Mercedes-Benz has introduced two new V8 engines and changed more than 1100 components as part of a mid-life facelift for the popular M-class SUV built in both Alabama and Austria.

The company claims that more than 300,000 sales worldwide and a market share of up to 30 per cent have made its luxury SUV one of the most successful models in its market segment.

Styling changes for the 2002 model include redesigned front and rear bumpers, new clear-lens headlamps with integral direction indicators, colour-matched mirrors and rubbing strips on all models and restyled 17-inch light-alloy wheels as standard.

Inside, the centre console has been redesigned and wood trim is now standard for all model variants. New features include additional stowage compartments between the front seats, an improved rear double cup holder (wow), an illuminated ashtray and a 12V outlet.

Mercedes has also redeveloped the now-standard automatic climate control system, adding rear passenger controls, an auxiliary fan and separate ventilation nozzles.

A new ML 500 petrol V8 version replaces the ML 430 and there is also a new four-litre V8 diesel option, though this is restricted to left-hand drive markets.

Both new engines are essentially S-Class units: the V8 diesel develops 184 kW/250 hp and the five-litre V8 petrol engine 215 kW/292 hp.

The ML400 CDI's diesel V8 has common-rail direct injection, a dual turbocharger and four-valve technology and is claimed to be one of the world's most powerful car diesel engines.

It accelerates the M-class to 100 km/h (62mph) in a claimed 8.1 seconds compared with 7.7 seconds for the new five-litre petrol V8.

Externally the new V8 versions have chrome trim on the radiator grille vanes, door handles and tailgate handle plus a unique alloy wheel design.

The top-line ML 55 AMG now has a silver-painted radiator grille and fuel tank capacity for all variants has been increased to 83 litres, enabling the new ML 400 CDI diesel V8 version to cover around 840 kilometres (550 miles) before refuelling.

Updated five-cylinder diesel ML 270 CDI and V6 petrol ML 320 versions are also available.

Window airbags, which instantly deploy an inflated 'curtain' across the insides of the side windows in a lateral collision, are now standard across the M-class range. Around 200 cm long and 500 mm high, these air cushions supplement the standard side airbags in the doors.

The new-look headlights have bi-xenon bulbs previously used only in the top CL-class Mercedes coupes. These headlamps generate twice the lighting power of conventional halogen headlamps and come with a sensor-activated headlamp beam control system and a high-pressure lens cleaning system.

The M-Class also now has a light sensor on the windscreen that automatically switches on the headlamps at night. An electronic parking aid system is newly available as an option.

A new range of optional mobile and fixed-installation car telephones will enable passengers to read and compile SMS (Short Message Service) messages on the screen of the centre console-mounted optional Comand operating and display system in the near future.

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