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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — It’s a lazy summer Sunday. Corn tassels tilt gently on the breeze, cows amble through verdant pastures and a line-up of slow-moving motorhomes snakes along Route 7, the main north-south corridor of the Berkshire Hills. At the helm of nearly 5000 lb of sheetmetal, I wait for the right moment to call on the 342 horsepower on tap of the ML55 to pass the lengthy convoy of rubbernecking sightseers.
After all, I live here and I have work to get done. And, on top of the list is to check out the attributes of the fastest sport ute on the planet. When the window of opportunity opens, I jump through, passing the slower-moving traffic with ease and confidence and notice, in particular, the balance and handling of this vehicle despite its fairly tall center of gravity.
Back in ‘97, people stood up and listened as Mercedes-Benz rolled out the M-Class, one of the first in the wave of luxury SUVs, a new niche of the market that has grown by leaps and bounds since then. During the time that the Alabama-built Benz has been with us, Mercedes has continually updated the vehicle, in part to address quality concerns and equipment updates, but most significantly to enhance the engine department. The most celebrated of these advances has resulted in what this German automaker calls the ultimate SUV – the ML55 AMG, which was introduced as a 2000 model.
Tuned by the Mercedes-owned performance subsidiary AMG, the ML55 houses one of the most potent power plants ever to see SUV duty. The hand-built V-8 makes 342 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. But, in addition, and what’s really important to safety and performance, is its sophisticated permanent all-wheel-drive system, which ensures plenty of grip, routing power away from the wheels that may have less traction – even if that means sending all the available torque to just one wheel.