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Coupe/Convertible Forums Moderator
CURRENT: 2011 SL550 FORMER: C300, ML350, CLK550 Cabriolet, C240, ML320, 300TD
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Discussion Starter #1
Crown Automobile in Birmingham was able to get their hands on a W164 Test Vehicle owned by one of the factory execs. A friend of mine that works there called me to give me a heads-up. I was able to spend about 45 minutes in it driving around, but unfortunately, no off-roading (which doesn’t matter because it did not have the off-road package anyway).

My overall impression is that this is a much much better vehicle than the W163, but there are some changes that, to me, are not in the right direction. It is much tighter, solid, and more quiet then the W163. The interior is much more in line with the new Mercedes designs. The instrumentation, dash, and controls are all very sporty and modern looking with just the right blend of brushed metal, wood, and padded surfaces.

The first thing I noticed is that the steering is much tighter and seemed quicker. It gives the truck a more sporty feel, but I’m not sure how well suited it is for off-road driving, although that’s not what this vehicle is about. This one did have the Airmatic suspension. In lowered mode and full sport suspension enable, it was very fun to drive. In comfort and fully raised mode, it still handled well and certainly made ruts and bumps much less severe. It also made the step-in height noticeably higher; more like getting in and out of a Tahoe than the W163.

The 5.0l V8 has increased torque and HP over the previous model, which is noticeable. The engine sound is pleasant, but the 7-speed transmission was still a bit slow to shift. He steering-wheel mounted shift controls are convenient, but I really missed the slapping the stick. Also, the switches could tend to be a nuisance for people like me with big fat fingers. The column-mounted shifter is easy to use and would not take to long to get used to. However, the stalk it’s on is somewhat flimsy feeling, much like the cruise control stalk in the W163.

The cockpit does not feel as roomy as the W163, but of course the specs would disagree. It may be the design of the dash that makes it seem more “close�. With the seat fully lowered, there is much more headroom, but it also changes the driving position to be more car-like than the W163. It’s not a bad thing, just different. It reminded me a lot of my 4Runner in that I felt more “stretched-out� and “upright�. The door sills have a slight lip to them, unlike the totally flat sills in the W163. To me, that’s a big negative as the flat sills make entry and exit much easier. Another plus is the headliner material is the newer style woven material, but I seems like more of the other trim, such as the B-pillars, is “cheap� plastic.

The back seat is a mistake. It is completely uncomfortable. Again, I know the specs say differently, but it sure seemed to be much tighter than the W163. The seat back is reclined a lot farther than the W163 (and unlike the RX330, it’s not adjustable). This makes the back seat area feel roomier, but it’s not very comfortable. I also do not like the headrest design (I prefer the more traditional full design of the W163), but at least when fully lowered, rear visibility is better. Speaking of visibility, I did not feel as comfortable when looking out of the side windows. I could not quite put my finger on it, but it just felt like I could not see as well as in the W163. Of course the car-like side mirrors don’t help. The passenger side mirror is actually slightly obstructed by the A-pillar (but this is also an issue with the MY2002+ W163).

The power opening rear lift gate is a nice option. The rear cargo area is a good size and the track system is a nice touch. The bad thing is that the spare tire (a 155-sized temporary use model) is under a cover in the cargo area. Imagine being loaded with luggage (or firewood, gravel or other inconvenient cargo of your choice) and having a flat. This is definitely not a good design for an SUV, although for off-road driving, it’s probably better than being lodged under the frame. I still do not like the looks of the rear bumper. The bottom edge of it looks somewhat unfinished, like it should curve under more or be lower.

In closing, I will say that I would certainly be happy with the W164, but I’d certainly rather have the best of the W163 with the best of the W164. In look and feel, it definitely fits better with the current MBZ model mix. For me, I prefer the more “traditional� German design. I really had to laugh at the two huge lighted cup holders in he W164. I guess us Americans finally got what we wanted in that department.

- RODNEY
 

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2020 MB GLE 450 4MATIC, 2015 BMW M4
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2,136 Posts
Thanks for the insights. I hope to catch one Monday at our local dealers' First Drive. Does the steering have any self-centering action, unlike the W163?
 

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2007 GL320CDI
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357 Posts
Thanks Rodney for the mini-review.

Looking forward to my first look in about 10 days.
 

