REVIEWS: 2009 Mercedes Benz ML550 4Matic

January 20, 2009
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0812 14 Z+2009 Mercedes Benz ML550 4Matic+front Three Quarter View
The ML no longer makes sense to me. I drove the GLK this summer and I'd quickly recommend the smaller ute to those who don't need three rows of seating, and the GL (with a diesel) makes a lot of sense if you're hauling more people or a trailer. So where does the ML fit?
I still love the seven-speed automatic and the 382-hp V-8 that powers the ML550 and so much of the Mercedes lineup. It's a perfect combination of power and refinement. I suppose, since the GLK doesn't come with a V-8, you'd have to shop the ML if you wanted V-8 power.
This Benz has a very strong German luxury feel to it. The interior is efficient and plush, but not over the top. All the controls are easy to understand, and the displays are easy to read. The Comand system makes navigating the Sirius radio channels a breeze, but I wish the stereo had a little more kick to it.
I wasn't able to find a comfortable suspension setting with the airmatic system. The comfort mode floats too much and feels disconnected from the road. If you choose sport, the ride is reasonable over smooth pavement but becomes a bit harsh over bumps and along broken roads. Driving with the regular suspension setting is still a bit too disconnected for my taste.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
0812 08 Z+2009 Mercedes Benz ML550 4Matic+interior View
In terms of looks, the ML sure has come a long way from the first M-class of the mid-1990s, which was a minivan in disguise. I quite like the new face-lift, which gave the ML a larger grille and new headlights, and the way this vehicle looks on the street. I also like the way the ML550 drives. It's a very comfortable everyday driver, not too harsh, not too soft, with plenty of power and, in the guise of our fully loaded, $68,090 test vehicle, brimming with every luxury amenity you could possibly want.
Wow. I just let that sticker price sink in for a moment. I remember, back in 1997, when the then-new M-classes started pouring out of Mercedes-Benz's new factory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for a starting price of about $34,000, and there was a lot of talk about what a bargain it was. Those days are long gone, because the current V-6 M-class, the ML350, starts at about $48,000. Admittedly, today's M-class is a lot better vehicle than the original, and even $48,000 is a lot more palatable of a proposition than this staggeringly expensive - if wonderfully decadent - ML550.
The ML that interests me the most, however, is the all-new ML320 Bluetec, which runs on ultralow-sulfur diesel fuel. It costs about $50,000 but is rated by the EPA at 18/24 mpg, compared with the ML350's 15/20 mpg. (Let's not even talk about the ML550's fuel economy. Well, OK: it's 13/18 mpg.) We'll have one here at the Automobile Magazine offices soon and will bring you a full report.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
0812 12 Z+2009 Mercedes Benz ML550 4Matic+rear Three Quarter View
I can definitely see Phil's point about Mercedes-Benz's lineup getting crossover-heavy. But that's true of most carmakers these days, and the ML remains highly desirable. Some appearance touches on this particular vehicle (grille, body kit, wheels, running boards) leave it looking a lot like the hot-hot-hot ML63 AMG. Its higher ride height, however, makes it look a bit off to my eyes. The price for this one, $68K, is plenty steep, too, as Joe DeMatio noted. (But the ML63 AMG starts at about $91K, so I won't belabor the point too much.)
The extremely pleasant ML550 certainly isn't lacking for any luxury. Or power. This Benz is quick for a monstrous SUV. The seven-speed automatic's shifts are fast and crisp, although the transmission sometimes hangs a gear if you make a prompt kickdown maneuver but then back off the throttle. But I have to concur again with Joe: the ML320 Bluetec is the most enticing model of the bunch, especially given its premium of only $1500 over the ML350. Not that diesel fuel is cheap these days...
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2009 Mercedes-Benz ML 550 4Matic
0812 03 Z+2009 Mercedes Benz ML550 4Matic+grille
Base Price (with destination): $54,450
Price as tested: $68,090
Options:
-"Alpine Rain" paint - $720
-Adaptive Damping System (ADS II) - $1600
-Rear Seat Entertainment System - $1850
-P02 Package - $6600
-Full Leather Seating Package - $1995
Fuel Economy: 13/18/15 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Engine:
Size: 5.5L V-8
HP: 382 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 391 lb-ft @ 2,800-4,800 rpm
Safety Ratings (in stars, 1-5):
Frontal Crash Driver: 4
Frontal Crash Passenger: 4
Side Crash Front Seat: 4
Side Crash Rear Seat: 4
Rollover: 4
Transmission: 7-speed Automatic
Weight: 4795 lb
Wheels: 19" AMG 5-Spoke Design
Tires: 255/50 R19 All-Season
0812 01 Z+2009 Mercedes Benz ML550 4Matic+step

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