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Discussion Starter #1
William,Worm-

Thanks for the congrats at the end of the other comparo thread - I figured I'd tack it on here since after side-by-side test driving of the new ML320, I decided to go with it instead of the MDX, so I might as well post my findings.

Worm - I didn't get the vehicle yet, so as to my hitting 300 before I snuck out - if I sit up all night, I might just make it ;) (kidding - I have a couple of months until my car actually gets here - I'm a sucker for a wait).

Performance & Handling:

Engine -

The MDX beats out the ML320, although not as badly as you'd think when comparing the 240 HP of the MDX versus the 215 of the 320. Engine sound was quieter on the MDX.

Transmission-

Both are 5 speed, capable, smooth transmissions. The ML's full time 4WD makes it more off-road ready, and can tow up to 5k pounds (this was a consideration for me - towing my boat, which is right at the MDX's capacity, was a concern).

The ML320 here wins with a full time 4WD system, and the ability to do clutchless-manual shifting.

Steering-

I felt the ML320's steering was more responsive than the MDX, and a tighter turning radius on the ML320 was also noticable (although, I was surprised to see it was only 37 vs. 38 ft - I really thought it would be much different).

Ride-

Sacrifice - that's what design is all about. Sacrifice the chassis design, to make it more car-like, and you end up with a car pretending to be an SUV. Take the SUV, and you end up with a bumpier ride. Plain and simple. The ML320 loses to the MDX in terms of ride, by a longshot.

Safety-

Ultimately, where the MDX lost. I've been driving an SUV since before they became stylish. One thing I've always been aware of - the propensity for the rear end to swing out during emergency maneuvers. I tested both these vehicles in emergency-like maneuvers (and was scolded in both cases by the salesmen). The safety features and sturdier construction of the ML320, with active brake assist, side curtain airbags, stability control, etc. - just made it too hard to pass up.

Not that the MDX isn't a safe vehicle - I'm sure it will do just fine when it's crash tested. But my main priority was safety, and I couldn't resist that here, for the good of my family.

Interior:

Not even close - the ML320's revamped interior is another one of my major deciding factors against the MDX. I liked the leather all around and the solid feel to the controls. The third row seating option (which I purchased) seemed to be a bit more useful, since everyone else in the vehicle can essentially move forward to give the third row some breathing room (although I'm still not thrilled with the hokey fold-and-lift method of putting away the seats).

I was previously not impressed by the ML320 because of a few seriously lacking items - like automatic climate control. 2002 brings you that feature.

The problem I have with Acura is it's Honda lineage. I kept thinking 'this is an Accord' when I was driving in the MDX. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing - but if you're going to hit me for $40k, please upgrade some of the controls over the Civic.

Cargo space - MDX wins here, but not by as much as you'd think. Also - the extra 6 inches of vehicle length and 4 inches of width made the MDX a tough consideration for my unusually short garage (188" whereas my garage's length is 192").

Exterior:

Neither of these cars will be winning awards for high-styling. Not that I don't like both of their appearances, although the style changes to the 2002 ML320 could have gone even further than they did. I give the MDX a nod here, but the ML is not far behind.

Both vehicles had excellent fit and finish. Clearances and body gaps were great. 2k2 ML320 comes with 17" tires standard, and thanks to MB for finally getting rid of those ridiculous General tires.

Equipment and Value:

Here's where I shock the world - everyone is of the impression that a fully loaded MDX @ $40k is a great value. I've got news - none of these vehicles is an impressive value at that cost. Not the MDX, ML320, RX300 - none of them.

At $40k, the MDX sports quite a few gadgets - including navigation. I couldn't manage navigation @ $40k for the ML320 - but at that price, I did manage to get Xenon HIDs and the Bose system, which with 9 speakers throughout the cabin, performed very well (for a Bose). I don't know if Acura toyed with it's stock system - but they should. The quality was sub-standard, even for Bose.

I rate this one a tie - since Acura decided not to throw in side curtain airbags and stability control, both which are standard in the ML320 - hard to compare apples vs. apples, but I don't think either of these vehicles stands out as a great bargain.

