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Benz M-Class ML500 2008 Review

the Mercedes-Benz ML500 hides its bulk and power under stylish lines.
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You have just paid something over $120,000 for your new toy and you are feeling like the cat's whiskers. It's big, it's luxurious and crammed under that stubby little bonnet is a big V8 that can launch you and your 2-tonne plus plaything from standstill to 100km/h in under six seconds.

Do you care about the price of petrol? Do you give a passing thought to fuel economy? Do you need to be flung at the horizon at that sort of velocity? Not a chance — but this is still a free society and you do have the right to offend the sensibilities of a greenie at any turn of the road.

And, if you choose to exercise your rights to conspicuous consumption there seems little reason to do so in anything but comfort.

Well, do Mercedes-Benz have a car for you — the latest ML500. Large, luxurious, comfortable and powerful — the 5.5-litre V8 with 285kW and 530Nm guarantees that — the ML500 is everything that gets the hackles up on those who love to hate SUVs.

From it's 2.2-tonne bulk — well disguised under a stylish (in that size 16 way) body — to its 19-inch wheels the ML is a poster child for urban assault vehicles. Mercedes boffins have worked diligently to make the big V8 as fuel efficient as possible.

They should be commended on squeezing an additional 60kW and 60Nm over the outing 5.0-litre unit; while reducing fuel use to an ADR rated 13.4litresper 100km.

Not that you are ever going to see that figure in the real world. Settle for around the 15-litre mark and don't be surprised when it gets a few points higher. This is, after all, an engine that demands enthusiastic application bolted to a very substantial vehicle with a permanent four-wheel-drive.

The fact that the figures that can be achieved are achieved is a credit to the ML's no-nonsense seven-speed automatic. It is smooth and well sorted with enough of a ratio spread to deal with some low-gear crawling or highway cruising. Where the ML500 truly surprised was when it was out of what most would consider its comfort zone — real offroading.

Most of the ML500s sold in Australia will never see anything more than a dusty road or a muddy polo field, yet, despite its luxury, the big Benz is a labourer at heart.

Shod with low profile road tyres and without locking diffs or low range gearing (available as an option pack for those who really want to bash their luxury 4WD around) the ML was unfazed by some relatively serious free-ranging. Up and down steep loose-rock slopes, through moderately deep wading and across shifting surfaces the ML500 gave not a moment's cause for concern.

The standard-fit air suspension helped with an elevated ride height at low speeds, defaulting back to the highway setting as the speed increased. The ML500 has the 4Matic all-wheel-drive electronic transfer system as standard, including traction and stability control.

The package includes anti-lock brakes, eight airbags, active head restraints and the brand's award-winning Pre-Safe occupant protection system, which ABS and stability control sensors detect an imminent impact before it occurs.

The car then prepares all of its passive safety features, primes the airbags and seat belts, and closes windows and the sunroof to maximise the level of occupant protection.

It would be too kind to say that the big off-roader — it earned the right not to be lumped in with the soft-roader brigade — was an outstanding highway experience. Competent, certainly, but a little fidgety off freeway-smooth surfaces. While it soaks up the more undulating road imperfections, the active damping does struggle with sharper bumps such as corrugations and allows a fair degree of body roll through the twisty stuff.

However, all of this can be tolerated while you are cocooned within the ML cabin. The seating position is excellent, the seats themselves trimmed in good leather and well styled for comfort and support.

Throughout, the sense of space is never compromised, except maybe behind the passenger seats where the short rear styling of the rear does give the luggage area a truncated look.

If you are not travelling with the full complement of souls then longer loads can be accommodated by folding the split rear seat.

There are some special touches in the ML that don't always make their way into the top-end vehicles. Mercedes have taken the sensible — it should be compulsory — step of running a reversing camera through the dash-mounted satellite navigation and DVD screen. The cost is minimal and the safety benefits enormous.

More on a feel-good level is the Harman Kardon Logic7 entertainment system. The 440W surround sound system runs 12 high-performance speakers (including a sub-woofer).

Self-cleaning Bi-Xenon headlights with the ALS (active light system) cornering technology and dynamic range adjustment light up great swathes of the road ahead.

Try as it might, the ML500 is never going to be invited to a Save the Planet rally. Its stablemate, the somewhat greener ML320CDi diesel may make the cut but not the Big Fella. Those that own it probably don't care.


The bottom line

It's everything you expect ... and a few things you don't.




Mercedes-Benz ML500

Price: $120,874

Engine: 5.5L/V8; 285kw/530Nm

Transmission: 7-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

Economy: claimed 13.4L/100km; 14.9L/100km as tested


The rivals

BMW X5 4.8i

Price: $118,300

Engine: 4.8L/V8; 261kW/475Nm

Transmission: 6-speed auto, all wheel drive

Economy: claimed 12.5L/100km



Jeep Commander Limited

Price: $71,990

Engine: 5.7L/V8; 240kW/500Nm

Tranmission: Multi-speed (CVT) automatic, all-wheel drive

Economy: claimed 15.5L/100km



Audi Q7 4.2 FSI Quattro

Price: $118,900

Engine: 4.2L/V8; 257kW/440Nm

Transmission: 6-speed tiptronic; all-wheel drive

Economy: claimed 13.6L/100km


Pricing guides

Based on 23 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
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Range and Specs

ML350 (4x4) 3.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $14,750 – 15,990 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2008 ML350 (4x4) Pricing and Specs
ML63 AMG (4x4) 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $22,990 – 34,990 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2008 ML63 AMG (4x4) Pricing and Specs
ML320 CDI (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $16,500 – 21,120 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2008 ML320 CDI (4x4) Pricing and Specs
ML320 CDI Edition 10 (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $9,000 – 15,990 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2008 ML320 CDI Edition 10 (4x4) Pricing and Specs