2008 Mercedes-Benz M Class Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 29, 2008

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is an appealing SUV with good road manners and a lofty price tag.

TheCarConnection.com’s editors researched a wide range of road tests of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class to write this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com’s resident experts also drove the M-Class to help you decide which reviews to trust where opinions differ, and to add more impressions and details and provide you with the best information.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is the story of lessons learned. When the M-Class first arrived in the late 1990s, it was scolded by the press for its iffy interior quality and me-too styling. Ten years later, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class looks great (its current design is two years old), and it has powerful engines and a great interior. And it's risen steadily upward in price, far above the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee it originally targeted.

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. Next up is the 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 sportscars--but it gets 13/18 mpg.

Two V-6 engines are also offered in the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. One's a 3.5-liter gas V-6 with 268 hp, a seven-speed automatic, and 15/20 mpg fuel economy. The other's a V-6 diesel with 18/24 mpg fuel economy.

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The 2008 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 hardcore 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. 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.

In overall size and room, the 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. 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.

The luxurious interior is what you'd expect from a vehicle in this segment. Burl walnut wood trim and a multifunction steering wheel and dash display are included, as are an 80-watt audio system with AM/FM/CD stereo, two deep cup holders, dual rear cup holders, and too many other features to list in a short review. Sirius Satellite Radio is available, as is Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation system, and a DVD entertainment system.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class has a NHTSA five-star crash rating and a four-star rollover rating. Stability control, anti-lock brakes, and traction control are standard, along with front, side, and curtain airbags.

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2008 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Styling

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class combines sleek sheetmetal with a thoughtfully laid-out cabin.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class has gone from brickbats to bouquets. Back in the late '90s, the car featured what Car and Driver describes as "minivan-like styling." In 2006, Mercedes-Benz tried to combat that image by sharpening the exterior lines and imparting a certain degree of toughness to its luxury SUV, giving it "more aggressive styling," according to Edmunds.

The basic shape is now a handsome SUV silhouette, with an arcing roofline. “It's certifiably flamboyant. The castellated grille vanes, cocked beltline, and exaggerated fender flares evoke tail-fin times,” says Automobile.com.

At Mercedes-Benz, 2008 brings visual tweaks to all trim levels of the M-Class. The changes are most noticeable in the top-end models. Kelley Blue Book remarks, "the sleek 2008 Mercedes-Benz ML looks particularly menacing wearing the new ML550 trim." Other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree with this sentiment, praising the aggressive new AMG-influenced styling of the ML550. For the lower end of the 2008 M-Class spectrum, the exterior design is not quite as imposing. Forbes Autos refers to the ML320 as having a "wedge-like, tastefully conservative shape."

The styling on the inside of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is luxurious, but the car's capabilities as an off-road vehicle are not ignored. Kelley Blue Book is quick to point out that the "padded rails at the bottom of the center console...are more of an off-road touch than [they] expect from the more street-friendly" ML-Class. Automobile.com raves about the balance the M-Class strikes between exuding "a solid, masculine look."

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2008 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Performance

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class shoots and scores—and rages, in AMG trim.

Reviewers from across the Web ranked the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class at least above average for its performance—and some found the AMG version thrilling. Aside from pure speed, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class also offers exceptional handling in all weather conditions, most reviewers noted.

The top-end ML63 AMG with its hand-built 503-horsepower engine defies all established SUV speed conventions. Forbes Autos raves about the ML63's "blistering straight-line speed" and notes that the "hand-built engine spurs the big Benz to 120 or 130 mph with ridiculous ease." Its 11/14 mpg fuel economy is unapologetic.

Not to be left behind, the V-8-powered ML550 generates 382 hp and has no problem getting the most from each and every one of them. Car and Driver finds the ML550 "to be seriously quick, hitting 60 from a standstill in 5.4 seconds." This version gets 13/18 mpg.

Shaving two cylinders from the engines that propel the top two M-Class SUVs leaves either the V-6 diesel that motivates the ML320 CDI or the gas-powered V-6 under the hood of the ML350. Both offer very respectable performance, and Kelley Blue Book feels that "opting for the lower-priced, higher-mileage ML 350 won't leave you feeling short-changed in the power department." Two V-6 engines are also offered in the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The gas-engine ML350 gets 15/20 mpg; the diesel, a good 18/24 mpg.