Reliability

Where do you go with this one? The ML had two years of questionable reliability, plus one year of average reliability. The Acura - should be solid, but it's in it's first MY. Will the VTM-4 system be a typical Honda product, or will there be issues down the line? This one was a wash for me - I was convinced that the first two MY's of the ML320 were growing pains, for a company recently merged and opening a new plant for a new design.

Misc

Both of these vehicles are warranteed for 4 years. ML320 includes maintenance over 4 years. MDX was missing as options - HIDs, VSA, side curtain airbags. ML320 was not missing any options available on the MDX. Negotiating prices - MDX still in high demand - ML320, can get a deal for $500 to $1000 over invoice. Snob factor - meaningless to me, but must count to someone - a MB is an MB.

Price as tested -

$42,500 for the ML320 - fully configured, no navigation.
$37,450 for the MDX - no navigation.

I consider the price difference to be about $2k (factor in the fact that VSA is unavailable - but would be a ~$600 option, HIDs unavailable ~$800, side curtain airbags ~$500, 4 years no-maint).

My final thoughts:

My primary concern was safety, thus the MB won. If I cared only about the ride and handling, the MDX would have won. If I cared a lot about the luxury of the vehicle, the MB would have taken the top position.

This was a tough call - because MB managed to considerably improve this vehicle, and it was pretty good to begin with. Ultimately, neither of these two vehicles would be the wrong call.

In my grand SUV comparo, here is the summary:

1. Mercedes ML320 - good overall, safest of the bunch.
2. Acura MDX - comfortable vehicle, excellent ergonomics.
3. Ford Explorer - not a bad redesign - but questionable safety and reliability.
4. Lexus RX300 - too small to be a factor in my comparo.
5. BMW X5 - see #4.
 

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Thanks for the notes, John, good approach.

Glad you noticed the difference in ride comfort -- and supposedly the 2002 is more comfortable than previous years! It was a major factor for us in comparing a 2000 ML320 to a 2001 MDX, as we found the former uncomfortable and didn't like the idea of getting jolted every day we rode in the vehicle.

Did you remember any difference in vehicle performance from the 2001 you drove? Supposedly the 2002 ML320 is 200 lbs heavier than the previous year with no increase in engine power. Still should be fine around town, though.

Tiny nit ... the first two years of ML quality didn't have anything to do with the merger, as the merger occurred afterwards.

Did your wife assess the ML more favorably? It sounds like she was more into it. In my case, my wife liked the ML320 but loved the MDX.

MB definitely emphasizes safety above other manufacturers. If you want utmost safety, you can't beat the M-class. Drew has posted some photos of two X5's after a rollover and the consequences were ugly -- their roof pillars and thus the roofs collapsed. Whereas the ML320's roof is extremely strong.

I'd be very interested in the next-gen ML (2003 or 2004 release, supposedly). It's going to unibody and I figure that'll resolve any truck-ride-comfort issues, and incorporate the usual latest and greatest.

Enjoy your vehicle! Congratulations for reaching the end of the road (well, close to it)!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
You got me - I would have *sworn* the merger happened around that time. Either way - it was clear that the Germans suffered a case of American parts supplier's quality control, and the 2002 is evidence they've overcome it. The leather in that car is *superb*.

Of course, I totally left out one big part of my review:

SERVICE & SALES
I took some time and did some research, and spoke to people who owned both Acuras and MBs. I told them about the treatment I had received from both dealers:

MB - offered to bring the ML320 to my home, so I could make sure it fit in my garage. Let me test drive the car alone, and gave me 30 minutes to do so. Two different dealers repeated this behavior.

Acura - out of 6 dealers in the area, only 2 had cars. One wouldn't let me test drive it because he said the remaining 2001's will only be sold to leasing customers. The other - let me drive it for 10 minutes, with him in the car.

MB - guaranteed me a MB loaner, plus valet service. Loaner car guarantee was IN WRITING.

Acura - no loaners guaranteed or even estimated, unless the car would be in for a few days.


I should be fair about this - I'm sure somewhere out there, quality Acura dealers are providing valued service to their customers. It's just not here in NYC.

