|Also called||Mercedes-Benz ML-Class
Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class (from 2015)
|Body and chassis|
|Class||Mid-size SUV (1997–2005)
Mid-size crossover SUV (2005–present)
|Body style||5-door SUV|
|Layout||Front-engine, rear-wheel drive
Front-engine, four-wheel drive
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class (or ML-Class) is a mid-size luxury crossover sport utility vehicle (SUV), introduced in 1997 as a 1998 model, and built by the German automaker Mercedes-Benz. Gradually, the M-Class became a sales success in the United States and Mexico. In terms of size, it is slotted in between the smaller GLK-Class (based on the C-Class) and the larger GL-Class with which it shares platforms. For a short time, between 1999 and 2002, the M-Class was also built by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria, for the European market, before all the production moved to the U.S. plant near Vance, Alabama. From late 2012, the M-Class was also assembled at new plants in Pune (India), and Wanaherang (Indonesia).
Although grouped under the M-Class banner since launch, BMW, who had the M3 model, objected to the car being badged "M" with the three-digit engine level afterwards (e.g. M 320). This forced Mercedes-Benz to defer to a double-tiered marketing strategy of "ML" badging (e.g. ML 320) under an M-Class umbrella.
From 2015, with the release of the facelifted W166 third generation model, the M-Class will be renamed to Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class as per the revised nomenclature adopted by the brand. Under this scheme, SUVs use the base name "GL", followed by the model's placement in Mercedes-Benz hierarchy. The "G" is for geländewagen (German for off-road vehicle) and aludes the long-running G-Wagen. This is followed by the letter "L" that acts as a linkage with the letter "E"—the GLE being the SUV equivalent to the E-Class.
First generation (W163: 1997–2005)
|Assembly||Austria: Graz (1999–2002)
United States: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
|Designer||Bruno Sacco & Peter Pfeiffer (1993)|
|Engine||M113 E55 V8 (petrol)|
5-speed 5G-Tronic automatic
|Wheelbase||111.0 in (2,819 mm)|
|Length||1997–02: 180.6 in (4,587 mm)
2002–05: 182.6 in (4,638 mm)
AMG: 182.5 in (4,636 mm)
|Width||1997–02: 72.2 in (1,834 mm)
2002–05: 72.4 in (1,839 mm)
AMG: 74.6 in (1,895 mm)
|Height||1997–02: 69.9 in (1,775 mm)
2002–05: 71.7 in (1,821 mm)
AMG: 69.3 in (1,760 mm)
|Curb weight||4,614 lb (2,093 kg)|
Mercedes-Benz proposed a plan to replace the G-Class, which at the time had been in production for 11 years. A joint agreement with Mitsubishi Motors to develop and produce a sports-utility vehicle was made in early 1991 and was confirmed publicly that June. Plans were made to base it on the Montero/Pajero platform, with one of them being badged as a Mercedes-Benz and the other a Mitsubishi. In May 1992, these plans were abandoned citing "technical problems" and Mercedes-Benz continued on with in-house development from January 1993. In March 1993, a search for a location to build a U.S. manufacturing plant began. By September 1993, a location in the state of Alabama was chosen and construction started in 1994. While plans were being made overseas, in Germany development continued. Design work took place from late 1992 to 1994. A design from Mercedes' Sindelfingen studio was chosen in 1993 and approved by the executive board in February 1994. The design patents were filed in Germany on July 13, 1994, and in the U.S. on January 13, 1995. Prototype testing started with test mules and crash tests using mock-ups in May 1994. First functional prototype's crash test took place in February 1995, with full testing run from March 1995 to December 1996 in various climates and regions of the world. Pilot production began in May 1996. In July 1996, construction on the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant concluded, with the very first production M-Class rolling off the assembly line the week of February 9, 1997.
Mercedes-Benz launched the first generation W163 series M-Class on February 19, 1997, in the United States for the 1998 model year, with sales beginning that September. It is a mid-sized body-on-frame SUV with seating for five, or seven with an optional third-row seat. The M-Class was the first luxury SUV to feature electronic stability control, a system designed to detect loss of control and instantaneously intervene with selective braking to bring the vehicle back on its intended course. Furthermore, the M-Class boasted front- and side-impact airbags with advanced occupant detection for the front passenger seat, which, helped earn the W163 the highest marks in insurance industry crash tests.
