After its introduction a year earlier and numerous upgrades made to the overall M-Class lineup in 2002, the Mercedes-Benz ML500 received only one significant upgrade for 2003. The onboard GPS navigation system was switched from a CD- to a DVD-based system, used for viewing a map database on a single disc. When not used for navigation, the DVD drive can play music CDs.
Other than that, the ML500 retained its 5.0-liter, 288-hp V8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift, which enabled the driver to manually upshift or downshift by holding the shift lever to the left or right.
Other standard features included a CFC-free automatic climate control system with an electrostatic dust filter, an in-dash control panel for setting cabin temperature and air flow, heated eight-way power front seats, leather upholstery, burl walnut trim, velour carpeting, 12-volt power outlets, electronic cruise control, and a lockable drawer-type safebox under the front passenger seat.
Outside, amenities included 17-inch wheels, color-keyed bumpers, light-sensing headlamps that automatically switch on in low-light environments, halogen front foglights, privacy glass for the rear-door and back windows, and protective-coated roof rails.
Though many drivers were impressed with the ML500's styling, handling, and luxury appointments, as well the fact that it "hauls" with its 5.0-liter engine, others noted that the vehicle remained "problem plagued," requiring frequent service for parts such as brakes and tires.