The Mercedes Benz M Class started the luxury SUV market back in 1997, with the model continuing successfully to this day, albeit now known as the GLE. The first generation ML was known for its quality issues during its early model years, but was refreshed in 2001, and the 2005 Special Edition runout model was much improved on earlier versions. In fact, the styling of the special edition, with the chrome grill up front, bonnet bulges, 5 spoke wheels and alcantara seats makes the vehicle feel more modern than it actually is, even today, when many people often get confused and ask me if it is a much later model Mercedes.
The car itself was and is a relative bargin. Priced at $81,700 when new, its a good 20K cheaper than the current M Class, before any options are added. Nowdays, you can pick up a decent example anywhere between 10 and 15K, which is a remarkable saving, considering how much car you get for the money.
For me, this car has been quite reliable over the years, being cheaper to run and service than some other Mercedes. However, being a big SUV, some things such as the battery and tyres are expensive to replace. It has a sumptuous interior, seating 7 (current models only seat 5), with the special edition package also including a designo matte wood trim and grippier leather and alcantara seats.
Mechanically, the 350 is a good car with plenty of power, the gearbox shifts gears incredibly smoothly, and the V6 engine is smooth to run. Fuel economy suffers though, as I average about 14-15 litres/100km. Being a body on frame chassis, ride quality is not great, and steering is vague and truck like, making you feel like you're driving a car much bigger than it actually is. The doors are also very heavy, and hard to close everytime all the way. Big rear seat headrests which cannot be lowered also hinder rearward visibility.
Technology wise, the M Class was well equipped for its time, with navigation, bluetooth and parking sensors, which are a must have on such a large car. A sunroof, Bose sound system and dual zone climate control are also some of the luxury features included in the vehicle. Although it looks big, the M Class is actually not very long, being shorter than the average Falcon/Commodore, although it is much higher than most SUVs. It has decent off road ability, with low range control and hill descent control. Finally, although it is a Mercedes, it misses out on some of the other Merc features of the same era, such as the electronic key and newer Comand system, although it does have the traditional Merc mirror mounted indicators.
Overall, the Mercedes ML350 Special Edition is a very pleasant car to own and drive, and if the fuel economy isn't an issue for you, then it is a smart buy in the used car market for families, providing luxury, space and safety for a fraction of the price.