Bear with us while we walk you through all the different power choices offered by the 2010 M-Class. It's the only sport-ute we know of that offers three V-8 engines-as well as tech-savvy hybrid and diesel variants.
The basic ML350 gets a gas-fueled 3.5-liter V-6 with 268 horsepower, ample acceleration times of about 8 seconds to 60 mph, and a top speed of 130 mph. It's the only ML-Class ute to come with either rear- or all-wheel drive; the former version earns a 15/20 mpg rating from the EPA, the latter a 16/21 mpg nod. A step up the scale brings you to the ML550 and its 382-hp 5.5-liter V-8. It leaps to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, tops out at 130 mph, and drinks gas to the tune of 13/18 mpg. Both of these models share a seven-speed automatic that ushers out the power urgently and smoothly.
Drop almost $100,000 and Mercedes will infuse your M-Class with AMG goodness to create the 503-horsepower Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG. Largely unchanged, it's distinct from other gas-powered versions for its much stiffer ride, its unapologetic 11/15 mpg fuel economy, and-oh, did we mention?-its Cayenne-fighting supercar performance. The dramatic horsepower boost drops 0-60 mph times to 4.8 seconds and lifts top speed to 155 mph. Like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, it's a breathtaking performer-clearly the product of engineers with lots of talent and time on their hands.
For a quick boost in fuel economy, we'd recommend the diesel-powered ML350 BlueTEC. With a "clean" diesel underhood, it brings 210 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque to the SUV game. 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. Fuel economy checks in at 18/24 mpg; performance is almost no different from that of the gas-engine ML350.
Finally, if you're especially keen on technology and gas mileage, you'll want to lease-not purchase-the 2010 ML450 Hybrid, which combines the gas V-6 with two electric motors and nickel-cadmium batteries mounted under the cargo floor. The pairing delivers 335 hp and 381 lb-ft of torque, and delivers 21/24 mpg fuel economy with nearly the same acceleration and top-speed numbers as the V-6 and diesel MLs. We've driven the Hybrid edition and, as with other hybrid SUVs, marvel at the technology at work. The Hybrid's regenerative braking blends seamlessly into the friction brakes, with imperceptible engine starts and stops, and there's silent starting and electric-only mode up to 34 mph. Even the Hybrid's CVT offers a Shift mode that imitates an eight-speed automatic transmission; drivers using "S" mode may literally never know they're driving a hybrid. Fuel economy is the best of the lineup at 21/24 mpg; while other versions can tow 7,200 pounds, the ML450 Hybrid is downrated to 5,000 pounds towing.
No matter which model you're driving, handling is nearly the opposite of what you might expect. The ML-Class utes have communicative steering, a well-controlled ride, and strong braking feel. With the all-wheel-drive system in place (it uses three mechanical differentials and anti-lock braking to maximize traction), the ML-Class can easily handle light off-roading and even tackle some of the more hardcore duties you'd find in Jeep legend and lore.