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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

Get Up and Go, Go, Go

By now you are probably familiar with Mercedes-Benz's M-Class; it is the modestly-sized luxury SUV that helped create what has become a burgeoning segment in the automotive industry. Besides its size, the M-Class appeals to consumers with its superior engineering, high content level and carefully choreographed ballet that balances a smooth ride with outstanding handling.

Not ones to leave well enough alone, the engineers at Mercedes-Benz thought it might be fun to pass an M-Class SUV to their high-performance tuning division AMG. The resulting union has created the fantastically fun-to-drive ML55 AMG, one of the most impressive handling SUV;s on the market.

The ML55 begins its life with the base ML chassis as the starting point. The little automotive gremlins at AMG then add their own styling touches to the exterior such as flared fenders, an aggressive front air dam with integrated fog lights, unique side-rocker panels and two "power dome" bulges in the hood (a tribute to the 1950's 300 SL Gullwing roadster.) The ML55 rides on massive 18-inch wheels and tires designed to vastly improve the vehicle's ability to get around corners at high speed without breaking free of the pavement. Also at work keeping the ML55 on the ground is a fully-independent suspension that employs front and rear double wishbone control arms, gas pressurized shocks and an impressive array of electronic driving aids such as electronic brake assist (EBD) and four-wheel traction control.

In the automotive world, racy good looks don't go far without the muscle to back them up. The AMG magic begins with a 5.0-liter V8 that is outfitted with a new high-strength crankshaft, pistons and connecting rods. Each set of hardware is dynamically balanced and then placed into the engine on the assembly line as a matched set, the modern day equivalent of hand building an engine. The AMG transformation increases the engine's displacement to 5.5-liters and unleashes an unruly 342 horsepower that will pin you down tighter than a corsage on prom night. Mercedes clocks the ML55's 0 to 60-mph time at a scant 6.4 seconds and electronically limits its top speed to 144-mph.

What makes the ML55 so special is more than just pure power under the hood. In the ML55, you'll find a vehicle that can satisfy so many different demands. Its SUV body ensures you'll always have plenty of room for passengers and cargo—a claim few sports cars can make—and its rugged off-road abilities allow it to travel paths unattainable to any vehicle with less than eight-inches of ground clearance. Like its M-Class brethren, the ML55 is equipped with a full-time all-wheel-drive system that is always engaged, ensuring the best possible traction at all times. The ML55's all-wheel-drive system continuously splits the engine's torque in a 48/52 ratio between the front and rear axles. Three open differentials at the front, center and rear assure that even if only one wheel has traction, power will be routed to that wheel until the others regain their grip; it's a seamless system that truly can be taken on serious off-road courses without any fear of being outclassed. The ML55 also comes standard with a downhill traction assist feature that, when the transmission is placed in low, will help to control the vehicle's acceleration on steep declines.

Driving the ML55 is a definite rush. Beyond the instantaneous blast of power that comes from jamming the accelerator pedal to the floor, you'll discover an extremely satisfactory feeling with every turn of the steering wheel; this may be an SUV, but it holds the road with all the ferocity of a sport sedan. You still feel a bit of that top-heavy roll inherent in a vehicle with a high center of gravity, but the ML55's suspension places a definite limit on body lean, squat and dive. The ride can best be described as firm when the road below is smooth and somewhat stiff when encountering uneven pavement. From the driver's seat, you'll likely find that your forward visibility is excellent but that rear and side views are somewhat diminished by the wide C-pillar and the numerous headrests for the rear seat passengers.

The interior appointments are, of course, above reproach. Standard leather covers the seats, door panels, steering wheel and shift knob while handsome polished burl wood is used to accent the dash, center console, doors and steering wheel. The ML55's instrument cluster receives a white-faced gauge treatment with chrome trim ring surrounds and in place of the standard audio is the Bose concert system. There is a good amount of room for four adults, though you may find the cargo space to be only adequate with the rear seat up. The driver and passenger are treated to a comfy set of contoured sport seats that include power lumbar support and heated seat bottoms.

The standard equipment list is packed with such goodies as a DVD based navigation system, one-touch up/down power windows, front side-impact airbags, a side-airbag curtain, power glass moonroof, power rear-quarter windows, rain sensing wipers, Bi-Xenon headlamps, heated power mirrors with memory feature, eight-way adjustable power seats and the Tele Aid onboard telematics system.

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