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'12 Peugeot 3008 HYbrid4 (sorry!)
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397 Posts
Hi, Rodney

and thanks for your very well-written and interesting review. Unfortunately, some of the issues you comment on negatively confirms my doubts on "progress" - like the rear seat design and the visibility. I'm going to miss the "elephant's ears" on my W163, as well as its more practical rear seat. And yes, both these items are available on the RX400h ;-)

Regarding your comments on the Airmatic suspension, that it makes step-in height noticeably higher - is this only the case in fully raised mode, or generally? I ask because I have been considering getting the Airmatic in order to be able to have the vehicle as low as possible for easier entry/exit - this in spite of the fact that my technical sales consultant has discouraged me from that option due to long-term reliability isuues (and horrendous replacement costs if something goes wrong). Can't you - like it's the case on the air-suspended Range Rovers and Lexus RX - program the suspension to automatically "kneel" when you stop the engine?

Cheers from Luxembourg to Alabama,
Birger
 

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2002 ML320, 2013 GL450
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434 Posts
Rodney,

Thanks for your great review... I'm sorry to hear about the rear seats - that is disappointing.

WOndering if you have driven a Landrover LR3 for comparison sakes... I've sat in it, found it to be roomy, not as luxurious as the ML (w164), but found it acceptable.

Perhaps you can take a test drive of it and compare/contrast with the W164.

TIA,
maneesh
 

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Coupe/Convertible Forums Moderator
CURRENT: 2011 SL550 FORMER: C300, ML350, CLK550 Cabriolet, C240, ML320, 300TD
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20,261 Posts
Discussion Starter #7
Thanks for the insights. I hope to catch one Monday at our local dealers' First Drive. Does the steering have any self-centering action, unlike the W163?
Yes, it seems to steer more "normal", with a very tight feel. Personally, I prefer to more traditional MBZ "dead zone" steering.

- RODNEY
 

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Coupe/Convertible Forums Moderator
CURRENT: 2011 SL550 FORMER: C300, ML350, CLK550 Cabriolet, C240, ML320, 300TD
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20,261 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
I'm going to miss the "elephant's ears" on my W163, as well as its more practical rear seat. And yes, both these items are available on the RX400h ;-)
Speaking of the Lexus, have you driven the new RX (not necessarily the 400 hybrid)? My parents just bought an RX330 (previous RX300 owners), and while I am sure it is a very reliable vehicle, it is no MB. Everything in it has a very flimsy feel, even as compared to the previous RX300. I find the backseat in the W163 very comfortable. I do like the adjustability of the RX’s backseat, but otherwise, it is not comfortable to me.

Regarding your comments on the Airmatic suspension, that it makes step-in height noticeably higher - is this only the case in fully raised mode, or generally? Can't you - like it's the case on the air-suspended Range Rovers and Lexus RX - program the suspension to automatically "kneel" when you stop the engine?
It’s only when it’s in the fully raised position that it makes the step-in noticeably higher. I believe hat it does automatically lower when the engine is stopped. I happened to be entering and exiting with the engine running as the salesman and I swapped places.

- RODNEY
 

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'12 Peugeot 3008 HYbrid4 (sorry!)
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Hi again, Rodney

Yes, I have driven the RX (albeit only the 400h, as the gas-powered ones are out of the question with the places I drive to), and yes, you're right, in comparison with the W163 (and probably even more so the W164), the RX may seem "flimsy" and not withstand abuse as well as the W163. A couple of examples:

In this photo
you can see my W163 with a 42" rear-projection TV, a dishwasher end considerably more stuff inside, while the trailer holds a couple of beds, a fridge, too much IKEA stuff to mention and two marble kitchen tabletops.

On another occasion (before I got the trailer), the people at IKEA insisted on renting me a van, because they didn't believe this:

could be done. By counting the weight indications I found out afterwards that I had 396 kilos on the roof and 423 kilos in the back. Poor ML! [:(] (and my poor back, too).

These "exploits" could of course not have been done with the RX, and probably not with the W164 either.

But for normal, everyday use, I think we could very well live with the RX400h. Several details are better thought through, and without modifications it "fits" both of us OK. The necessary tailor-making (due to our different sizes) puts a lot of extra options on the ML, so that it ends up being more expensive than the RX by more than 3,000 Euros.

We're willing to go for this because we have better confidence in the dealership, and because deliveries of the RX400h keep being pushed back. But if the car was available, and the people we know at the MB dealership changed jobs - who knows??

Cheers,
Birger
 
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