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This car was possibly the best 4x4 I have had the honour to drive right up until she became obsolete and replaced by my current car, the ML320 CDI.
Never having really been a fan of the 4X4. Chelsea Taxi/Sloane Rangers Horse/Desperate Housewives School run buggy or whatever else the media may label this with, when I was first handed the keys to my 270, I thought that I would not enjoy it nor really want to try and get it in my limited driveway which has single lane access. The Ml itself is rather a bulky car and as high as I am tall, so not the prettiest of cars and not the most elegant. If you like WWE (WWF as I knew it) then you can imagine The Rock standing next to Kylie Minogue. One is manoeuvrable, can take a good load and handles well, the other is the The Rock.
Walking around a car is a common thing for me to do. I drive that many different cars, I instinctively look for damage so as not to be blamed when the next person gets to drive it. Walking around the ML takes a bit longer than walking around the E class I am use to and you get to notice how dominating the wheels are and the distance they are from the actual wheel arches. Of course, the ML, although an off road vehicle is primarily used for on-road purposes, however I did go on the Mercedes off road day, close to Maidenhead and took 5ft Sherry (my wife, not a large bottle of drink!) with me and she excelled getting the big lump up and down gorges and dips. She also drove the car well. The ML does hold its own off road but the tyres need changing to accommodate this. I will go on about this a bit later.
Okay, bulky appearance but front views show a predominant grille which resembles a row of sharks teeth really. The bonnet is high and throne-like with a slight angled windscreen tilting back to the long drawn out roof bars which are located at each side of the car. Side steps are optional but make the car more pleasant to the eye and allow the old granny access to the vehicle without the whole family trying to push her up and in while avoiding the passing of wind ceremony that old grannys tend to deploy as a matter of defence. The rear access into the boot is simple unless you have opted for the 7 seat version which then leaves a clumpy old spare wheel attached to the back and this must be swivelled away before raising the boot to its 6ft plus height, making it impossible for any dwarf-like person to reach. Now bearing in mind this car is used on school trips quite often, the scene of a diminutive housewife leaping in the air and swinging off the pull-handle is a somewhat mirthful experience for even the most cynical school crossing attendant.
Easy access for loading though, as the back seats fold down allowing a load of 6 ft to slide in. Now here was where I found my first fault with the ML. I bought 8 6 ft fence panels after measuring the car to ensure that they would fit. Even the manufacturers guide says the access is 4ft 3 so no problems youd think? Wrong! The first two slid in like a *insert smutty joke here* and then the next one jammed. The car contours in to a width of 3ft 9 at the top so the third went in at an angle and the fourth only just squeezed in but then I could not close the door! So Sherry had to wait at B&Q while I did two trips! Grrr and other noises associated with anger and frustration. Anyway, I digress. The car is great for normal work loads and can accommodate a fair amount of junk as we use this for our market days and picking up supplies for the shop.
Inside the car is a different matter as far as comfort and space is afforded to the passengers. The car must have what they call the Lux pack or luxury if you like. This gives you metallic paint, leather, memory seats and heated seats. Without this your car is worthless on the used car market and will drop £3000 on book price. It cost less than that to put on a new car so it gives you a guide as to what to look for in a used car (Again, they no longer make the 270 version!) the wheel tilts and slides so it is so easy to get a comfortable driving position and programme it in to the three options on the memory select panel and you are there. Dual air-con and multi CD are a must as well, the air-con being standard but the CD an extra option. I was fortunate to have COMAND (Sat-Nav and other stuff system) in my cars which help the entertainment factor of being stuck in traffic as you can pretend you are in Paris, Barcelona or where ever you want really. (Only available on DVD Nav system, not the older CD one!) This dominates the centre console with the automatic gear leaver under this stretching to the mid section of the rear passenger seats. The passenger sitting next to the driver is not forgotten with heated seats to warm their bums and their own air con as I mentioned. If you want to have a laugh, switch the heated seat on when the passenger is not looking and snigger as they squirm in their seat before realising what you have done. Naughty! The rear passenger seat has plenty of head and leg room and affords a comfortable cruise for the back seat crew as long as the roads are straight and flat. Two faults with this car here are the handbrake, which is the traditional Merc foot pedal which means unless you are tall, a hill start is difficult even with an auto box but in manual, forget it. The other thing is parking, unless you have parktronic fitted it is an absolute nightmare and very difficult, even for us seasoned parkers.
Driving the beast has a mixed review from me. The earlier models (1998 to 2001, before the second face-lift) tend to buffer and bounce you around a bit and people in the back can be a bit nauseous. Not that they are bad people you know, it is just the monotonous bouncing around can get to you after a while. Being in the front is a different story though. An elevated position gives you a good all-round vision and a comfortable armchair feel so you are not treated in the same way. In fact, after completing the Edinburgh marathon last year, I drove this car back to Birmingham before swapping with my co-pilot and felt better driving than I did as a passenger. She handles well although cornering needs to be thought about when you are use to a saloon car. Braking is good and all the usual Mercedes features come as standard as far as safety is concerned.
Servicing for these cars averages an impressive £450 per 15,000 miles service (has an onboard computer that tells you when it is due.) and the cost of running one is not bad either. Driving sensibly, you can average 35 mpg, and a run from Edinburgh to Poole averaged 38 mpg. The drive from Pool to Salisbury every day averages 28 mpg, based on an 800 mile two week period. Tyres are hard wearing and if you are not a complete lunatic driver, should get 20K plus before changing at a cost of £130 per tyre. Brakes are a killer though, costs about a bag of sand (grand or 1500 Euros for our European counterparts) to replace discs and pads, ouch!
Overall, this is a nice car and can be a joy to drive but make sure your budget can afford a few hefty bills in the service department if you are buying an older version. Avoid the pre2001 face-lift models and the easiest way tot ell is that the 2001 onwards had indicators in the mirrors. Colour coded bumpers became standard on the first facelift so do not fall into that trap. In the later years, they made a few special editions with chrome finish grilles and side steps, bull bars etc and they looked the biz. These cars will stand higher in value come later days as the ML tends to depreciate about 50% in 3 years (£36K new to 18K used is a big drop.) but if you buy one of these cars away from a main dealer then you only have yourself to blame when you find out a Mercedes Repair Bill is 4 figures and the warranty does not cover the repairs. I am not saying only buy from a Mercedes garage as you will get a bargain privately but allow a thousand pounds to get it up to the standard of a Mercedes Forecourt vehicle.
Anyway, I have used up my allotted 1500 words already so I hope that you can get from this what you need.
In short for the skimmers.
Good: Front Seat Comfort, MPG and Drive
Bad: Back Seat Drive, Rear access and cornering.