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class (W163) was available with permanent 4Matic four-wheel drive, which routed torque to all four wheels through all open front, center, and rear differentials. The system used a two-speed dual range BorgWarner 4409 transfer case with reduction gearing, and Mercedes' new Four-wheel Electronic Traction System (4-ETS). 4-ETS simulated three differential locks on all three open differentials, via aggressively braking one or more spinning wheels.
Four-wheel, electronic traction system was said to perform excellent for snow and heavy off road use.
Manufactured in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the United States, the M-Class launched in the North American market first as the ML 320. The ML 320 was sold internationally, with the "320" suffix alluding to the 3.2-litre V6 engine. An entry-level, manual transmission-only ML 230, fitted with a 2.3-litre inline-four was available in Europe from launch in March 1998 until 2000. From launch in 1998, European markets also received the ML 270 CDI with a 2.7-litre inline-five turbodiesel engine. This unit was made available in Australia in 2000 and continued on in the W163 until being replaced upon the release of the W164 M-Class in 2005.
Later, in 1998, the more powerful ML 430 became available with the newly introduced Mercedes-Benz 4.3-litre V8. This was followed by the February 1999 debut of the 2000 ML 55 AMG, featuring a 5.4-litre V8 engine made by AMG, modified bodywork, and other performance features.
In September 1996, before the vehicle was launched, Mercedes-Benz allowed the producers of the 1997 film The Lost World: Jurassic Park to make use of modified pre-production M-Class SUVs as a way to advertise the W163 when it was launched in 1997. As a result, a Mercedes-Benz advertisement appears before the film on original VHS copies of the film. Jeff Goldblum, the star of the film, received a complimentary ML 320 from Mercedes-Benz as a result of the tie-in. Three versions were used in the movie, of which 2 copies of each were built. Two are displayed at the Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, there is one at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, and one at the Visitor Center at the M-class factory in Alabama.
The ML 320 was Motor Trend magazine's Truck of the Year for 1998 and was voted the 1998 North American Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show, Detroit, in January 1998. It also received the World Car Award in March 1999, voted by an international jury of automotive journalists in Geneva. Despite the accolades, Mercedes-Benz received considerable criticism with respect to the substandard quality of the W163. Quality improved over the years, especially after the facelift in 2001 for the 2002 model year. DaimlerChrysler spent US$600 million on improvements at the Alabama factory before launching the second generation ML in 2005.
Mercedes-Benz revised and updated the W163 in 2001 for the 2002 model year. Styling updates involved the fitment of new head- and tail-lamp lenses, front and rear bumpers, new alloy wheels on most variants, the relocation of the side turn signals from the fenders to the side-view mirrors, and various interior trim changes. At the same time, the ML 430 was replaced by the 5.0-litre V8-powered ML 500 and a new 4.0-litre V8 turbodiesel ML 400 CDI became available in Europe. The following year, in 2002, Mercedes-Benz launched the ML 350 fitted with a 3.7-litre V6 engine. The ML 350 replaced the ML 320 in some markets, but supplemented it in others. The W163 was available as a seven seat version, with two seats in a third row. Access was problematic and the seats were not for large adults. The seven seat version was dropped in the W164, with this role undertaken by the longer wheelbase GL model
The previous Popemobile was based on a W163 series ML 430 and has been in service since July 2002. Volkswagen had offered to build a new vehicle based on the Touareg, but Pope Benedict XVI opted to continue using his predecessor's Mercedes-Benz-manufactured vehicle.
