My current car is a fourwheel drive, actually, as many Queenslanders seem to prefer given the offroad opportunities here. Two pictures of the ML430 are here, one from the front and the other from the rear. In case you are wondering, yes, it has had one or two personalisations made to it, just to make it mine, rather than looking like lots of the other silver W163 MLs that are around here. The personalisations include:
The ML430 is quite nice, it's certainly very comfortable for long distances, but is quite choppy over bumps in the road, an all to frequent occurence here in Oz. The higher driving position also means it feels as though you are thrown about more when driving - all 4wds suffer from that though. Performance is quite good though - I guess most car drivers think that 4wds are slow and guzzle fuel. But with a 0-100km/h time of around 7 seconds it doesn't hang around at all. Don't race it from the lights, or try out drag it, you won't. Fuel economy over all is 21mpg since I bought it, which, for a 4.3litre V8 with 220kw is quite respectable (see below).
I guess the major problem with the ML430 is that it was one of the first luxury 4wds on the market. If you don't count the Range Rover that is. As such, the specification is more an upmarket Land Rover rather than even being equivalent to an E-class Mercedes. Which is a shame. The fit and finish is a bit utilitarian, and it's living proof that Americans simply have no finesse or concept of quality for building cars, even with German guidance. The first three years of the warranty were frequent trips visiting the dealership fixing broken airbag sensors, recalls, dud batteries, faulty switches, and other annoying niggles. At least now, fingers crossed, it is faultless, although the ML feature of sometimes not selecting reverse even when the lever is in the R position is quite annoying. All in all, good value for money - it's certainly the cheapest V8 Mercedes money can buy. And fastest for the price too. Versatility - I've moved house several times with it, been on all manner of offroad situations with it, even sailing past bogged down Landcruisers on Moreton Island, the big sand island off the coast of Brisbane. Yummy.
If that wasn't too much, I've also scanned in pictures of the previous cars I've had.
The first car I ever owned was a Vauxhall Astra, an early 1981 model. It was actually an Opel Kadett rebadged and built in Germany for the UK market - this was before Vauxhall started building them in the UK, and with all the attendant problems which resulted from that. It was a very nice car, perfect for a student actually. The 1300cc engine had 75 horsepower, and a turn of speed that would put many 1600cc or 1800cc cars of the early 80s to shame. Unfortunately it met its end when an idiot failed to see that traffic lights were red and slammed into the front of the Astra. Which was a great shame, as the body got twisted and the insurance company said it was completely beyond repair.
The replacement was a Vauxhall Cavalier, the top of the range SRi model, with 1800cc full injected engine pumping out a whopping (?) 115 horsepower. It was a bit quicker than the Astra, with insurance premium to match. This one was a 1986 model, just before Vauxhall introduced a 130 horespower 2 litre engine to try and keep up with the Ford Sierra XR4i. This car came with me to Cambridge when I moved from Aberdeen in 1993. But after two highly expensive services, it and I parted company. I'd added a nice exhaust system and alloy wheels to the standard car - it looked and drove well, and was comfortable inside with its Recaro seats, but was getting very expensive to run, barely able to reach 30 mpg.
When I parted company with the Cavalier, I bought an Audi 90 quattro. My first foray into Audi land, after lots of persuasion from my brother who had an S2 Audi quattro. I test drove a doctor's former Audi 90, high miles, but only used within his practice, apparently. And loved it. And loved it for many years after that. Sadly I haven't found a full picture of it in my archives yet, but fingers crossed... It was a 1990 model, bought late in 1993, sold in 1996 when it had crossed 130k miles. I'm not sure why I sold it actually, possibly the stock options I received from my employer tempted me to buy my first ever new car. The Audi 90 had a 2.3 litre 5 cylinder engine - not quite sounding like a 6, but had nice fuel economy, easily better than the Cavalier it replaced, averaging 33mpg in the time I had it. Yes, 136bhp, permanent 4wd, 5 cylinder, out performing a 1800cc 115bhp car. Go figure, as they say. Would I have another? Well, apart from the utterly hopeless boot, yes, most definitely. Second favourite car? Toss up between this and the ML430, I think.
So what's the favourite car I've ever had, you ask? Well, the replacement for the Audi 90q, a brand new Audi A4 2.8 quattro, bought late 1996. Well, I bought it early 1996, but Audi were having problems with their new 5 valve per cylinder 2.8 litre engines, so it was delayed more than three months, until October 1996. This was easily the best car I've ever owned. It was stunning in every way, supremely fast, surefooted, and cheap to run. It averaged 28mpg from that 192bhp engine, and I've had it up to an indicated 150mph on the German autobahns. Just a fantastic car, and in my humble opinion far superior to the BMW 328i and Mercedes C280s which were supposed to be the best of breed in those days. Parting company when moving to Oz was a sad sad day.
Arriving in Australia, I had this idea that I could go buy the same car. However, turning up at the Audi Centre in Brisbane was a disappointment. For starters the sales people weren't interested in selling cars - or maybe I wasn't wearing the right clothes. I didn't think that the UK phenomenon would occur in Australia too. Once I'd convinced the salesman that I really would pay for a new A4, and that I wasn't interested in his second hand Volvo 740 he was trying to get rid of, I parted with enough cash to buy an A4 2.4 quattro. The 2.8 hadn't reached Australia yet has it apparently hadn't met full Australian approvals and they had problems with the engine. Ummm, see above. Explaining that I had had a 2.8 quattro in the UK for 18 months previously didn't work. So the 2.4 it was. An what a disappointment it turned out to be. Such a weedy engine, no idea what power it had, but the performance was very poor, the engine very noisy, and the specification was very disappointing. The engine supposedly had 150bhp, but I'm not sure to this day where they were. And the average fuel economy of 23mpg was simply shocking. Challenging Audi about this resulted with a "it's the way you drive, mate". I kept the car for just 18 months before trading to the ML430. An inspired move, especially with sacrificing only 2mpg to get an extra 1.9 litres and 3 seconds less to reach 100km/h. Was the 2.4quattro the worst car I've owned - combined with the arrogance of the sales staff at Audi Centre in Brisbane, yes, undoubtedly. I'd originally intended to swap for the newly launched S4, but when they refused to sell me one of the three cars they had in stock in Australia, I took my custom to Mercedes.
I wouldn't say that Mercedes Brisbane dealership's arrogance was any better than Audi's. But at least they agreed to sell me a cancelled order ML430, which was more than I could manage with the S4. Funny, I wouldn't have thought that snobbery was a feature of the supposed classless society here in Australia, but trotting around car dealerships, you can see it in all its glory.
After a couple of years of putting up with attitude at Mercedes Benz of Brisbane in the Valley, I moved servicing to the other dealership Centenary Classic at Taringa. Wonderful servicing, but sales people who were just as rude, arrogant, and unable to return calls. The reason I say this is that on the 3 year mark I was looking at the ML55s that they were taking up from Melbourne, and after expressing a strong interest in a dark blue one, I repeatedly asked for a test drive of one particular model. Promised return calls, "salesman is with a customer" (hello, what am I?), etc. Even turning up in person had no greater influence - incredible, clearly these people have a too easy life.
More on toys and gadgets coming soon