All 2008 M-Class SUVs feature Mercedes-Benz's seven-speed automatic transmission. TheCarConnection.com found that this transmission earns high marks from reviewers; Automobile.com even calls it "the most advanced transmission in the SUV world." Adding to the M-Class's performance credentials are superb brakes and an adaptive damping system that improves stability and minimizes body roll during turns.

The ML63 features a stiffer, sportier suspension than the other models in the M-Class lineup, and this is clearly evident in ride comfort. Forbes Autos finds that "between the thin 20-inch tires and the suspension's sport setting, the ride [is] noticeably harsh for rear-seat occupants." While the suspension can be set to comfort mode, this limits the handling performance of the ML63.

Other models in the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class are better suited to daily driving, and Car and Driver feels that the ML550 is "a fast, confident, poised highway cruiser in which [they] could [spend] all day without complaint." Edmunds calls it “a predictable and stable handler.”

TheCarConnection.com also has extensive experience in the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, 2008 editions and previous generations as well. It 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 hardcore stuff the Jeep crowds crow about. It can even tow 7,200 pounds--yet, 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.

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2008 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Comfort & Quality

High-quality materials are complemented by ample seating space in the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com generally praised both ride comfort and interior quality on the lower-end trim levels of Mercedes-Benz’s 2008 M-Class.

In overall size and room, the 2008 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.

Reviewers disagreed somewhat on the Mercedes-Benz’s 2008 M-Class and its interior space. Forbes Auto said that inside the M-Class, “there’s just less than 30 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and a touch over 72 cubic feet when they’re folded down, which is about average for this class.” Compared to the Lexus RX 350, Edmunds counters, “Passenger room is especially impressive, as the ML affords rear-seat passengers more than 39 inches of legroom -- nearly 6 inches greater than the RX 350 offers.” Edmunds also notices the lack of a third-row seat, and explains that “a fifth adult passenger in back makes for a tight fit.”

Sumptuous leather seats and an air suspension also add to the Mercedes-Benz M-Class's credentials as an all-day cruiser. “Cabin noise is thoroughly subdued,” Automobile.com added, noting the M-Class’s “richly trimmed interior, comfortable and supportive seats, and ample elbow room for five adults.” Edmunds likes the “generous fillets of bird's eye maple wood and brushed aluminum trim [that] lend the cabin a warm, upscale ambiance. Large front cupholders and adequate storage cubbies come in handy on road trips.”

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2008 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Safety

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class scores highly in standard safety equipment--and in government and industry crash tests.

Filled with safety features and designed to withstand even the most severe crashes, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class gets top ratings for crash protection.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class has a NHTSA five-star crash rating and a four-star rollover rating. A strong combination of high-tech safety features and safe design led the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to award the 2008 M-Class with its Top Safety Pick award.

Stability control, anti-lock brakes, and traction control are standard, along with front, side, and curtain airbags. Kelley Blue Book particularly likes the 2008 M-Class's "Pre-Safe system that tightens seatbelts and closes windows when it senses an impending collision."

Edmunds also notes that the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class comes standard with "hill descent/ascent control and a full complement of airbags."

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2008 Mercedes-Benz M Class

Features

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class pours on standard equipment—and gets truly lavish with its options.

The luxurious interior of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class is what you'd expect from a vehicle in this segment. Burl walnut wood trim and a multifunction steering wheel and dash display are included, as are an 80-watt audio system with AM/FM/CD stereo, two deep cup holders, dual rear cup holders, and too many other features to list in a short review.

Automobile.com is impressed by some of the car's more unique features, "such as a heated steering wheel and a power tilt and sliding glass sunroof," and is satisfied that Mercedes-Benz’s 2008 M-Class comes with "all the trimmings you'd expect."

Many luxury cars today include navigation systems as part of their list of either standard or available features, but they have become stigmatized as being difficult to use. Mercedes has done an excellent job of making its optional navigation system easy to handle, and Automobile.com appreciates the "cellular telephone preparation with Bluetooth hands-free."

Keeping the kids entertained on long drives are seven-inch monitors built into the back of the front-seat headrests, bundled with the optional DVD entertainment system. Sirius Satellite Radio is also available.

Forbes Auto, meanwhile, notes the AMG edition gets a special add-on: “The special AMG instrument cluster has a lap timer so you can keep track of precisely how long it takes to run errands around town.” In the top-end ML63 AMG, Forbes Auto also loved that the "tremendous AMG sport seats are wrapped in Nappa leather with suede-like Alcantara inserts." The AMG edition also adds a DVD navigation system, a wonderful Harmon/Kardon sound system, and three-zone climate control system as standard gear.

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