The Acura owners I spoke to all had horror stories. The MB owners were the exact opposite - the service they'd received was stellar.

I bought my car for about $1000 over invoice - and with the smoothest transaction I've ever had.

Bottom line:

Here's a customer Acura lost. The cars were very similar - and initially, before the 2002 ML320, I liked the Acura better. Had their dealers not been so disgusting, I'd probably be driving one today.
 

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John ,

Congrats on your new purchase. Of course I agree with you and your decision based partially on service after the sale and the nasty, snooty Acura dealers. Its disgusting. If I knew then what I know now things would be different for TECK thats for sure !

Hope your new MB gives you many trouble free miles/years and takes you and your family where you need to go in comfort and safety.

I hope that Acura reads this board and takes it into account that in the future customers will demand the service they are entitled to for such expensive vehicles or they will go elsewhere just like in your case.

Way to go !!

TECK !
 

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JNanas,

I'm glad you've found a Vehicle that meets your needs. So you said you will have a wait. How long is the wait? I was under the impression that the ML's and BMW's were readily available.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Teck-

Thanks for the kudos, and best of luck to you with your fight.

Please feel free to e-mail me if they need concrete proof that your problem cost them at least one potential customer - I had my doubts about Acura's customer service before your woes, but your problems really made me reconsider and eventually buy a competitor's vehicle.

Atlanta-

I'm too damn fussy to be any fun - I could have taken the vehicle the same day, *IF* I didn't want a color that hadn't been sprayed yet (white). It'll be hitting my neighborhood in about 8 weeks. If it wasn't for my color and option requirements, I probably would have done even better on my negotiations as well (got it for $1k over invoice - if I had taken delivery that day, I'm pretty sure I could have had it for $500 over).
 

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John,

Your sure on the list and if it comes down to it I may just take you up on the email and rub thier noses in it. Im sure they will drag it on and on as long as they can but to thier suprise - This weekend is the deadline for the BBB case (40 days) and if the company defaults then I get to pick a refund or a replacement and at this point I may just take the refund and run like hell !!!


Thanks again for your support,


TECK!
 

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Congrats!

John,
Congratulations on finally making a decision! I thought you'd never do it! :):):)

Just out of curiosity - which dealer did you go to? Sovereign in Brooklyn treated me really well (but NOT much better than AoB - I guess, I am an exception for AoB?) Helms Bros in Queens did wonders for my friend, who happens to be Chinese-American. It appears that Sovereign "refused" to talk to him just like many Acura dealers treated some of us... :(

I once again enjoyed reading your comparison. I respect and appreciate how thoroughly you approach such an activity as choosing a car. :)

Safety issues notwithstanding, '00 ML320 turned me away with its handling, acceleration, looks, and interior materials. If I get a free moment, I'll stop by MB dealer to look at '02, although, I am more inclined to "waste" my scarce free time at a local Subaru dealer - those WRX look really sexy and my in-laws may need a new car soon...

Also, you did not mention the 3rd seat - does MB have it? I really appreciated it a few times when I HAD to use it in the MDX.

BTW, that $42K sticker - your price, or MSRP? How much can you shave by applying "$500-over-invoice?" Does the price include "On-Star" (or whaterver MB's version of it?)

Good luck and I hope you stick around on this forum. Unlike Acura dealers, we did nothing to turn you off, did we? :)
 

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Oops...

Sorry, me again. I guess, I hit "Submit" before I finished all my thoughts...

About the loaner car - the only experience I had was a "disaster" - I got a beat-up Pontiac Grand Am from Dollar-Rent-a-Car - what a POS! However, I do remember AoB salesman telling me that a loaner comes with the MDX, so I can have it all the time, just need to make an appt. 2-3 weeks in advance.

I wonder if Acura Corporate knows about AoB loaner antics. I remember someone else getting a Toyota Camry loaner at AoB - that's a slap to Honda's face!!! :)
 

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Re: Oops...

vip9 said:
Sorry, me again. I guess, I hit "Submit" before I finished all my thoughts...

About the loaner car - the only experience I had was a "disaster" - I got a beat-up Pontiac Grand Am from Dollar-Rent-a-Car - what a POS! However, I do remember AoB salesman telling me that a loaner comes with the MDX, so I can have it all the time, just need to make an appt. 2-3 weeks in advance.

