I don’t even know where to start when talking about the Mercedes ML W163. The official gyspy village elder chariot of the 2000s? Mercedes ML W163. You want to steal a car from England and pretend to be rich and make sure the police won’t stop you because you don’t look like it’s worth it? Mercedes ML W163. But there’s another side to that car, which needs to be talked about.

I recently looked over the article about the Audi A4 B5 and remembered that that car has 2 main categories of owners: those who want a cheap and good car that will move them around, and car enthusiasts who get a 1.8T and floor it. They probably still exist.


And what’s that got to do with the Mercedes ML W163?

Launched in 1997, the first ML was one of the first luxury SUVs in Europe, alongside the Range Rover P38. Except that we in Europe didn’t have much faith in Range Rover and it’s reliability so we didn’t really bought it. And so we can consider the first luxury SUV in Europe to be the Mercedes ML W163. This car is responsible for the birth of the proto-douchebag. Except that times have changed and the first ML became popular among four categories of people:

  • Old money gypsyes. You can usually find them driving around in either a first-generation ML or a W220 S Class. He did well through 2005, but the 2008 crisis was tough on his finances and today he lives modestly. His ML reminds him of the good old days.
  • The kind of guy who goes for the rich man looks, but can’t really afford anything newer. An ML W163 is worth £200 in UK, so many either buy it that way or steal it. The important thing is that you have the Mercedes SUV.
  • Off-road enthusiasts. The Mercedes ML W163 was originally intended as a replacement for the famous G Class, only for the concept to be abandoned. However, the first ML had a ladder-type chassis, manual gearbox, rear locking differential, and pretty much all the off-road toys that could be fitted at the time. If it’s off-road we’re talking about, the first generation ML is one serious tool.
  • Those who do towing and haul platforms, houses, boats, your mom etc. It was and is one of the few cars that had a legal towing capacity of 3500 kg from factory, which is equivalent to about 4 Golfs or one of your mom’s legs.


Mercedes ML W163 Engines


  • 2.3 MPI of 150 horsepower – Decent enough for the W210 E Class, but bolting it on the ML is like forcing Graham Norton to carry Henry Cavill on his back. It’s going to take strength, time, and lots of booze.
  • 3.2 V6 of 218 horsepower – Once upon a time there was a 2.8 version of the legendary M112, but why offer an engine that fills the gap between the 2.3 and 3.2? Nope, we’re mouting a 3.2 V6 straight out of the W220 S Class. No specific issues, as long as you feed it original oil every 8000 km.
  • 3.7 V6 of 235 horsepower – We’re already approaching American size engines, and this M112 remains a middle child of engines for the ML. Yes, it’s the biggest petrol V6 available on the ML, but if you throw in another 50 euros and a can of Atlas beer, you can already find a V8.
  • 4.3 V8 of 272 horsepower – Fitted to the ML only between 1999 and 2001, this engine is worthy of the legends surrounding it. You’d think a 4.3 V8 would cost a huge amount in maintenance, and you’d be wrong. Engines that have been worked on have gone over 700,000 km without major interventions.
  • 5.0 V8 of 292 horsepower  – The famous ML500 is responsible for everything that’s wrong with modern SUVs. Monsters like the X5M, Cayenne Turbo, Q7 V12 TDI, and the rest of the million horsepower trucks have their roots here. Good thing at least it’s the same M113 as the 4.3 so you don’t have reliability issues.
  • 5.4 V8 of 347 horsepower  – Not to bother the S55 AMG, the ML 55 AMG only gets the naturally aspirated version of the 5439-cubic-acres M113 engine. Shame.



  • 2.7 CDI of 163 horsepower  – By far the most popular engine in the ML W163 and by far the most balanced. Essentially it’s the 5-cylinder version of Mercedes’ legendary 2.2 and is one of the most reliable diesel engines of all time. Just make sure to replace the injector seals from time to time.
  • 4.0 V8 CDI of 250 horsepower – Just as a mayor from the Balkans says every summer that “we fixed the wrong pipeline” when the city runs out of water, so the Germans have fitted the wrong gearbox. More precisely, they fitted the gearbox from 320 CDI to 400 CDI and it doesn’t handle the torque. Personally, I would avoid it, no matter what others will tell.


Mercedes ML W163 General Issues

  • The airflow meter is one of the most common issues with the first-generation ML so make sure you change the air filters every 3 starts to extend the life of the flow meter as long as possible.
  • Brakes and discs are served for breakfast, main course, dinner, and dessert, especially on the ML500 version. That shouldn’t surprise you, considering that the ML weighs as much as the walls of Asgard.
  • No meal without beer and no Mercedes from the 2000s without rust. And the ML is no exception to the rule.
  • The windows go into spontaneous strike the same way internet users go into septic shock when they hear that VW is a bad, overpriced brand. It was good. But not anymore.
  • As with any self-respecting Mercedes, the pre-facelift models up to ’99 are the slightly rubbish, ’99 to 2004 are decent and 2004 to 2005 are excellent.
  • Wipers have heard that windows tend to go on spontaneous strike so they have their own initiative. You just never know if the front or rear ones will stop working.
  • Big issues with the automatic gearboxes. Specifically, the 5G-Tronic automatic gearbox is more resistant to abuse than a minimum wage employee who depends on that job and has a slave driver as a boss. Although I don’t know why you’d tie yourself to a minimum-wage job, it’s not like it’s hard to find elsewhere. Anyway, the point is that a lot of people didn’t change the oil in their automatic transmissions because of the cost so they neglected them. And when you buy ML W163, chances are good that automatic transmission is at the end of its life.


Mercedes ML W163 Verdict

The first MLs really weren’t particularly good cars. Then they got an even worse image thanks to the social class that stole them..bought them from UK and then brought them to the Balkans to make the big bucks. And so the first ML was lost in the dustbin of history, being instead revived by off-road enthusiasts and those who need serious cars for serious towing. Imagine bringing Tony Blair back as a candidate for the king and country, only he wouldn’t be just a relic of the past. No, he wouldn’t be a social reject, he’d actually be quite capable. That’s the Mercedes ML W163.


What engines do you recommend? For Romania, the most balanced engine remains the 2.7 diesel and 163 horsepower.