air suspension setup.

On the ride over to the Taylor River, on the I90 freeway, the five-liter, 24-valve V8 engine with 339 pound-feet of torque, available between 2,700 and 4,750 rpm proved itself capable of easy and safe 70 mile-per-hour jaunts, touching 80 mph, just to see what she’d do. (Since the Washington State Patrol regularly flies over I90 in patrol planes, looking for speeders, we erred on the side of caution.)  Having driven the ML 350 with its 268 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque 3.5 liter V6, it seems that freeway commuting might be best served with a V8.  You are, after all, pushing 4,600 pounds down the road.

Mercedes-Benz has stretched the M-class’s wheelbase by 3.8 inches and lowered the ride height by a scant 0.4 inches. Additionally, it has widened the front and rear tracks by four inches. This compliments the revised suspension, although there is still a bit of lean in tight turns. All these changes come courtesy of Jeep, which designed the basic M-class chassis (and sells their version as the Grand Cherokee, complete with an engine of almost identical power.)

The new ML not only looks sportier, thanks to integrated fender flares, a sharply raked windshield and a longer and wider body (5.6 inches and 2.8 inches, respectively) but it has less wind noise at speed.

The new ML also uses unibody construction – just like its cousins the E-class and S-class sedans – instead of the truck-like body-on-frame construction of its predecessors. The reported result is a body with greater stiffness vis-à-vis torsional and bending rigidity. The feeling of the new ML-series on a dirt road is thus much more assured.

Most noticeable to the pilot of the new ML is the fact that Mercedes-Benz has addressed the chassis and interior finish shortcomings that hurt it in the marketplace, with its original ML offering. The leather seats are as well stitched and fitted as anything in the Mercedes line; and the so too is the dashboard and instrument panel. The panel gaps are tighter than the previous generation of ML offerings; and chrome accents highlight the steering wheel, the vents and the two-pod instrument panel.

The Germans have never the understood the American need for coffee - a hot beverage that could spill - which we Americans have. And don’t even try to explain what a Big Gulp is. The coffee holder for the driver remains a spindly little thing that was lucky to be able to accept an 8-ounce cup.

The navigation system has all the charm and user-friendliness of “Hal” the computer in the movie “2001: a Space Odyssey.” The center display for the navi-system will also allow you to tune the radio. But after fiddling with it a bit, my passenger and myself gave up. If navigation is so complicated it requires one to stop and read a separate manual – provided by Mercedes – why not just take a map? The ML500 does allow the occupants to use the radio, without engaging the entire system. And for a brief time, that’s what we did. Someone needs to translate the term Keep It Simple Stupid for Mercedes interior designers and engineers.

There’s a seven-speed automatic; and because of that (perhaps) the engineers have configured a methodology for forward motion on the right of the steering wheel stalk. (Does anyone reading this remember “three on the tree,” from the days of the old standard transmissions? How about “7 on the tree?”) One presses this stubby stalk down and the letter “D” appears in the instrument panel. Take the stalk up and there’s the letter “R” (you’re in reverse then); and simply push the button on the end of the stalk and you’re in Park.

There are also shifter paddles – rocker switches, really – on the back of the steering wheel’s hubs. But when one is going through tight turns, and the wheel is 180 degrees over, it is pretty difficult to work with those paddles. Best bet is the stalk on the wheel’s left.

The two-speed transfer case that was a key component of the last generation ML has been dropped. It has been replaced with a full-time four-wheel drive system that uses three conventional open differentials, along with a four-wheel electronic traction control system that varies torque from front-to-rear and also side-to-side. Additionally, there’s the option of Mercedes’ adjustable Airmatic DC air-suspension, complete with active damping shock absorbers (cost: $1,575) that the tested ML 500 had.

An upcoming off-road package will offer locking center and rear differentials for a price to-be-determined.

The handling off-road was surprising for a vehicle that one wouldn’t think of as a rock-crawler. On the way out to what served as the staging area, a King County Sheriff passed us in a late model Jeep Cherokee who inquired as to what we might be up to.

“Do you have a winch on that thing?” we inquired, to which he laughed.

“You’ll be OK,” he responded. Indeed we were.