Words : Marcus and Lisa
Model: Lisa Volk
When you think of Mercedes Benz automobiles, sleekness, strong but smooth lines, class and style come to mind. Unfortunately, the Mercedes ML55 does not entirely fit this stereotype. As every major car manufacturer has jumped on the "make an SUV to add to our line" bandwagon, this is also Mercedes first attempt at producing an SUV to add to their line (if you don't include the original Gelanderwagen utilitarian jeep). Herein lies the problem; although the ML55 sports the standard Mercedes grill, the aesthetics of this vehicle just does not match the stylishness of their cars. For example, the ML55 has a rather short, boxy body with too much height. In essence then, it has the appeal of a tall box with the butt cut off. Also, the vehicle generally seems to lack a smooth look. However, at least the ML55, unlike the ML430, has fender flares, chrome exhaust tips, a larger front air dam with integrated fog lights, and non-functioning power bulges in the hood . But still, as Marcus put it, "It is an ugly vehicle that has a belt line that is too tall, and the rear trunk/cargo space area is too short making the ML looked chopped off. As well, the largest fault in the design is its tallness. At least other companies do a good job proportioning their SUV's". The only thing that does stand out on the ML in an obnoxious, tacky way, are the chromed brabaus 20 inch wheels. These are after-market wheels and the stock AMG 18 inchers are much more tasteful. Generally then, the overall consensus amongst SUV admirers tends to be negative regarding the ML55's looks. (As a note of interest, the looks of the X5 BMW seems to be much more preferred).
The ML55 boasts a relatively comfortable interior. The special sports seats are roomy, relaxing, and they are not standard in other ML's. There is however not enough leg room in the back but at least the rear doors are large and open wide so your feet can fit into the vehicle. The headroom is excellent, but it is far greater than needed unless, as Marcus points out, "You're from Texas and are wearing a 5 gallon cowboy hat". This unusually high headroom is the very design flaw that makes the ML too tall and tippy looking. Also, one uncomfortable item that you have to fix your eyes on when entering the vehicle is the obviously placed sun visor warning sticker that the vehicle has a high rollover potential when turning at accelerated speeds. One of the models pointed this out immediately upon sitting down in the front seat and expressed her discomfort at that warning staring her in the face so blatantly.
Although the front of the ML55 is roomy, the rear interior cargo hold is not up to standards based on its small cargo capacity. For example, the maximum weight capacity is 353 pounds. That is ý of what the standard ML320 can carry. It is safe to say then that this vehicle's interior was not really designed to haul cargo. This is an important factor to consider if you are planning to purchase an SUV based on the extra hauling capacity it might provide. The ML55 may not fit the bill then. In addition, the spare tire is mounted inside the cargo area standing upright on the left hand side. This space saving type of spare tire does a great job of taking up 15% of the cargo capacity. The designers should have mounted it outside or underneath the truck. All people have their own genius of where a spare tire should be, but when there is a shortage of available space, an exterior solution should have been reached.
So now lets get down to the facts. How does the ML55 perform? Before answering that question here are its most vital stats:
376 torque lbs-ft
0 to 60 in 6.4 seconds (the fastest production SUV in the world. Well it was until the BMW X5 HF)
2 intake 1 exhaust valve per cylinder (24 total)
13.6 inch front brakes/13.5 inch rear brakes /60-0 in 125 feet
Curb weight: 4861 pounds
Manufacturers suggested retail price is $65, 500
Lets translate these stats into actual performance. First and foremost, the horsepower allowed the ML to 'go like stink' . However, the engine it seemed, had to work really hard to pull the truck body around. Marcus felt this was a waste. It is not necessary to go into the fact that the engine is hand built by AMG in Affalterbach. What is important to know is that the engine uses the standard (for Mercedes) 3 valve per cylinder arrangement with two spark plugs per cylinder. AMG also fits a special CAM shaft that extends valve duration for more power.
Although Mercedes boasts that the ML55 has suspension sub frames and 10 rubber mounts to provide isolation from road imperfections and harshness, in the real world it is not enough. This is a very harsh riding SUV. The big 20 inch brabaus's do not help the ride either. When driving, it felt like one was sitting on a motorized bar stool. The ride sent shudders up into the cabin. Also, the rear suspension felt like a live rear solid axle, even though it is a fully independent set-up. Perhaps then, the shock dampening was too tight.
As far as general handling goes, the big 20 inch tires help the ML55 on the road, plus with the standard traction control left on, you don't have to worry about power sliding out of a corner. Although this truck does feel as capable as a quick road car, just knowing that the center of gravity is so high up that 'you can't change the laws of physics' makes one feel uncomfortable. Having said that, Marcus feels that he drove the SUV rather quickly on Sunset Blvd's twisty sections. The grip provided by the chassis and the tires did impress him though and he thought he would become more confident with the ML55 over time. Don't get us wrong, the ML is definitely a truck, but it doesn't handle too badly.
Rating the overall performance of the ML55 then, Mercedes Benz and AMG have done a good job in making it handle very much like a car. A suggestion would be to start with a car and improve it, for example the E-class wagon. A low center of gravity is a good thing. Maybe this article should end now, as these do not seem to be the times to be complaining about the ever growing popularity of SUVs.