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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class Overview

German Luxury at a Not-So Premium Price

Mercedes was one of the first manufacturers to produce a moderately sized luxury SUV that had all the qualities of their premium brand automobiles, but could also tackle real-world off-road conditions. The M-Class was a hit almost from the start; its trim dimensions, roomy interior and powerful engine choices offered more than enough incentive for people to buy. For those few remaining holdouts, Mercedes-Benz brought the base ML trim into the market place for well under $40K and that was enough to blow the barn doors (or in this case, the showroom doors) wide open.

Today, the ML carries on with some minor sheet metal freshening, a new interior and for 2003 an all-new V6 engine. The ML line consists of the V6-powered ML350 and V8-powered ML500. The ML350 is a mid-year replacement for the ML320. With its larger 3.7-liter engine, the entry-level ML now comes to market with 232-horsepower tucked neatly under the hood yet only sees a price increase of $350 over the old model. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the power-happy ML500. With 288-horsepower and enough torque to pull a small village, the ML500 is the SUV of choice for those who are required to take the family yacht down to the shore each weekend.

The ML is not like other SUVs in the sense that it offers generous amounts of power and room without having to be massive on the outside. In fact, if you look at either the ML350 or ML500 from the side, you see that most of the body is made up of the front and rear doors. The short hood and rear over hang have allowed the Mercedes engineers to dedicate most of the ML's 182-inches to the passenger compartment. Putting maximum passenger space into a two-box platform is something common in minivans, but rarely seen in SUVs. What this all means to you is that you can comfortably pull into tight parking spaces or maneuver with ease through crowded freeway traffic, yet still have the benefits afforded by a SUV. With the ML, you'll find a good amount of head room both front and rear and relatively decent rear-seat legroom provided the front seats are not fully extended.

You'll also appreciate its sure-footed ability; the ML's full-time all-wheel drive system that includes a hill hold device to keep the car from accelerating out of control during steep descents. The ML's fully-independent front and rear suspension allows for an ultra-smooth ride and superior control by the driver. Because the drive axles move independently of each other, the ML is also a bonafide off-road champ that can tackle mud, snow and even rocks. Mercedes has loaded the ML with a series of additional traction devices that work to keep the car planted when road conditions get slick or when your overly ambitious driving skills exceed their limit.

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention safety, although when you're talking about Mercedes-Benz, it's a no-brainer that you'll be buying one of the safest vehicles on the road. The ML performs exceedingly well in all of its crash tests and includes a total of eight airbags: two in front, two in the front-side doors, two in the rear-side doors and two side-curtain airbags that drop from the ceiling. Honestly, if Mercedes added any more airbags to the ML, you'd wind up driving a potential hot air balloon on wheels.

If power is your concern, you need not worry. The ML350 has more than enough get up and go to satisfy most drivers; for a considerably higher price, the ML500's V8 should be able to fulfill those who crave instant power the second they hit the accelerator. We should point out that the ML500's big V8 is a thirsty engine, so be sure to give the V6 a good long look before making your decision. Of course, there are also additional luxury features provided by the V8 that are not available on the ML350, so you need to consider that too. This year, there are a few new packages including the "Inspiration Edition" that adds silver cross-stitched Anthracite leather seating, sport bucket seats and custom six-spoke alloy wheels. Standard this year on the ML500 and optional on the ML350 is a DVD-based navigation system; the system is built into the audio unit and becoming fully comfortable with it may require you to spend a few hours with the owners manual. Thankfully, there are redundant touch controls on the steering wheel, so you can operate the system without having to remove your eyes from the road.

Standard equipment on the ML includes power windows, automatic climate control, burl walnut trim, cruise control, heated outside mirrors and remote keyless entry. Options include larger alloy wheels, a Bose audio system and a series of designer packages aimed at personalizing your ML.

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