At $3,995, Is This 1998 Mercedes ML 320 an Off-Roader That’s On-Point?

Modest miles and decent condition make this classic body-on-frame Benz a contender.

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Nice Price or No Dice 1998 Mercedes-Benz ML 320
Photo: Craigslist

Today’s Nice Price or No Dice Mercedes once called Tuscaloosa Alabama home as it was the ML that kicked-off production at the company’s factory there. Let’s see if its present state makes it worth its asking price.

When it comes to our contenders here, the two things that generally chap our collective asses are the presence of either a salvage title or an over-used odometer. The seller of yesterday’s 1995 Acura Legend coupe made it a point to note—in ALL CAPS no less— that the car had a clean title. It did however rock mileage north of 200K which seems to be quite a deal killer for many. At $8,000, those miles overshadowed the car’s rare six-speed manual gearbox and took the Legend down in a contrastingly unremarkable 72 percent No Dice loss.

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Let’s consider for a minute how cars and trucks are built. At one point in time, all road vehicles were built on a frame to which everything—drivetrain, suspension, and brakes—was attached. A separate body was then bolted on top of all that. That body may have been constructed of metal and fabric over a wooden stick frame or perhaps just metal. This traditional construction method carried through until the 1930s when manufacturers began experimenting with the marrying of frame and body into a simpler, lighter, and cheaper-to-produce structure. It took a few decades more before this Unit-Body construction became the norm for cars and some light trucks. For heavier-duty trucks and those people for whom off-roading is life, body-on-frame is still often the more desired format.

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Today’s 1998 Mercedes-Benz ML 320 is a body-on-frame design. Not only that, but because it was originally intended to be the replacement for the then-already long-serving military-grade G-Wagon, it was built a bit more buff than it probably needed to be.

The ML series was Mercedes’ first official entry into the burgeoning SUV market here in the U.S., and to make its entry all the more official, the company produced the truck here at a then-new plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The design of the ML was one of Mercedes’ first attempts at significant cost-cutting in a production model with the result being a less-than-traditional Mercedes experience. In fact, the poor quality and kit of the first few years of ML production earned the truck the nickname; Alabama Trashcan.

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Photo: Craigslist

Later models like this ‘’98 spruced things up a bit, with wood on the dash and some better-quality plastics. Other features such as leather seating upholstery and butt warmers in those seats make an appearance too.

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The thing is, these first-generation MLs are more about getting out in the sticks than coddling you on the way to the dilettante’s dance. That’s made possible by the aforementioned separate body-on-frame design and the permanent 4Matic 4-wheel drive with its proper two-speed Borg-Warner transfer case and three diffs.

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Powering all that is a 3.2-liter M112 V6 offering 215 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. Mated to that is a five-speed G-tronic automatic. All-in-all, these trucks were wildly overbuilt for most of the demands of their soccer mom and dad owners. As such, the model has a pretty good rep for holding up, and for not being too expensive to repair or maintain either.

This one comes in what looks to be Mineral Green over a beige interior and wearing very handsome five-spoke factory alloys. The bodywork appears to be in excellent shape and the headlamps—usually an issue on these—are clear and clean.

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Image for article titled At $3,995, Is This 1998 Mercedes ML 320 an Off-Roader That’s On-Point?
Photo: Craigslist

The cabin shows a modicum of wear, with a driver’s seat that, while nicely intact, shows its age and use. Other issues include a broken grab handle over the passenger seat, some sun-curling of the airbag cover on that same side, and an AWOL cap for the CHMSL on the hatch. Other than those few nits, it all looks very livable.

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This Mercedes is dealer offered and there’s a good bit of humorous misinformation detailed in the ad. The seller describes the truck as a “Sport Sedan” and claims its drivetrain to be “Rear Wheel Drive.” They’ve also a list of every vehicle ever made in history at the bottom of the ad to drive search results which is pretty comical.

More importantly, however, the ad does get a few really important facts about the truck right, including that it has a clear title and sports a modest 163,000 miles on the clock.

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Image for article titled At $3,995, Is This 1998 Mercedes ML 320 an Off-Roader That’s On-Point?
Photo: Craigslist

Being dealer-offered one might expect the truck to carry some sort of dealer markup as that seems to be the case with many such vehicles these days. With an asking price of $3,995, you all will just have to figure out if that is true here.

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What’s your take on this truck and that $3,995 price? Is that a deal for a classic body-on-frame off-roader? Or, does that price make this an ML that’s DOA?

You decide!

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Ventura, California, Craigslist, or go here if the ad disappears.

H/T to Will Rice for the hookup!

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