I wonder if Acura Corporate knows about AoB loaner antics. I remember someone else getting a Toyota Camry loaner at AoB - that's a slap to Honda's face!!! :)
Consider yourself fortunate. My loaner, with a reservation, was an Enterprise-provided Toyota Tercel. It took me awhile to remember how to operate CRANK WINDOWS. No kidding. Apparently they ran out of Acura loaners. What bugged me was that some lady in line before me, driving some early 90's beater, got a brand new CL-S as hers...
 

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John got a good deal on getting MB loaners in writing. Some MB dealers also use Enterprise, and I've read of folks getting everything from Dodge Neons to Toyota Corollas to Honda Civics to Grand Ams. It's not a corporate-wide policy for MB to give you MB loaners so John did well.
 

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JNanas said:
You got me - I would have *sworn* the merger happened around that time.
Not posting this to be argumentative, but I figure you might like to know about your vehicle's history. The Daimler-Chrysler merger was announced in May, 1998 (and did not complete until many months afterwards).

The M-class was released in 1997 as a 1998 model, and there were reviews of it dating back as early as July 1997 (e.g. Tony Swan's). MB had never worked with Chrysler for anything to do with the M-class (and I view that as a good thing!).

Here's a customer Acura lost. The cars were very similar - and initially, before the 2002 ML320, I liked the Acura better. Had their dealers not been so disgusting, I'd probably be driving one today.
No doubt Acura should treat their customers better. But in the final analysis, though, wasn't the key difference in your decision-making the extra margin of safety in the ML320? Would you have really given up on the ML320's extra safety if Acura and its dealerships provided better customer service?
 

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MB had never worked with Chrysler for anything to do with the M-class (and I view that as a good thing!).
Agreed William--definitely a good thing...

John--Glad to hear you've made your decision. I must admit, I am disappointed, just because we've lost a resource on the mdx.org site!

Best of luck,
Rob
 

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Loaners?

Ive had:
1) An Acura Integra - shop car beat to hell
2) Mitsubishi Montero - Enterprise - smelled like vomit
3) Pontiac Montana van - Enterprise - flat tire
4) Chevy Blazer - Enterprise - nail in RR tire/needed balanced tires
5) Dodge Magnum V8 Pickup - Enterprise - nice truck - 6 MPH
6) Chrysler Town and Country Van - Enterprise - front end trouble
7) Chevy Malibu - Enterprise - Still driving this today - no troubles

And all this time I thought I bought an Acura MDX when I realized I bought a strange automobile time share.. worst off
My neighbors think im either a drug dealer or in the witness protection program by now. :rolleyes:


TECK!
 

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My Loaner Experience

Here in Las Vegas (where there is only one Acura dealer), I just had to call ahead, schedule an appointment and received an Integra as a loaner. Of course, it smelled like someone smoked in it, but what can you do. Otherwise, the dealer was great.

It's too bad that the loaner policy is so spotty and up to the dealer. Obviously my dealer could be a hardass about it since it is the only one, but the dealer isn't.
 

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John...
I remember posting on this board a few months ago, defending the ML320 vs the MDX. Seems like you changed your mind...:)
Well..we have a 2002ML320 on order, went ahead, drove them both again. Played around with seating, childseats, etc. Came to the conclusion that....
we were going to purchase neither one!!!!!!!
Yep...I just cancelled the ML320 order, and put a downpayment on a 2002 Honda Odyssey!

I discovered that there is no way to put 2 childseats, 4 adults AND 2 strollers, diaperbags, and other child accessories in either the ML, or the MDX.
The 2002 Odyssey has the same engine and tranny as the MDX, and seemed to handle almost as well (slightly smoother ride, not quite as maneuverable). Coupled with the fact that I could get 7 leather seats+nav, add a $300 wood trim kit and have the same luxury as the MDX for $32k...well...
Now...yes, the ML did handle best of all (if you like that "german" style handling...its an aquired taste). Yes, the ML did have every safety feature out there....Yes, both ML and MDX have 4WD or AWD, we'll rarely need that. But bottom line is, my wife needs the space. She wanted the minivan...<sigh>.
Of course, now I have an additional 10k to use to upgrade MY car..:p That C-coupe or Acura TL looks quite nice....
Have fun in your new ML. I envy you..and all the MDX drivers here too...:)
 

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Proteus,

Good to hear from you again. I guess even with a rooftop carrier it wouldn't work?

