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1998 4x4 of the Year Models: Mercedes-Benz ML320

Posted in Project Vehicles on February 1, 1998 Comment (0)
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1998 4x4 of the Year Models: Mercedes-Benz ML320
Contributors: Tori Tellem
Photographers: 4 Wheel & Off-Road Staff

The ML320 is the first-ever luxo-ute from prestigious Mercedes-Benz, and most onlookers assumed it was big cash. Actually, the Mercedes has a base price of $33,950, which (we hate to say it) is reasonable in today's high-end sport/utility market. However, add leather, a sunroof, Bose sound, metallic paint, and destination charges, and you'll pay $40,115-making this the highest-priced truck we tested.

But for your money you get, well...a Mercedes. Not only was the interior fit and finish ranked tops, but the Benz is by far the best-handling 4x4 we've ever tested. Both on tarmac and off, the brake feel and steering control were the best, and even though we disapproved of the shifter design, the computer-controlled five-speed is one of the finest auto trannies we've experienced. With ultimate tunes, superior cruise control, and interior silence like few we've encountered, the MB made up for many lost points in on-dirt testing.

The biggest drawbacks to the ML320's off-road abilities are its low ground clearance and extremely limited wheel travel. Another drawback is Mercedes' solution to the limited travel: the four-wheel electronic traction system (4ETS). This system utilizes open differentials in both axles and in the transfer case, so power always goes to the tires with the least traction. Mercedes overcomes this by utilizing the ABS to modulate the brakes and slow the spinning wheel, thereby sending power to the tires with traction.

This works amazingly well in the mild conditions most likely encountered by typical ML320 drivers. We thought it was really neat-until we hit slightly more difficult terrain. If you get a tire off the ground on a slow-speed trail, too much wheel speed is required to activate the 4ETS-once it does engage, you better get on the brake fast, otherwise you'll launch too quickly off the obstacle, resulting in vehicle body massage. Speaking of brakes, you also have to remember that touching the brake pedal deactivates the 4ETS. So imagine this scenario: You're traveling down a rutted hill in First gear, low range, using compression braking. If one wheel comes off the ground, all the compression braking power goes to the wheel that's off the ground. Bummer. And in sand and loose dirt, the 4ETS get confused, leaving the Mercedes stranded where conventional four-wheel-drive systems are able to tread easily.

A compact spare (with no room to store a dead fullsize tire) and a sealed trans dipstick further assured us that this is not an enthusiast-targeted vehicle. However, those concerns were distanced once on the highway, where the ML320 will surely thrive as one of the most prestigious luxury sport/utes.

Mercedes-Benz ML320
Likes
•Traction control good in mild conditions
•Excellent on-road handling
•Superior fit and finish

Dislikes
•Traction control scary in harsh conditions
•Way, way too low
•Choppy rough-road ride

Specifications
General
Manufacturer Mercedes-Benz
Model M-Class ML320
Base Price $33,950
Price as Tested $40,115
Options as Tested Leather-trimmed seats, steering wheel, and gearshift knob; walnut dashboard and console trim; heated eight-way power front seats; auto-dimming inside mirror; trip computer; outside temperature gauge; lockable safebox; privacy glass; Bose Premium audio system with six-disc CD changer; glass sunroof; and metallic paint.

Engine
Type 90-degree V-6
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 3.2/3,199cc (convert)
Bore & Stroke (inches) 89.9x84
Compression Ratio 10.0:1
Induction Type Sequential fuel injection and electronic throttle control
Fuel Requirement/Capacity (gallons) 91 Octane
Unleaded Premium/19
SAE Peak Horsepower 215 @ 5,500 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 232 @ 3,000 rpm

Transmission
Type Five-speed electronic automatic overdrive
Model W5A30D
Ratios First: 3.93:1; Second: 2.41:1; Third: 1.49:1; Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.83:1; Reverse: 3.10:1

Transfer Case
Type Two-speed electronic
Model Borg-Warner 44-09
Low-Range Ratio 2.64:1

Axles
Front Type Independent
Rear Type Independent
Hubs N/A
Ratio 3.69:1

Suspension
Front Double-wishbone/upper and lower control arms/torsion bars
Rear Double-wishbone/upper and lower control arms/coil springs

Steering
Type Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.62/N/A
Turning Radius (feet) 37

Wheels
Size (inches) 16x8
Material Alloy

Tires
Size P255/65R16
Brand Dunlop Grandtrek

Brake System
Front 11.93-inch discs with ABS
Rear 11.22-inch discs with ABS

Weight
Measured Weight (pounds) 4,535
Advertised GVWR (pounds) 6,000

Mileage
EPA Estimate (city/hwy mpg) 17/21
As Tested (mpg) 14.76

Acceleration
Standing 1/4-mile (seconds @ mph) 18.56 @ 73.10

Braking
60-0 mph (feet) 147.08

Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 111.0
Overall Length 180.0
Overall Width 72.2
Overall Height 69.9
Front/Rear Track 60.4/60.4
Front/Rear Overhang 32.25/38.875
Minimum Front Ground Clearance 8.5

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