BLOWING ROCK, N.C. - The Mercedes ML55 is the latest in a growing line of models that will be modified by AMG, now known as Mercedes-AMG GmbH.
Speed is the ML55's first claim to fame, with what Mercedes calls a conservatively timed 0 to 60 mph time of 6.9 seconds. Top speed is 145 mph.
The ML55 gets a specially tuned, 5.5-liter V-8; upgraded leather upholstery and wood; and a touch-screen 'control module' like the 2000 S class. It controls the radio, phone, navigation system, climate control and the TeleAid system, which can be used to contact the Mercedes Customer Assistance Center. TeleAid also makes an automatic distress call if the airbags deploy.
Maximum horsepower is 342 at 5,500 rpm; maximum torque is 376 pounds-feet at 2,800 rpm. The transmission, brakes and suspension are altered to handle the extra speed, power and torque.
Besides the badging, exterior styling cues that identify the ML55 include unique front and rear bumpers, plus flared fenders; dual, chrome exhaust tips; and oval-shaped 'power domes' on the hood, like the SLK. Compared to the ML320 and the ML430, the ML55 looks more like the M-class concept vehicle that was displayed at the Detroit show in January 1996.
As an aftermarket tuner, AMG started customizing Mercedes cars for European customers in 1967. Mercedes began offering AMG-modified cars through its European dealerships in 1993. U.S. offerings have included the C36 model, starting in 1995; the C43, starting in 1998; the E55 this year; and the ML55, starting in January 2000. The firm became Mercedes-AMG GmbH after the former Daimler-Benz AG took majority control last year.
'For some of our customers, even the M class, which is really quite exclusive, is not individual enough. AMG is part of our strategy of individualization,' said Ken Enders, general manager of product management for passenger cars and light trucks.
MORE AMG PROJECTS
In the next couple of years, Mercedes will expand the AMG treatment to include a CLK55 coupe, due around calendar 2002; an S55 sedan; plus AMG sedan and wagon versions of the C class, about a year after an all-new C class is introduced, in calendar 2001.
Unlike previous efforts, which were modified mostly at AMG's factory, the AMG employees who work on the ML55 do so inside the M-class plant in Vance, Ala.