Mercedes-Benzwww.mbusa.comThe Mercedes M-class enters its third model year featuring the new range-topping ML55 AMG powered by a ripping 342hp 5.5L SOHC V-8 and featuring an autobahn-ready suspension. It may well be the quickest SUV ever. Both the 215hp 3.2L V-6-powered ML320 and the 268hp 4.3L V-8 ML430 go into 2000 with a redesigned interior, and the ML430 gets an in-dash navigation system standard. Carrying over is the controversial (with off-roaders) electronic four-wheel-drive system. But even the hardest-core rockhound must get a chill contemplating planting the accelerator on the power in the ML55.
Mercurywww.mercuryvehicles.comRumors have it that 2000 could be the last year for the Mercury Mountaineer as the Explorer clone becomes a Lincoln in 2001 when that truck is completely redesigned. For now, however, the Mountaineer saunters into the new millennium with a new Premier luxury package featuring more interior woodgrain than a plastic forest and 16-inch wheels. Powertrain choices are either the familiar 215hp 5.0L V-8 with a four-speed automatic and all-wheel drive or the excellent 210hp SOHC 4.0L V-6 with a five-speed automatic and either two-wheel drive or Ford's Control-Trac dual-range four-wheel drive.
Mitsubishiwww.mitsucars.comThe North American Montero Sport now has as good a rear suspension as the rest of the world. The 2000 Montero Sport isn't all-new, but updated with three-links and coil springs now suspending the rear solid axle instead of leaves. This results in an improved on-road ride and significantly better manners off the pavement. Heralding the new suspension are revised, more aggressive front-end styling and rear taillights, and they've killed off the four-cylinder engine that no one wanted anyway. The ES, LS, and XLS Montero Sports are all powered by a 173hp 3.0L SOHC 24-valve V-6 while the Limited (is every SUV available as a Limited?) gets the same 3.5L version of the V-6 that's used in the larger Montero. Whether 4x4 or 4x2, all Montero Sports have a four-speed automatic transmission, and 4x4s have a dual-range, shift-on-the-fly transfer case.
Meanwhile the Montero soldiers into 2000 unchanged and on the verge of imminent replacement. The Montero Endeavor adds as much wood trim, leather, and power doodads as the truck can handle without toppling over. All Monteros are powered by the 3.5L V-6 and feature an outstanding full-time four-wheel-drive system.
Nissanwww.nissan-usa.comNissan's SUV play in 2000 is the all-new Xterra, which has been on sale for a few months. The Tennessee-built Xterra is a Frontier pickup beneath its funky skin, and that means leaf springs in back, A-arms up front, and a 3.3L SOHC 12-valve making 170 hp under the hood. The cool elements of the Xterra are the tubular roof rack with integrated basket and the tie-downs inside for a bicycle, and the raised rear roof means it's roomy. The part-time 4x4 system has two ranges and there's a four-cylinder, two-wheel-drive version available that sounds slow.
The Frontier pickup was greatly enhanced last year with a wildly popular four-door Crew Cab body, and for 2000 there's a new King Cab 2WD Desert Runner that features the 4x4 chassis without that pesky four-wheel drive. Regular, King, and Crew Cab Frontiers have either a 143hp 2.4L DOHC four or the same 170hp V-6 that's in the Xterra.
Updated in mid-1999, the Pathfinder SUV is unchanged for 2000. That means it remains luxurious, capable off-road with its two-speed transfer case, and modestly powered by the 170hp 3.3L V-6. Rumor is that a new, more powerful Pathfinder is imminent.