Second generation (W164: 2005–2011)
|Assembly||United States: Tuscaloosa, Alabama|
|Designer||Steve Mattin (2001)|
|Engine||3.5 L V6
5.0 L V8
4.6 L V8
5.5 L V8
6.2 L V8
3.0 L turbo-diesel V6
4.0 L turbo-diesel V8
|Transmission||7-speed 7G-Tronic automatic|
|Wheelbase||114.7 in (2,913 mm)|
|Length||4788 mm (188.5 in)
AMG: 189.8 in (4,821 mm)
Hybrid: 188.2 in (4,780 mm)
|Width||1910 mm (75.2 in)
AMG: 76.8 in (1,951 mm)
Hybrid: 77.8 in (1,976 mm)
|Height||1815 mm (71.5 in)
AMG: 73.3 in (1,862 mm)
|Curb weight||2150 kg (4740 lb)|
In 1999, development on a successor to the W163 began under the codename "W164" and spanned a period of 6 years. By late 2001, the production design styled by Steve Mattin under Peter Pfeiffer was chosen and approved by the executive board in 2002. The design patents were filed in Germany on June 10, 2003, and in the U.S. on July 25. Prototype testing was conducted throughout 2003 and 2004, concluding in early 2005. The redesigned M-class (chassis name W164) was introduced in April 2005 as a 2006 model after a showing at the North American International Auto Show in January. It was almost entirely new, with a more sporting, aerodynamic look—the coefficient of drag is down to 0.34. Mercedes-Benz has also made the new M-Class larger, measuring 150 mm longer than the first model. The M-Class was named "Best New Sport Utility Vehicle" in the 2006 Canadian Car of the Year awards.
Mercedes-Benz extensively publicised the US$600 million spent to update its factory and add manufacturing space for the new R-Class. According to early automotive press reports, the 2006 M-Class vehicles demonstrated vast improvements in quality.
The W164 platform used for the new M-Class is shared with the new GL-Class and is a unibody type rather than the former (W163) body-on-frame used by the M-Class vehicles produced from 1998–2005. The X164 GL-Class, a longer seven-seater version of the W164 platform, is also available.
New features in the 2006 M-Class include the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission, optional Active Curve-Illuminating Bi-Xenon headlights which "steer" in the path of the vehicle, and an adjustable-height air suspension. The manual transmission has been dropped. Permanent 4Matic four-wheel drive remained, with one-speed transfer case (no low range), center limited-slip differential and four-wheel electronic traction system (4-ETS). In most countries except the U.S., an Off-Road Pro package with center and rear differential locks, 4-ETS, two-speed transfer case with reduction gearing, and adjustable ground clearance was available as an option.
The AMG version of the W164, the ML 63 AMG, was introduced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show as a limited edition 2007 model. It features a 6.2 L M156 V8 engine producing 510 hp (380 kW) and 465 lb·ft (630 N·m) that is handcrafted in Germany. The engine is added to an AMG Speedshift 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission. The 2006 ML 63 AMG can accelerate from 0–60 mph (96 km/h) in just 4.8 seconds, or from 0–62 mph (100 km/h) in just 5.0 seconds. These impressive features made the ML 63 AMG the most powerful naturally aspırated V8 SUV in the world.
By 2007, design work on updates to the W164 were finalized and patented domestically in Germany on November 23, 2007. The 2009 Mercedes-Benz M-Class got a minor face-lift as it debuted at the 2008 New York International Auto Show in March 2008.
This face-lift includes new front headlights, redesigned front and rear bumpers, new exterior mirrors, new rim choices, a larger front grille, restyled interior, and a new ML 420 CDI engine choice. The ML 280 CDI became the ML 300 CDI, the 320 CDI became the 350 CDI, and the 420 CDI became the 450 CDI.
At the 2009 New York International Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz showed their ML 450 Hybrid SUV, which was announced on 8 April 2009. The ML 450 Hybrid consumes almost 50% less fuel than the ML 550 does, even though it produces over 90% of the power generated by the V8 model. Total power generated will be 335 hp (250 kW) and 381 lb·ft (517 N·m) of torque, while getting 24 mpg-US (9.8 L/100 km) on the highway and 21 mpg-US (11 L/100 km) in the city, according to United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates. The engine itself runs on the Atkinson cycle and by itself makes 275 hp. The ML 450 was developed under the Global Hybrid Cooperation, and will only be available in the United States under lease.
