Merc special edition not that special

When Mercedes’ ML first dared to impinge upon Range Rover country, it kickstarted the premium 4x4 boom; it’s a landmark car. That was 1997 however – and in 2004, Mercedes is marking its final months with range of ‘Special Edition’ models spanning the ML’s power panoply.

With second-generation MLs appearing this time next year though, armed with a unitary chassis, air suspension and a raft of new engines, what sort of argument can Mercedes construct for spending your £40k now?

Well, it has thrown more than £4,400 of extras in for a start, including leather and alcantara electric sports seats and a fascia lifted by black walnut or light birch trim. New 17in alloy wheels also sweeten the deal, as well as aluminium roof rails, a grille finished in polished silver, and a bonnet featuring the potent ML55 AMG’s twin ‘powerdomes’.

Unfortunately, the specification sheet is the only place this ageing offroader impresses. Clamber inside the cabin and you’ll find uncharacteristically cheap-feeling plastics, and switchgear that betrays the car’s years all too readily. No reach adjustment on the steering wheel is similarly hard to forgive, and further aft, space is scant. Don’t confuse this car for a commodious seven-seater; in place, the ML’s third row affords room only for young children, and folded and suspended on straps on either side of the boot, seats six and seven rattle at every opportunity.

And there are plenty. Disadvantaged by its ladder frame chassis and coil springs, when this big Benz isn’t lurching between camber changes, it’s shuffling over manhole covers. With its over-sprung brake pedal, indirect throttle, and slow-witted steering to boot, the ML’s driving experience is in serious need of reappraisal.

The 18-valve, 235bhp, 3.7-litre V6 (not to be confused with the new-generation 24-valve 268bhp 3.5-litre V6 already to be found in the SLK and E-class) makes a better fist of hauling the ML’s two-tonne bulk than the old 3.2-litre unit however. If you can’t bear the 2.7-litre five-cylinder diesel’s clatter, it’s a better all round choice than the thirsty 5.0-litre V8.However, if you’ve waited seven years to buy an ML, we think you deserve better. That’s why we’d wait that little bit longer. 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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