First Look: 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Mercedes knows the midsized luxury SUV segment is bursting with competition, and if attacked properly, high profits as well. To keep its M-Class moving out of dealerships, Mercedes has refreshed the SUV, making exterior changes that bring it in line with its boxy GL and upcoming GLK siblings while interior upgrades are subtle unless you go for the two-tone leather and the two huge eight-inch screens for watching DVDs in the backseat.
Powertrain options remain the same, although Mercedes notes that fuel economy is marginally improved with most engine options. The easiest way to tell if a refreshed M-Class is following you is to look for the "smiling" lower grille which is especially apparent -- for better or for worse -- on light-colored models. The refreshed grille is framed by fog lights pushed to the edges of the SUV, enhancing its presence. Larger side mirrors that follow the new C-Class design have been added and in back, smoked taillights (clear lenses are available) and reflectors integrated into the rear bumper again emphasize the M-Class' size. 19-inch wheels, standard on V-8 models, won't hurt that impression either.
The revised headlight design now subtly suggests a boomerang shape while the new simulated underguard suggests offroad capability that will not likely be used as often as those eight-inch screens mounted on the back of the front seats. The integrated DVD player comes with two sets of wireless headphones and two remote controls, thus freeing you from the burden of talking to your rear seat passengers. Door linings are now trimmed in man-made leather and the redesigned four-spoke steering wheel has shift paddles and multifunction controls that are supposedly easier to use. The dashboard, trimmed in nappa or man-made leather, complement one of three different wood trims. On the safety front, Mercedes has made Pre-safe and Neck-Pro head restraints standard on all models.
The 510 horsepower ML63 AMG gets the most controversial exterior upgrade, with a rectangular air inlet as well as revised headlights and grille. New five-spoke 20-inch AMG wheels are wrapped in 295/40 R20 rubber. Inside, a new AMG steering wheel with aluminum shift paddles to control the seven-speed automatic, which has three drive modes. The handful of ML63 AMG drivers who take their rides to the racetrack will appreciate the Racetimer, which records lap times. Powered by the familiar 6.2-liter V-8, the ML63 AMG roars from 0-62 mph in five seconds on to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
Mercedes' M-Class upgrades should be enough to carry it until the third-generation model arrives in a few years, but until then, we hope the price won't head much higher than the current 2008 ML350 base price of $44,825, which includes an $825 delivery charge but not a six-disc CD changer or heated front seats. Regardless, the M-Class is now a slightly sharper SUV than it was before.