New Car/Review

1999 MERCEDES BENZ ML320

By Matt/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 34,950
Price As Tested                                    $ 41,115
Engine Type               SOHC 18-valve 3.2 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 195 cid/3199 cc
Horsepower                                   215 @ 5500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               233 @ 3000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  111.0"/72.2"/180.6"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     4407 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  19.0 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                  255/65R16 M&S
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                    Front-engine/all-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.39

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            17/21/19
0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
Maximum towing capacity                         5000 pounds
Top speed                                (governed) 112 mph
     * Sequential fuel injection

(Bob Hagin says that when Mercedes-Benz got into the sport/utility vehicle business, it researched the segment scientifically. Matt Hagin is happy the company didn't let science get in the way of making a great vehicle.)

BOB - Before they made the ML-Class SUV, Mercedes' folks wanted to cover as many bases as possible. They knew that the customer base for their off-road vehicle would be affluent and upscale, but not the kind that would use it to scale rocky peaks or slosh their way through steaming swamps. They therefore built the ML320 to provide typical Mercedes feel and comfort plus styling that would make it instantly recognizable in a country-club parking lot or a Colorado ski resort. That's why the forward-sloping nose and wide, tapering grille are used not only on the sedans and coupes, but on the SUV as well.

MATT - They were also pretty practical in the bits and pieces department, too, Dad. The engine is essentially the same 3.2 liter, 18- valve V6 engine found under the hood of the E320 sedan, but re-tuned to develop slightly less horsepower and slightly more torque at lower RPMs. This gives the off-roader just a little more pulling power than the E320. The engine is a V6 which is the same as last year, Dad. It also uses the same gear ratios in the five-speed automatic transmission as in the E320 sedan, but in keeping with the rough-duty potential of a sport/utility vehicle, the SUV has an transfer case that can drop the transmission into a low range if the driver needs more pulling power. A stick-shift isn't offered on the ML320.

BOB - And in case the going really get touchy on gravel-covered or slippery roads, it now carries what the company calls its Electronic Stability Program, a system that senses skidding or sliding. If the driver starts to slide sideways, the system delivers braking to the wheels that need help. It's tied into the anti-lock braking system and it all happens automatically, of course. I'm told that it's a seamless action that's almost unnoticeable. The ML320 uses a full-time four-wheel-drive system that doesn't require any driver input to engage. The system has been standard stuff on the big V12-powered Mercedes sedans and sports cars for a while, but now it's filtered down to the cheaper cars in the lineup.

MATT - Dad, I don't think that it's really the right choice of words to refer to any Mercedes as "cheap." Some are just less expensive than others. The ML320 seats five comfortably, and has lots of cargo space. >From the outside it doesn't appear to be all that big, but looks are deceiving and it has a lot of interior cargo space. That space is accessed through a user-friendly fifth door at the tail. Underneath is a no-kidding truck-type chassis, but the company added fully independent suspension, which means when it does have to go off-road, the wheels will almost always be in contact with the ground. Other SUVs that utilize a separate frame use solid axles in back which lowers their road clearance in the rear. One thing I did notice and liked a lot was its turning circle; it's very tight at only 37 feet full circle, which make maneuverability very good for any car, let alone an SUV. And since you sit high in the saddle and get a great birds-eye view, urban ML320 pilots will be able to see those elusive parking spots more easily.

BOB - And if the family starts to grow, a Mercedes dealer can install a third seat in back. That's supposed to provide room for three more adults, but three across in the back row is a tight squeeze. Entry into that third seat by anyone other than kids requires considerable agility, to say the least. I think the ML320 is an ideal vehicle for a family that's into outdoor recreation like skiing or boating. Too bad we won't get this rig this coming summer. You and Tom would have been able to use it to pull his water ski boat to the river.

MATT - Have you seen Tom's old boat lately? The paint job's pretty nasty. If we used the Benz SUV for towing it, we'd have to take the back roads out of sheer embarrassment.

BOB - You know me, Matt, nothing embarrass me.

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