Third generation (W166: 2011–present)
Mercedes Benz ML 350
|Also called||Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class (facelift)|
|Assembly||United States: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
India: Pune, Maharashtra
Indonesia: Wanaherang, Bogor
|Designer||Emiel Burki (2008) |
4.6L Bi-turbo V8
5.5L Bi-turbo V8
2.1L I4 turbo-diesel
3.0L V6 turbo-diesel
CVT automatic (hybrid)
|Wheelbase||114.8 in (2,916 mm)|
|Length||4,803 mm (189.1 in)
AMG: 4,820 mm (189.8 in)
Hybrid: 4,780 mm (188.2 in)
|Width||1,926 mm (75.8 in)
AMG: 1,950 mm (76.8 in)
Hybrid: 1,980 mm (77.8 in)
|Height||1,796 mm (70.7 in)
AMG: 1,860 mm (73.3 in)
|Curb weight||2,150 kg (4,740 lb)|
In 2006, development began on the next-generation M-Class and spanned over a period of 5 years, a much shorter duration than its predecessor. In 2008, the final design by Emiel Burki was approved and patented domestically on December 16, 2008(U.S. design patent filed on June 15, 2009). The newly redesigned M-class (chassis name W166) was introduced in pre-production form 10 June 2011 as a 2012 model. The first customer-designated W166 rolled off the Tuscaloosa production line on 20 July. It is moderately refined, taking styling cues from the new generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class. An increase in rear seat legroom has been implemented, alongside adjustable rear back-rests. It was to be launched in September 2011.
New features in the 2012 M-Class include an updated 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic transmission to provide improved fuel economy, optional Adaptive Cruise Control (Distronic Plus), Active Lane Departure Warning System, and an adjustable-height air suspension (AirMatic).
An On&Off Road Package is available for most markets (now including North America) as of the 2013 model year. The package adds a two-speed dual range Magna Powertrain transfer case with center differential lock, reduction gearing, underbody skid plates, and a 6-mode selectable terrain driving program system. The rear differential lock has been discontinued.
Open front and rear differentials are fitted, and use four-wheel electronic traction system (4-ETS) to simulate front and rear differential locks.
The Mercedes M-Class won first place in the “Luxury Crossover SUV” category and has been named the most ideal vehicle for Americans based on a study undertaken by California-based automotive research and consulting firm AutoPacific.
Mercedes-Benz India established a manufacturing plant in Chakan, Pune in early 2009 that rolled out the first W166 M-Class to be built outside the USA in October 2012. In the following month, Mercedes-Benz Indonesia began M-Class assembly at a factory in Wanaherang, West Java. These plants perform final assembly of vehicles shipped as "knocked-down" kits from Tuscaloosa, USA.
The current Popemobile is based on the 2012 M-Class and was delivered in December 2012.
|ML 350 BlueEFFICIENCY 4MATIC||2012-||3,498 cc (213 cu in) 24V V6 normally aspirated(Mercedes-Benz M276 DE 35 engine)||306 PS (225 kW)@6500, 370 N·m (273 lb·ft)@3500-5250
|ML 550 4MATIC||2012-||4,663 cc (285 cu in) 32V V8 BiTurbo||408 PS (300 kW)@5000-5750, 600 N·m (443 lb·ft)@1600-4750
|ML 63 AMG (with 4MATIC)||2012-||5,461 cc (333 cu in) 32V V8 Biturbo (Mercedes-Benz M157 engine)||525 PS (386 kW)@5250, 700 N·m (516 lb·ft)@1750-5000
Performance Package: 557 PS (410 kW)@5750, 760 N·m (561 lb·ft)@2000-5000
|ML 250 BlueTEC 4MATIC||2012-||2,143 cc (131 cu in) 16V I4 Bi-turbo Mercedes-Benz OM651 DE 22 LA engine||204 PS (150 kW)@4200, 500 N·m (369 lb·ft)@1.600–1.800
|ML 350 BlueTEC 4MATIC||2012-||2,987 cc (182 cu in) 24V V6 Single turbo Mercedes-Benz OM 642 LS DE 30 LA engine)||258 PS (190 kW)@3800, 620 N·m (457 lb·ft)@1600 – 2400
|Moderate overlap frontal offset||Good|
|Small overlap frontal offset (Nov 2013–present)||Good1|
- 1 vehicle structure rated "Acceptable"
- 2 strength-to-weight ratio: 6.68
Production and sales
|Calendar year||Production||US Sales|
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Media related to Mercedes-Benz M-Class at Wikimedia Commons
- Curbside Classic: Automotive History: Mercedes W163 (1998-2005 M-Class) – Conceived in Germany, Born In America – retrospective of the W163 M-Class