The Mercedes ML320 was in production between 1997 and 2005 for the first W163 generation and the ML320 that followed it was the W164 which ceased production in 2011. The first generation of the ML320 is now a fairly old car and it is also not the most reliable one while the W164 is still a decent car.
Both of these use a 6-cylinder engine with upwards of 200hp, an AWD system, and an automatic gearbox. The 1st gen ML320 is also available with a 5-speed manual in certain markets. All these ML320 engines are smooth and fitting for such a large car, but they do experience issues with cooling and pulleys.
Design-wise, the 1st generation of the ML is tamed and simple while the 2nd generation is a lot more aggressive and utilitarian, both inside and out. The chassis and suspension are tailored towards the comfort side of things, but that does not mean that the ML is not a good off-road car.
Value-wise, both of these can be had for a really tempting price, but high maintenance costs and reliability issues tend to portray a different image. Practicality-wise, both of these are plenty spacious for most people, both seating space-wise and cargo space-wise.
The most common problems with the ML320.
Mercedes ML320 – The powerplant
The first generation of the ML320 uses a 3.2L V6 engine with 218hp and 228lb-ft of torque. It comes with a permanent AWD system that makes it a worthwhile off-roader as well. The standard gearbox option for the 1st gen ML320 is a 5-speed automatic that fits the character of the W163 ML320 fairly decently.
The second generation of the ML320, the W164 generation uses a revised version of the very same engine in order to offer a 3.5L displacement that is good enough for 272hp and 258lb-ft of torque. The W164 also offers a more sophisticated and efficient 7-speed automatic gearbox and a permanent AWD system.
The first-gen ML320 can return about 17MPG combined which is not all that efficient while the second generation can return a more decent 20MPG. All in all, you need to drive these in a fairly restrained manner in order to really experience 17 or 20MPG.
Mercedes ML320 – The design and chassis
The first generation of the ML320 looks fairly simple and tamed which means that it is not all that commanding. However, AMG versions do tend to spice up the exterior design and make it more commanding, more SUV-ish.
The second generation of the ML320 looks a lot more commanding and luxurious with strong haunches and expressed hips. Interior-wise, both of these come with leather seats and cleverly-designed switches, yet the 2nd generation looks a lot more luxurious overall.
Both of these are designed as comfortable family SUVs which means that they offer a subdued and chilled driving experience. They do experience quite a lot of body roll and pitching while braking which makes them unwilling to do performance driving.
Mercedes ML320 – Reliability and potential issues
The first generation of the ML320 is not the most reliable SUV out there, not even by a longshot. However, the second generation is indeed better, but only if maintained correctly and timely. Either way, you need to keep in mind that both of these tend to experience all sorts of engine-related issues, steering system issues, and electrical issues.
Air suspension-equipped models are also questionable without proper maintenance while all sorts of leaks can also create all sorts of problems. Neither of these two is a reliability champ which means that you do need to maintain them if you want them to last at all.
Mercedes ML320 – Value and practicality
The first generation of the ML320 can be had for peanuts, but maintenance costs can easily negate that in only a year. The second-generation commands a more reasonable price which means that you can get one for $10k easily. However, you need to buy a newer model with low miles on the clock if you want it as your daily driver. These will run you a few grand extras.
Practicality-wise, the ML320 is more than decent, no matter if it’s the W163 or the W164 generation. There is plenty of space for up to 5 passengers and the cargo area on offer is also more than decent.
Should I buy the ML320?
You should consider buying the W164 ML320, but only if you want it, like it and you can maintain it properly. The 1st generation ML320 is not really all that good, especially if with lots of miles on the clock. Given the fact that these tend to be driven until the wheels fall off, the chances of finding one with low miles are limited, at least not for a cheap price.
As such, you should focus your attention on the 2nd generation ML320. It is a lot more reliable and it can still be used today.
Is the ML320 a safe car?
Both generations of the ML320 are safe considering their age. This means that they do offer a tank-like built quality even though they lack all the modern safety features. The second generation of the ML320 is a lot safer, but also not as safe as most modern-day SUVs are.
Mercedes has always been focusing on making safe cars, and these two are no exceptions. However, if you want the safest Mercedes SUV experience without paying huge amounts of money, the third generation ML-Class should do the trick.
Is the ML320 a good off-roader?
Both generations of the ML320 can hold their own on an off-road course, but it’s safe to say that neither of these two are actual off-roaders. They are designed and built for on-road use, school trips, highway cruising, and soccer practices. They are born to spend their time on the road even though they breathe off-road courses.
Mercedes knows that hardly anyone is willing nor going to take a luxury Mercedes SUV off the beaten path and Mercedes also knows that most Mercedes SUV owners want comfort, quietness, and effortless performance.