• Roger Witherspoon

Mellow Mountain Rides In the Mercedes ML

By Roger Witherspoon


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The late morning fog hung onto the tops of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains like

billowy clouds which had somehow slipped from their heavenly moorings and fallen onto

the blue-green spikes below. The result was a meandering ridge-running highway which

alternated between stretches bathed in cool, clear light and sudden blind patches of

swirling gray mist.

Mindful of the dual dangers of meandering cows and motorists playing a high

speed game of blind mans bluff, I kept the Mercedes ML 320 in the right lane, rolled well

below the 65-mile per hour speed limit and cruised towards Richmond. Suddenly, a

speeding tractor trailer materialized inches from the passenger side of the car, blindly

barreling out of the fog and onto the highway. Simply sliding over was not an option:

there was a car about 10 feet behind me on the left and gaining fast. If I moved into his

path, I would probably be rear-ended.

So I hit the accelerator, gunning the Mercedes’ diesel powered engine and sharply

swerving left across the highway onto the gravel shoulder, banking on the SUV’s traction

and stability control programs to keep the ML 320 under control until the car in the left

lane had passed and there was room to slide back onto the highway. Neither the car nor

the marauding trucker looked back as they sped into the morning mist. But that didn’t

matter.

Driving a Mercedes is as much about navigating the dangers of the highways and

byways as it is about comfort and style, and the ML 320, a “crossover,” mid-sized SUV

fits that bill. Most crossovers are stretch versions of existing sedans, or truncated versions

of small truck chassis. In this case, however, Mercedes opted to design a unit-body

chassis just for the ML which lies in between the two standard chassis sizes. The ML’s

body rises or falls at the push of a button, making stepping into the SUV as easy as

stepping into the average sedan.

This is a diesel powered SUV, which means its responsiveness comes as a

surprise to motorists familiar with standard gasoline motors. The ML 320 is powered by a

3.0-liter, V-6 engine delivering just 215 horsepower, an output which would be puny in a

regular gasoline engine. But more of the power produced by a diesel engine goes straight

to the axels and, as a result, the level of torque from this V-6 jumps to 398 pound-feet ,

about twice the level produced by a gasoline powered V-6.

On the road, that translates into a vehicle which seemingly has considerably more

power and responsiveness than one would expect. Despite the obvious fact that the ML

320 is a mid sized SUV, it acts and handles more like an upscale sports car powered by a

V-8.

There is another significant difference. The reported gas mileage provided by the

US Environmental Protection Agency tends to be inflated because the mileage rates are

determined by running test cars on a treadmill rather than in real driving conditions. So I

was expecting the diesel-powered ML 320 would get about five miles per gallon less than

the EPA’s projected 18 miles per gallon in city driving, and 24 miles per gallon on the

highway. Instead, the Mercedes provided a nice variation on Southern Comfort by

delivering 26 miles per gallon in stop and go traffic in the New York City area, and 35

miles per gallon on the open highway roaming through Virginia.

Inside, there are most of the comforts one would expect in a $60,000 car – and a

few omissions. For entertainment, the ML has AM/FM and Sirius satellite radio, as well

as a DVD player in the rear with LCD screens set into the back of the hear rests. On the

other hand, the CD player is located inconveniently behind the navigation system screen

on the dashboard, and can only play one disc at a time. In that price range, one would

expect a six-disc player.

In addition, the navigation system is not up to the usual Mercedes standards. It is

cumbersome to use, and its controlling satellite easily loses orientation. Driving south,

the navigation system announced that the car was now off road and guidance could no

longer be provided. In reality, I was on a US Interstate 81, and off road turned out to be

the entire state of West Virginia. The system could find Roanoke, Virginia, the bustling

city in the western end of the state, but decided that Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, about

30 miles away, was also an off-road excursion. Getting directions should not be that

difficult.

But those are relatively minor drawbacks. If you want to get on the open road and

see the country, the ML 320 provides a comfortable way to travel.


2008 Mercedes ML 320 CDI


MSRP: $60,860

EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 24 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage: 26 MPG City 35 MPG Highway

Fuel: Diesel


Performance / Safety:

0 – 60 MPH 8.0 Seconds

Top Speed 136 MPH

Towing Capacity 7,200 Pounds


3.0 – Liter, aluminum V-6 engine producing 215 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of

torque; 7-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission with electronic manual

mode; electronic stability control; 4-wheel independent suspension; rack & pinion

steering; hydraulic power-assisted, 4-wheel disc brakes; 4-wheel drive; 19-inch 5-spoke

aluminum alloy wheels; front dual stage airbags, front & rear side and curtain airbags;

front and rear fog lamps xenon curve illuminating head lamps; hill assist and downhill

speed regulator.


Interior / Comfort:


AM/FM Sirius satellite radio; Harmon/Kardon 8-speaker sound system with rear and

steering wheel controls; DVD navigation system; DVD player with headrest screens;

leather steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise control; voice command; Bluetooth

communications; leather seats; heated front seats; rearview camera; 3-zone climate

control; fold –down rear seats, 60/40 split; power sun roof; 220-lb roof rails; rear cargo

organizer.

Roger Witherspoon

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