Sweet Home Alabama

For anybody who has read any of my reviews/summaries of cars I am considering before, it is probably pretty clear that I have not been overly endeared to any of my options so far…barring the X5 that I talked about a few weeks ago. But the remaining cars are ones which I have a real interest in, and it is likely that it will be one of these that becomes my future car.

To start with, I’m going to take a look at the Mercedes ML…or M Class depending on who you ask. For a luxury SUV the ML has an interesting history, as Mercedes do indeed have a vague heritage of creating off-road vehicles; from their legendary Unimog to their erm equally legendary G Wagen the three pointed star has adorned several very capable trucks. In the early 1990’s Mercedes were one of the first luxury car makers to pick up on the soaring sales of SUV’s in the United States and in 1998 released the ML to the market. Well actually although the car was available from 1998, it got widespread attention from its appearance in the 1997 blockbuster ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’. Being a massive fan of the film series, my exposure to the ML began the second I saw it on screen, and in some ways that original model has a strong appeal for me just so I can pretend I am off to see some dino’s (but more on that another time).

pre encounter with the T-Rex

But that original ML had several big flaws; for a start it was built on a seperate chassis (ie not monocoque/unibody), and so whilst a better bet off road than many give it credit for it was not as  refined or car-like as rivals such as the X5 or RX. To add to the problem the car was launched in the midst of Mercedes’ quality issues of the late 90’s, and with the company choosing the ML as its first product to be made at their new Alabama factory (the first outside of Europe) it made the car an easy target for criticism. Add in an interior that was not as plush as rivals and engine choices (at least in the UK) which failed to match its premium badge and the 98-2005 ML is not the best option for the price (albeit a price lower than competitors).

mid 90’s Mercedes at its worst

Despite all this the car was a big success for Mercedes, and they launched its replacement to much fanfare in 2005. Sleeker with a much improved interior and diesel engine, the car silenced critics who had slated the previous generation model and ushered in a new generation of crossovers and SUV for the company; the ML is based on the same platform of both the GL and R Class (all now monocoque chassis). It is this car which I would desperately like to own, not just for the fact it is a better car though.

As I’ve already said, the car is much sleeker than before, not that the older car is ugly but in Sport trim the ML is the best looking car in its segment (for the most part). Climbing in the ML you are greeted with a dash that mimic its larger siblings; chunky but well placed controls made from quality plastics (and leather), the navigation is a notch up from most cars of a similar age, if not iDrive good, and equipment levels are reasonable for the section-but annoyingly memory/heated seats are quite a rare find. Some people have berated the second generation losing the third row of seat option, but in all honesty it was quite clunky anyway and the larger GL caters for that market.

ML in gold…hmmm

As usual I cannot make any real comment on driving the ML, but I can relay what I’ve read. Effectively the big Mercedes is much sharper all around compared to the previous generation, and rides better (especially with air suspension), but it lacks the sharp edge of the X5 and Cayenne. This is not really a negative and suits the character of the car, as do the engines which are powerful and refined; there are 3 petrol models available (ML350 V6 and ML500/63 V8’s), but the vast majority of UK cars were powered by the 3 litre V6. diesel (although a 4 litre V8 was also available). The V6 was offered in various states of tune, firstly the 280CDI/320CDI pair, and subsequently the 300CDI/350CDI which were more powerful and economical; around 30mpg is attainable from all engines and road tax is above the 225g/km threshold too.

Interior complete with column gear shifter

This is where the arguments against the ML start to mount…to put it plainly it is too expensive for what I have. Insurance is actually not too bad and if I got a 2005 model (which are not that common) then road tax would be £280 as opposed to £460, but the purchase price is where I come unstuck. The only examples that sneak in under the £10k mark have mileages in excess of 130k miles which might be too much for me to consider; another grand would get me an example that have a reasonable mileage but then I would be looking at a car that costs over £2.5k more than what I want to spend.

It seems I may not get a ML in this case, but the odd bargain can be had I’m guessing, so if a car with a price of £9k came onto the market then I would jump on it…who knows what the summer months will bring!


8 responses to “Sweet Home Alabama

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