The long-awaited arrival of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz ML550 is worthy of poetic prose.

That’s high praise indeed when considering we’re talking about a sport utility vehicle. But it is a European sport utility vehicle made for and by Americans.

This is not your average SUV. The ‘08 ML550 is not even your average premium SUV.

Sure, it’s a fully capable SUV featuring full-time four-wheel drive and a revised traction control system that incorporates a downhill speed regulator and a hill-holder.

There’s even an “Off-Road” button on the center console that activates a number of features to improve traction and stability when driving off pavement.

Sure, the four-door, five-passenger ML550 instills driver confidence with its numerous advanced active and passive safety features — along with a commanding view of the road.

And sure, on the road it delivers car-like ride and handling characteristics that you would expect from a crossover.

While you might expect the ML550 would be loaded with premium features and luxurious appointments, you might not expect the AMG styling treatments (both inside and out).

I also bet you wouldn’t expect a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds.

That’s no typo. We’re talking 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds.

And it handles like it’s on a rail, thanks in large part to a four-wheel drive system that has the ability to transfer torque from the front to the rear, but also from side to side. In cornering, the system’s front and rear differentials permit the outside wheels to go faster than the inside ones, which makes the M-Class handle more like a sports car than an SUV.

While handling is impressive, performance is nothing short of remarkable. The all-new ML550 (which replaces the ML500) is powered by a high-tech 5.5-liter V-8 featuring variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust valves.

The 5.5-L cranks out 383 horses and 391 lbs.-ft. of torque on demand.

Equally impressive is the seven-speed automatic transmission — a first for an SUV — that provides a wider spread of ratios between the first and top gears while allowing smaller increases in the engine speed as the vehicle accelerates through the gears.

While you notice the performance, it should also be pointed out the seven-speed improves fuel economy.

If you want to go manual, the ML550 gives you the option by pushing either one of the shift buttons on the back of the steering wheel to access “Touch Shift” manual gear changes.

When it comes to safety, Mercedes has incorporated a number of standard features into the M-Class, starting with the high-strength passenger cell. Other safety features include: three-point, inertia-reel seat belts for all positions with electronically controlled belt tensioners and belt-force limiters, dual stage front airbags, active front head restraints, window curtain airbags, door-mounted side airbags for both front and rear seats, rollover sensor, tire pressure monitoring system, anti-lock brakes with traction control and electronic stability control, to name just a few.

And I haven’t even touched on the luxury features.

For those in the market for a premium SUV, the new ML550 is a must test drive.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 15 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. Comments may be sent to Neal at