As consumer requirements are getting more and more sophisticated, vehicle manufacturers try to meet them by inventing new breeds of automobiles. Mercedes-Benz has recently transformed itself into a real trendsetter by launching into the battle for the first time a large crossover (R-Class) and a full-size four-door coupe (CLS-Class). But, for the near future, the trend setter gets to follow the trend imposed by its most important rival, and develop an equivalent model for the BMW X3, premium compact SUV. Due to launch in 2008, the latest vehicle to wear the Mercedes star is expected to be called the MLK-Class.
Known only by the internal development code, 204 SUT, the new Mercedes-Benz compact SUV is rumored to be called the MLK-Class, following the logic of the other compact vehicles in the range (SLK, CLK) inspired by larger models (SL, CL). “K” stands for “kurz”, meaning “short” in German. This name seems to work perfectly for Europe, but in the , it will make an inappropriate resemblance to the initials of the late civil-rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. Another name variant taken into account is “MLX-Class” which does not sound bad, but is not a perfect match for the current Mercedes-Benz system. Calling it, simply X-Class is not possible because of the strong similarity with the BMW X3/5 names.
Following the latest tendencies in the SUV construction, same as the latest ML-Class, the new model will use a unitary body construction, rather than a separate chassis, like those used on high-performance off-roaders. Inspired by the BMW X3, the MLK will most likely be oriented towards the ’sport’ rather than the ’utility’ end of the SUV market. And that end is the one to attract most buyers these days, as statistics show that SUV owners rarely use them in off-road.
Due to comparable dimensions and cost reduction policy, the MLK will share the same platform the forthcoming C-Class compact executive saloon, expected in 2007. This can indicate us that the approximate length of the compact Mercedes SUV will be around 177 inches, about 10 inches shorter than the latest ML-Class.
Several mules caught on test by spy photographers can give us an impression on what the MLK is going to look like. Based on that information complemented with some designer-guesses, our team of artists has prepared several photo-realistic computer renderings for you. Looking at these photos you can see several differences from the current ML-class. First of all, the overall sizes are diminished.On the bonnet the MLK will feature a single discrete air-exhaust, running the whole width of the car (where the ML-class has two large such exhausts). The upper rear corner of the rear doors is rounded, and not angular, such on the ML-class.
Mercedes official sketch
A completely new and distinctive design element is the sharp-edged hip line underneath the side windows merging into the rear bumper via the rear wheel-arches. In addition the top-edge of rearmost side-window is rising towards the rear, making the car look more dynamic (while this edge is slowly descending on the ML-class). The roof-aileron is also smaller if compared to that of the ML-class. The front and rear lights will certainly look different, from those featured on the larger ML. The shape of the optic units could not be guessed on the camouflaged test vehicles, and what you see in our images are our designers’ best guesses.
Aside the rest of the C-Class platform vehicles, the MLK will only be in Europe, where Mercedes-Benz is likely to find more buyers for such a compact vehicle. The MLK is expected to feature the more potent engine of the C-Class, including the new four-valve 3.0-liter and 3.5-liter V-6s as well as a supercharged four cylinder and a CDI turbo diesel. As any other model in the range, the MLK is likely to feature an AMG version, featuring the V8 engine known from the C55AMG.
The MLK-class is expected to be assembled in Bremen at a yearly production rate of 40.000 units starting with 2008. Expected base price is around $46,000.
The MLK is a new Mercedes compact vehicle inspired by the features and characteristics of the larger model, ML-Class, but offered in a less expensive package. This is not a first time for Mercedes-Benz. The SLK compact roadster was inspired by the luxury SL model, and the medium-size CLK models, also have their roots in the larger CL model.
The Mercedes-Benz ML-Class is a four-door SUV with medium off-road capability launched in 1997, and built in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, . It made a serious shift for Mercedes-Benz, turning the German manufacturer into a global player; while having production-facilities outside before, they got to build facsimiles of the German models. In opposition to that, the ML-Class was designed specifically for the American market and was built in an American factory. Despite early negative quality control difficulties, the ML-Class became a huge sales success in the . In fact, only the C-Class and E-Class sell better in the .
The ML-class was the very first Sport Utility Vehicle to feature stability control program, a system designed to detect loss of control and instantaneously intervene with selective braking to bring the vehicle back on its intended course.
The second generation ML-class (chassis name W164) was launched in April 2005 as a 2006 model after showcase at the North American International Auto Show in January. It is an entirely new vehicle, with a sporting, aerodynamic look (featuring an excellent coefficient of drag Cx=0.34). Mercedes-Benz has also made the new ML-class larger, measuring 7 inches more than the first model. The second ML-Class was named "Best New Sport Utility Vehicle" in the 2006 Canadian Car of the Year awards.
The first compact premium SUV was the BMW X3 that has entered its third year of production flush with success. This is the first vehicle that the new Mercedes-Benz MLK will have to stand against. In its first year, the X3 sold almost as well as the larger X5, doubling BMW’s impact on the SUV market, and there is little sign of the trend toward smaller, more fuel-efficient SUVs cooling off any time soon.
While the X5 has injected the sport-utility segment with much needed on-road athleticism, it is the X3 that really delivers the goods in terms of handling prowess. Perfect weight distribution (50 percent over the front wheels and 50 percent over the rear) and a center of gravity that’s low for an SUV combine with a sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension to produce tenacious cornering abilities (again, for an SUV).
For 2006, the entry-level X3 2.5i with its 2.5-liter V6 engine, which works well in the 3 Series sedan but seems weak in this heavier SUV, gets dropped from the lineup. The only available version is now the 3.0i that is powered by the same 225-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 found in the base X5. Around 600 fewer pounds of curb weight make it seem livelier here. It comes mated to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a slick-shifting five-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability. Fuel economy is fair for a compact SUV: 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
Another premium compact SUV to hit the market in 2008 is the Audi Q5. The decision has been made: the new Audi Q5 will be built in . The new model will start rolling off the production line at Ingolstadt in 2008. To that end, around EUR 300 million will be invested in the production facilities over the next years. Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, explained: “The decision demonstrates what potential there is for industrial production in . We are delighted that the Audi Q5 will be built in Ingolstadt, now that we have reached an agreement with the Works Council enabling us to build it at a competitive cost.” A total of some 1,700 workers will be involved in production of the Audi Q5 in Ingolstadt. “This decision will also benefit employment at Neckarsulm, because both plants will be very closely interlinked,” added Winterkorn.
Click here to read additional TopSpeed information on the Audi Q5.