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It's the "Year of the V-8" for Mercedes-Benz, and fortunately the M-Class shares in the celebration. The ML320, powered with a V-6, was an immediate hit after its 1998 debut. The new ML430 seeks to build on that success by adding a pinch of style and a pound of oomph.
Setting the ML430 apart from the ML320 is a 268-horsepower 4.3-liter V-8, aggressive 17-inch wheels, body-colored bumpers, heated leather seats and wood trim. New in 1999 for both M-Class variants are an optional louvered roof and two active safety systems unique to SUVs: Brake Assist and ESP.
A capable vehicle on and off the beaten path, this compact sport-ute combines refined road manners with true off-road performance. It drives like a Mercedes — albeit a tall one — in any weather and on any surface.
Mercedes a 'major player'
Few suspected that Mercedes-Benz would enter the SUV market, much less become a major player in the heart of the premium segment. But after the ML320 drove away with the 1998 North American Truck of the Year award, along with a trunkload of others, it's clear that this German automaker hit the sweet spot. And now Mercedes comes to bat with a new big hitter — the ML430 with a base price of $43,750.
For some, the jury is still out on M-Class styling. It's been likened to a vehicle that is morphed somewhere between the mom-pleasing minivan and the now-popular aggressive sport-utility styling. Despite a certain amount of ambivalence on the styling issue, hordes of buyers have obviously found it appealing. The grille (and its prominent three-pointed star) evokes the styling of the marque's roadsters and coupes, while the hood lines are traditional Mercedes. The swoopy headlamps and bumper air scoop show more unconventional traits, however.
Passenger doors are large (more than 4 inches wider than Explorer's) and swing wide, while the enormous rear hatch allows even the tallest individuals to stand comfortably underneath. A substantial C-pillar displays the solidity of the body-on-frame construction.