2006 Mercedes-Benz M-Class First Drive
Not quite a home run
With their ghosts, legends and style of play, they were the most beloved, feared, envied and copied franchise in all of sports.
Pinstripes. The Babe. Reggie. These were the guys who got candy bars named in their honor. Kids grew up knowing the names and nicknames of the players and trading every marble and baseball card they owned just to get a mint condition ’76 Reggie Jackson.
Then the eighties hit, and you couldn’t sell a Yankees card for a cracked marble and a piece of string. They became the laughingstock of the league, an infamous group of bumblers and boozers who barely filled their famed stadium with fans. Every year, it seemed, they crawled along until the end of the season, slow and old and not nearly exciting. Even their famed pinstripes, once the source of considerable intimidation, were mocked as an uninspired uniform style, past it and just plain yesterday.
They were also-rans. And we Americans so hate also-rans. Losers are lovable, winners sexy, up-and-comers exciting, but also-rans – also-rans are nothing. Zero. Used-ta-bees. In our culture, last place and laughter is too good for those who had it and lost it – better to stick ‘em in the closet, in a shoebox up high, and try hard to forget that you were ever infatuated with such a lousy group of louts.
There are people who feel that way when they think of their Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Formerly known as the glorious leader of the luxury suv craze, over seven years the M-Class has watched as its changes and upgrades failed to keep pace with new vehicles being introduced all around – vehicles that chipped away at its once formidable appeal, breaking it down to the point where only those loyal to the three-pointed star would buy the car. Even Mercedes-Benz, like the Yankees a venerable and storied brand, lacks enough loyal fans to keep trotting out a product that increasingly fails to compete.
The Yankees turned it around in the nineties and once again became the great pinstriped intimidators. And Mercedes-Benz may not be far behind with the M-Class, as a first drive of the all-new 2006 Mercedes ML 350 and 500 revealed a comfortable, well-equipped SUV with considerable prowess on the road. Yet with styling that looks stale when parked side-by-side to the upcoming R-Class, and the removal of its third row of seats, prospective buyers may find that impressive comfort, features and driving experience aren’t enough in exchange for the style and substance of a third row and a new, more modern look. And while the improved 2006 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is certainly no longer an also-ran, it may be some time before it recaptures the glory of its past dominance.