When it was introduced two years ago, the Mercedes-Benz ML sport ute suffered its share of teething problems. Its fit and finish, as well as its durability, were not what we have come to expect from Mercedes. After a 40,000-mile test of a V-8-equipped ML430, our sister magazine, Car and Driver, noted that it was "very disappointed" with the truck's squeaks and rattles. Its customers ranked its quality well below average as well.
For the 2000 model year, Mercedes made some major improvements: The interior has been significantly up-graded; a new five-speed automatic transmission has been installed; and all regularly scheduled maintenance for the first four years or 50,000 miles is included with the purchase.
Perhaps motivated by BMW's new SUV, Mercedes has designed a special hot edition, the ML55, which had its chassis and engine tuned by AMG, Mercedes' racing partner. The engine is a thoroughbred 5.4-liter V-8 pumping out a lusty 342 hp. Wheels, tires, and brakes have been upgraded to handle a 140-mph top speed and 0-to-60-mph acceleration in seven seconds - or less.
The ML55 looks the part: dual hood ripples, twin exhaust pipes, racy red brake calipers, and bold lower-body cladding. Its interior is swathed in fine leather, burled walnut, and embroidered floor mats.
Leg the throttle and this Mercedes disappears. The ride is firm but rarely harsh. Body roll? Negligible. Its fat Dunlop tires do an excellent job holding down this two-and-a-half-ton meteor through tight turns.