Mercedes first introduced the M-Class for the 1998 model year, and it was an instant hit, collecting the Canadian Car of the Year award from the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada and North American Truck of the Year honours.
Eight years later, it was basically a case of more and bigger. For 2006, Mercedes' upscale sport-ute was larger, more powerful and more refined. Wheelbase girth was up slightly, as was the vehicle's width, and the distance between the front and back seats was increased to make the M-class roomier than its predecessor. It was also positioned a little lower to the ground, which improved ingress and egress substantially over its predecessors.
Two engines were offered: a 3.5-litre, twin-cam V-6 for the ML 350 and a 5.0-litre V-8 for the ML 500. The V-6 was also found in Mercedes' SLK 350 roadster, while the V-8 was essentially carried over from the first generation of M-class.
Power outputs were 268 horsepower and 302 horsepower, respectively, and both engines were mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission,.
As for performance, the made-in-Alabama ML 350 V-6 accelerated from zero to 100 kilometres an hour in under 10 seconds, while returning fuel economy of 14.6 litres/100 km in the city and 10.6 on the highway.
Inside, there was no confusing the fact that you were sitting in an upscale sport-ute; fit and finish were well above average, while NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) was minimal.
In terms of passive safety, the '06 M-class featured front and rear body sections designed to deform and absorb crash energy, with a superstrong passenger cell to protect occupants by maintaining a "survival space." It also had standard two-stage adaptive front airbags, curtain side airbags and a roll-over sensor.
Active safety features included antilock brakes, all-speed traction control, electronic stability program, brake assist and a tire-pressure-monitoring system.
Both the ML 350 and ML 500 had full-time, four-wheel-drive systems, which featured electronic traction control. When wheel slippage occurred, the system automatically applied the vehicle's brakes to the slipping wheels and transferred power to whatever wheel had the most grip. In an extreme situation, this meant that even if only one wheel was doing its job, all power would be diverted to it. Under normal driving conditions, power distribution was split evenly - 50/50 - between the front and rear wheels.
Mercedes also offered an optional air suspension system that raised or lowered the vehicle height through a dash-mounted switch. It cost an additional $5,000.
There are two recalls to report from Transport Canada. One concerns an aftermarket trailer hitch that may be improperly welded and, as a result, at risk of breaking away from the vehicle, with predictably disastrous results. The other involves a possibly flawed power-steering-fluid hose connection. This could lead to a loss of fluid, adversely affected steering, and, ultimately, a vehicle crash.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has this latter glitch on file as well as a warning about incorrect software calibrations that could affect some instrumentation readings and the vehicle's fuel pump. Dealers will set these right at no charge.
Just two technical service bulletins from NHTSA to report here, both of which are minor and electrical in nature. They affect instrumentation illumination and pose no safety or dependability risk.
Still, Consumer Reports doesn't seem to like the 2006 M-class very much, giving it black marks in quite a few departments, notably the transmission, electrical system, suspension and climate control system. As a result, it receives this organization's lowest used-car verdict rating. Things improve in 2007.
Market research company J.D. Power is equally torn, giving this vintage of the M-class failing grades in overall dependability, powertrain quality, overall quality and several other categories. It gets good grades in terms of overall performance and design, but falls short when it comes to overall dependability and initial quality.
2006 MERCEDES M-CLASS
Type: Luxury SUV
Original Base Price: $55,700-$75,300; Black Book Value: $32,700-$35,750; Red Book Value: $29,475-$42,925
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6/5.0-litre V-8
- 268 hp/258 lb-ft for V-6
- 302 hp/330 lb-ft for V-8
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km):14.6 city/10.6 highway (V-6 engine); premium gas
Alternatives: Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Acura MDX, Lexus RX330, Range Rover 4WD, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti FX35/45, Volvo XC90