- Top-notch cabin
- Attractive styling
- Strong safety scores
- High-performance AMG edition
- Poor fuel economy (except for diesel)
It ain’t cheap, but the 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class deserves its place atop the luxury SUV echelon.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport-utility vehicle has gained a number of minor appearance changes that give it a slightly more sophisticated overall style. At the fore of the vehicle, the restyling begins at the front bumper incorporating new headlights with a distinctive brow that trims the top of a larger, lower grille bearing three silver ribs. Angular air intakes, widely set fog lights, and chrome trim are also new features of the ML’s redesigned front end. In back, the M-Class receives a stainless-steel skid plate that wraps around dual exhausts and a recontoured rear bumper with recessed reflectors.
The 3.5-liter gas V-6 produces 268 horsepower and gets fuel economy of 15 mpg city, 20 highway. Next up is the 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML550, which wears some of the AMG model's body add-ons. A 5.5-liter V-8 grants it 382 hp, and a seven-speed automatic ushers out the power urgently and smoothly. This version can accelerate to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, or faster than some two-door sports cars—but it gets 13/18 mpg. At the top of the ladder, the 503-horsepower Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG remains unchanged, with unapologetic 11/14 mpg fuel economy and supercar performance cloaked in its handsome, neatly detailed body.
Under the hood of the new 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML320, the German manufacturer’s BlueTEC clean diesel engine replaces the old ML320 CDI engine. The BlueTEC engine, in conjunction with the new AdBlue exhaust treatment system, meets emission standards in all 50 states, and gets 20 to 30 percent better fuel economy than its gas-powered counterparts, while producing 210 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. It can run upward of 600 miles on a tank, securely devouring interstate at impressive rates in virtually any weather. The diesel feels just as strong as the V-6 in most cases, while also being the best choice out of all the engines for towing.
On-road handling is the opposite of what you might expect: The steering is communicative, the ride is pretty well-controlled for a capable off-roader, and braking is good. The 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class comes equipped with full-time four-wheel drive and three mechanical differentials, which keep the ML planted on light off-roading, and even some of the hard-core stuff the Jeep crowds crow about. It helps that the ML550 sits on 255/55R-19 tires and wears big 13.8-inch front brakes and 13.0-inch rear vented discs. It can tow 7,200 pounds.
The front- and backseats have good headroom, and even in back, there's plenty of adult-sized space. There is no third-row seat option; that's the job of the larger GL-Class ute. In overall size and room, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is more than competitive with the likes of Ford's Explorer, Jeep's Grand Cherokee, and their ilk. Its wheelbase is 114.7 inches and overall length is 188.5 inches. With the rear seats folded down, cargo volume is 72.4 cubic feet and 29.4 cubic feet with the seats upright.
Stability control, anti-lock brakes, and traction control are standard, along with front, side, and curtain airbags. The 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class has a NHTSA five-star crash rating and a four-star rollover rating. PRE-SAFE, a safety system that senses collisions before they happen, is also now a standard feature on M-Class models.
For 2009, the COMAND screen-driven interface is all-new, featuring a larger 6.5-inch display screen with a standard in-dash, six-disc CD/DVD changer and a Bluetooth interface. The COMAND screen can display maps and directions for the optional GPS navigation system stored on the larger hard drive. The navigation system is now set up for Sirius traffic info and Zagat restaurant ratings. An optional 610-watt digital Harman Kardon Logic7 audio system and a rear-seat entertainment system with two 8-inch screens, wireless headphones, and an integrated DVD player with dual-source capability are also available on 2009 M-Class models. For the driver, there’s four-stage power lumbar support and a new four-spoke steering wheel with multifunction buttons and shift paddles.