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20 Years Ago: The First Modern Mercedes SUV

Two decades of continually refining the concept of the luxury SUV By ,

While the ground-breaking and legendary Mercedes-Benz G-Class off-roader was launched back in 1979, the first luxury sport utility vehicle to be produced by the German automaker debuted on May 9, 1997 – 20 years ago this week. That day the original ML-Class (W 163) rolled out of the company’s plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and it would pave the way for a number of other SUV models carrying the Silver Star.

Based on the AAVision (All Activity Vehicles) concept, the ML managed to combine all the attributes most prized by fans of off-road driving – all-wheel drive, high ground clearance, generous cargo room – with those of a touring automobile, namely great ride quality, a versatile interior and a harmonious design. Its sophisticated, fully independent suspension played an important part in its success, as well, not to mention its 3.2L V6 engine able to generate 218 hp.

The second generation of the model (W 164) was introduced in 2005, and it adopted a unibody construction. It also featured a more high-performance and evolved engine selection; in 2009, a hybrid system was added to the lineup.

Generation three (W 166) saw the light of day in 2011 at Frankfurt, and was distinguished by improved fuel efficiency and unprecedented levels of comfort and safety. Since its last major update in fall 2015, it has gone under the name GLE as part of the company’s new name classification system.

Today, some 2.4 million mid-size SUVs have been produced at the Tuscaloosa plant, and Mercedes-Benz’ large family of luxury SUVs includes the GLA, GLC, GLC Coupe, GLE, GLE Coupe, GLS and G-Class.

The Mercedes-Benz ML is now called GLE
Photo: Daimler AG
The Mercedes-Benz ML is now called GLE