Mercedes-Benz has launched the ultimate sports utility vehicle, the ML55 AMG, which can out perform many sports cars.

The flagship 347bhp 5.5-litre M-class accelerates from 0 to 62mph in just 6.8 seconds and has a maximum speed of 145 mph. Yet the ML55 AMG retains the rugged off-road capabilities of all M-class models.

At £49,990 the latest, highly equipped M-class offers outstanding value for money and follows the pricing strategy introduced by Mercedes-Benz in August, when prices on mainstream models were lowered by up to 20 per cent.

Dermot Kelly, Director Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars in the UK, said: "The ML55 AMG is a sensationally exciting product. It has enormous power and torque which means that it is a formidable vehicle both on and off the road.

"It is highly sophisticated and superbly equipped yet it is keenly priced. We have had a huge success in the UK with the M-class and I am confident that this flagship model will set a new benchmark in this important sector of the market."

Power for the ML55 AMG comes from a 5.0-litre V8 from the Mercedes S-class which is reworked by Mercedes-AMG. Aluminium pistons, special oil injector nozzles and high-performance camshafts are installed and the block is bored out to 5.5-litres capacity. Maximum torque is 510 Nm from around 2,800rpm.

Huge 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels with 285/50R tyres are fitted and the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and axle are modified to cope with the increased power.

Two "power domes" on the bonnet, echo those of the Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster and unique AMG bodystyling and twin AMG chrome exhaust tailpipes add to the highly distinctive appearance.

Inside, the ML55 AMG has sports seats trimmed in buffalo leather and black walnut wood trim, a finish which is unique to this car. Distinctive ivory dials with chrome surrounds, a wood and leather trimmed steering wheel and gearshift and a leather-covered front armrest complete the special interior.

Xenon headlamps, which have a high-pressure cleaning system, are standard along with air conditioning, electric front seats with memory settings, an electric glass sunroof, automatic dimming rear-view mirror, Bose sound system with seven speakers, a six-disc CD changer, heated front seats and automatic rain-sensing wipers.

Safety features on the ML55 AMG are extremely high and include two-stage "intelligent" airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger along with side bags fitted in both the front and rear. The anti-lock braking system (ABS) includes the unique Mercedes Brake Assist feature which aids emergency braking.

Further developments to all M-class models

Further developments have been made to the Mercedes off-road electronic traction system, 4-ETS, which will be added to all M-class models from October at no additional cost.

The 4-ETS system automatically brakes any slipping wheel and increases power to the remaining wheels to achieve maximum traction. The advanced electronic system does away with the need for traditional cumbersome and heavy differential locks.

The new advances result in even faster reaction times, so especially in difficult off-road conditions, the M-class can perform even better. In low-range, the improvements give better climbing ability on demanding, steep inclines and the Downhill Traction Control allows even safer and surer descents.

Two-stage "intelligent" airbags are added for both the driver and front-seat passenger and a new steering rack gives better low-speed response.

More than 10,000 M-class models have been sold in the UK since they were introduced in September 1998. So far in 2000, nearly 5,500 M-class have been sold, an increase of more than 80 per cent over the same period last year.

All M-class models benefit from the same unique Mercedes-Benz mobilo life package which covers all Mercedes cars. This gives a 30-year breakdown assistance cover and anti-corrosion guarantee in addition to a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty.