Mercedes-Benz launched its M-Class back in 1997 as a 1998 model. What followed the blessed event wasn't pleasant for the manufacturer. Along with being panned for its dull, minivan-esque styling, the American-built ML fell down in lots of quality tests but amazingly, didn't deter shoppers from coming back for more.
Erase those memories, because the 2009 ML550 shares only its name and general proportions with the original. The ML was completely re-engineered and re-designed for the 2006 model year, and received a face lift for 2009. On the outside, the current M-Class benefits from the detailing that makes many Mercedes-Benz so interesting to look at, such as the detailing on the hood that reminded us of the SL roadster.
In the U.S., the 2009 M-Class is offered with four engines, ranging from the 3.5-liter six-cylinder to the mighty AMG 6.3-liter with 503 horsepower. Our tester featured the 382-horsepower 5.5-liter V-8 used across the MB line. Running through a seven-speed gearbox, it was neigh on impossible to catch the ML550 flat-footed. Power flowed effortlessly and feels as fast as an SUV would ever need to be. The electronically-controlled helped create the stability we felt, adjusting to the broken roads of Southeast Michigan.
The ML550 isn't a big vehicle (not too much larger on the outside than a Ford Escape), but it consumes gasoline like a stolen Chevy Suburban driven by an escaped convict; 13 mpg city, 18 mpg highway.
2009 Mercedes-Benz M ClassEnlarge Photo
Forgetting convicts, here's an interesting detail; The more time we spent driving the Benz, the more we liked the simplicity of the column-mounted shifter. The delicate-looking chromed stalk moves down to engage Drive and up to engage Reverse. To set the truck in Park, press the tip of the stalk. Elegant, if a bit unusual. But totally effective.
Inside, the design and quality of material puts a spit polish on the reputation Mercedes-Benz earned, lost, and earned again. The seating position is high and upright, providing good visibility. The front chairs won praise for comfort, but those in the rear, while they had enough room, complained about misplaced bolsters and cushions. The optional dual-DVD video systems helped placate their feelings.
Our as-equipped, full-loaded 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML550 priced out at $68,090.
Mercedes-Benz recently announced the ML450 Hybrid as a 2010 model. Mileage is expected to come in at 21 mpg city/24 mpg highway when it arrives in December. We'll bring you a report when it arrives. Meanwhile, you can read more on our 2009 Benz ML page.