Happy 20th Birthday to the ML-Class

Hard as it may be to believe today, there was a time that Mercedes didn't make crossovers. It had the G-Wagen, sure, but that was always considered more of a workhorse (like the Unimog) than a luxury sport-ute, and wasn't offered in North America for another five years.

That all changed, though, 20 years ago. That's when Mercedes rolled out the M-Class – its first luxury crossover SUV – at its plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where its successor (today known as the GLE) is still made.

1997 was long before most of its rivals got into the game. The BMW X5 only launched two years later. The Porsche Cayenne, five years later. Audi Q7, seven years. Not even the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator were out yet at that point, and the Lexus RX launched later that same year.

Prior to the M's arrival, the only real options out there for those seeking a luxury SUV were true off-roaders (and not crossovers) like the Range Rover, and a slew of Japanese SUVs that were luxed up and slapped with more upscale badges: models like the Lexus LX (based on the Toyota Land Cruiser), Acura SLX (née Isuzu Trooper), and Infiniti QX4 (Nissan Pathfinder).

That put the M-Class and its manufacturer in a rather enviable position to which all its competitors would flock one after the other. These days even Jaguar, Bentley, and Maserati are in the market that Mercedes essentially pioneered, with Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, and Lamborghini soon to follow.

In the years since, of course, Mercedes has expanded its crossover lineup extensively to include the smaller GLA and GLC, the larger GLS, and the GLC and GLE Coupes, with the R-Class having already come and gone. There's a new G-Class on its way, too, to replace the current model that was essentially introduced in 1979 (and imported to the United States only via the grey market until it became an official part of the MBUSA lineup in 2002). And you can bet there'll be more in the future as well. But however many models Mercedes adds to its range, the M-Class – now in its third generation – will always have been the first. (Source - Carscoops / Carscoops Staff)
Check out the Star People Series Episode on the ML320.





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