Out of curiousity, were the Seattle-area MB dealerships you were to discounting the ML320 substantially? Your order may have been made before heavy discounting hit, but I was curious as our part of the country seems to get the discounts later.

Good luck with your Odyssey, and with your "upgraded" vehicle purchase ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Proteus-

Sorry to hear you had to go against your initial wishes - sucks to be practical, right?

Actually - it's like a reversal of fortunes. My wife did NOT want a minivan. I kept saying we should just go the minivan route now, and buy a car in a few years (say 5 or 6?). No dice - she wouldn't hear it.

You're correct - I think there is marked improvement between MY 2001 and 2002 of the ML320. Mostly in terms of interior quality and my re-focus on safety.

Handling - although I disagree with William that you'd feel every 'jolt' - like I said, I don't know exactly what MB changed, but there is a HUGE difference in handling between 2001 and 2002 - the MDX performed better in the ride tests.

But - as another thread will point out - I had to side with the pundits on this one. Lack of VSA on the Acura killed it for me.

Also - don't let Acura off the hook William - I would most definitely be driving an Acura right now, even if it wasn't the right vehicle for me, if their dealers here in NYC weren't a complete abomination. They lost a customer - under 30, professionals, with small children and decent sized disposable incomes. In their demographics, I'm the guy with the big target sign around his head. And they outright blew it.

Good luck with the Odyssey Proteus (good Greek name for both car and owner!).
 

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JNanas said:
Lack of VSA on the Acura killed it for me.

Also - don't let Acura off the hook William - I would most definitely be driving an Acura right now, even if it wasn't the right vehicle for me, if their dealers here in NYC weren't a complete abomination. They lost a customer - under 30, professionals, with small children and decent sized disposable incomes. In their demographics, I'm the guy with the big target sign around his head. And they outright blew it.
John, oh no, I'm not letting Acura off the hook. I was just curious -- you had said that the safety features made the difference, like above when you said "lack of VSA on the Acura killed it for me." But then you said you would "most definitely be driving an Acura right now" if it wasn't for their NYC dealers. I was just trying to understand which was the actual MDX killer, thanks for answering it.

So you're saying that even though the MDX lacks the additional safety features of the ML320 (like VSA), you would have bought the MDX if the dealerships had been better.

Reason I asked this is because some comparison shoppers here do get good dealerships, as you've mentioned. So if a prospective buyer is using your thoughtful comparison as a benchmark, they can see how you weighed your final decision. Though it certainly doesn't sound like any buyer from NY is going to find a good dealership.

Thanks again for the posts! And I'm still impressed that you got the MB-loaners in writing; you should mention that on the M-class forum on Edmunds Townhall, I think some of the owners there would be gnashing their teeth on that one!
 

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Discussion Starter #20
William-

The logic behind that statement:

I do think the 2k2 ML320 is a better vehicle for me. HOWEVER - I was ready to buy a car when I started looking. And when I started, the MDX seemed like the better car for my needs.

Had the Acura dealers I visited been better - as in helping me find a vehicle, or being a bit encouraging as opposed to 'take it or leave it - if you don't want it, we'll give it to someone else' - I'd have closed the deal and been driving, quite some time before I'd ever get to see the 2002 ML320.

As for the loaner cars - people let car dealers off the hook easier than anyone else. My way of thinking - and this is for everyone, not just car salesmen - if you want me to buy it, write it up. If you expect me to buy that I'll be getting good loaner cars, then write it up. If my deposit is refundable, then write it up. If I'll be getting a car in January, then write it up.

If you feel safe enough about something to mention it during a financial transaction, and it's not just a passing whimsy or a guess - you should have no problem putting it down in writing.

They didn't - and neither did I.
 
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