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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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").


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.


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.


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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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:

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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Discussion Starter · #6 ·

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.


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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Discussion Starter · #18 ·

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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Discussion Starter · #20 ·

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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Discussion Starter · #25 ·
Unfortunately, $800 is justified as the price for the Xenon's - even a hokey aftermarket system should cost at least $500, and that's without the self-leveling system (plus, mine come with nifty headlamp washers!).

As far as the third row - they do have to be ordered, but there's no delay. I happened upon a strange delay because of the Bose + Third Row option. Apparently, the third row folded right upon where the CD changer's installed. So, production had to figure out another spot for it. I hear that's been resolved.

The logic behind the seats - I don't mind the hokey fold up system, since I can remove the seats. I figure you go into three categories with rear seats:

Regular use - you're using them on a daily basis.

Rare use - you use them once in a blue moon.

Every-so-often use - use them a couple of times a month, on occasion.

I fit into category three - and they come out easily enough such that I can part with the seats, and just install when necessary. There's already a closet in the garage all sealed up waiting for them. Cost of the seats to me - $1k.

Tele-Aid is an Onstar replica (run by Toyota I assumed; is this correct?). Prices are about the same - first year free, $200 per year afterwards. Since it drives down the cost of my insurance, and I expect the cost to go down as years go by, this was definitely worthwhile to me (insuring the ML by me was roughly 8-10% cheaper than the MDX; I assume this was the cause for the difference).

Xenons - I think two things about them - one, they're really handy, and someday soon, all vehicles will have them. Two - they're expensive, and they're a high theft item. Luckily, MB carves the VIN into all parts of the car (or ones that would actually be stolen; don't think the door handle applies). Acura - here in NYC, there is quite a second-hand (wink,wink) market for Acura HIDs. Damn shame people don't respect anything anymore.

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Discussion Starter · #28 ·
Not really - that's only if you consider crash test results as a measure of safety. I think the lack of VSA, side impact air curtains and MB's excellent Brake-Assist system (which I put some extra stock in, since I live in the city), make it's accident avoidance systems much better than the MDX.

So - although there's better crash test results for the MDX (I haven't seen the full report, just the IIHS grade), the accident avoidance features of the ML320 still make it the safer vehicle IMHO.
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