M-Class in the Market

It's a bitter pill for a reviewer to swallow when you see a test car do so many things so right, yet fall short in a few key areas. Most shoppers Ч even most car reviewers Ч won't get to spend as much time with the M-Class as I did, so I feel confident in saying that with the M-Class' flaws in its braking and navigation system, I would lean toward the BMW X5 as the better performer and daily driver. That said, though, the Mercedes' safety ratings, flashy styling and overall comfort are mighty alluring.

You should also consider the price. While the M-Class is priced almost identically or a bit less than the X5, it can get pricey when it's well-equipped. With all its fancy add-ons, our tester hovered near the $70,000 mark. I used the Mercedes website to build a less-equipped ML550 with the basic Premium package (there are three to choose from), a cold-weather package, a six-disc CD changer and iPod integration Ч you know, the necessities. That took the $53,175 starting price up to $60,365. An identically equipped ML350 is $50,370 and still delivers the comfort, utility and looks of the peppier ML550.

These are mighty tricky price-points to be playing at, though, and Mercedes needs to be at the top of its game to beat out the competition from BMW, Land Rover and Audi. It's almost there, but winds up just shy of beating the BMW.

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