By on July 12, 2018

The year is 2000, and a whole bunch of people have just recovered from an unnecessary panic over how computers worldwide would tackle the date change from ’99 to ’00. Crisis averted, and with Nokia candy bar phone in pocket, they headed to dealerships to buy midsize luxury SUVs with their newfound Dot Com cash.

Which millennium-mobile gets the Buy?

By the way, refresh on the OG rules of the game if you’ve forgotten.

Reasonably close in size and with fairly high levels of equipment, all three of our contenders are four-wheel or all-wheel drive. They’re also very close in price — between $34,635 and $36,100.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

A second generation of the super successful Grand Cherokee bowed for the 1999 model year. The least expensive option today is also the one in the highest trim specification. $34,635 nets a Limited four-wheel drive model in 4.0-liter inline-six specification. 195 horsepower shift through the four-speed automatic, and net careful drivers 16 mpg city and 21 on the highway — the best economy in our trio. Most everything is powered, leather-covered, and heated, and there’s space for five passengers.

Mercedes-Benz ML320 

On sale since 1998, the Mercedes ML got its big debut as staff transport in the second Jurassic Park film (not a good movie, if you never saw it). Unlike the high-zoot Grand Cherokee, the ML within budget is at the bottom of the trim hierarchy. That’s why, rather than a 500 badge on the back, we have a 320 signifying the 3.2-liter V6 under the rounded hood. A five-speed automatic manages 215 horsepower, and estimated fuel economy stands at 16/20. Some of the power equipment on the Jeep is not powered in the Mercedes, in order to keep the MSRP down to an affordable $35,300. There is an optional third-row seat, however, which ups passenger capacity to seven.

Land Rover Discovery II 4WD

Our final contender was also new for 1999, as the (same looking) Discovery II replaced the original Discovery, a model in production in England since 1989. Larger in dimensions and more modern than its predecessor, Discovery’s models are differentiated by whether cloth or leather covers its seating surfaces. The $36,100 price is highest of the three contenders today, and provides leather seating for seven. Like the original, the Discovery II maintains two folding jump seats in the way back. All American Discoveries are powered by the traditional 4.0-liter Rover V8. It’s good for 188 horsepower, and the four-speed automatic manages 13 city and 17 highway.

Three different approaches to the midsize luxury SUV for the year 2000. Which gets a Buy, and which a Burn?

[Images: Mercedes-Benz, FCA, Jaguar Land Rover]

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59 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Midsize Luxury SUVs From the Year 2000...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Buy the Jeep/Drive the Land Rover/Burn the Geo Tracker…I mean the ML320.

  • avatar
    Car Guy

    Buy: Land Rover. I like boxy SUVs more and more now that they have all but disappeared.
    Drive: Jeep. I got to drive a 1999 Limited Model for a while and that thing had the most comfortable leather seats. Super nice ride. Probably need a rear axle and transmission (or two) by now however…..
    Burn: MB. They just don’t look right and they never impressed me as being anything worthy of the MB badge.

    • 0 avatar
      "scarey"

      My 01 Grand Cherokee has had the front hubs replaced, brakes all around a couple of times, and several sets of tires. It recently got new brake lines, and I replaced the alloy wheels with some new take-off steelies and super aggressive tread 245-75-R16 Treadright tires. (Required no lift). I posted earlier that it had over 200k on it, but it is actually creeping up on 200k, having just turned over 198,000. A couple days ago I found that the passenger side front window will not roll back up. Repairs will be pending. BTW, this is my daily driver. I live surounded by MUDDY ROADS. I never get stuck.
      Obviously- drive Jeep, buy Land Rover. Burn MB.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Buy the Jeep (I did, a 2002, wonderful vehicle)
    Drive the ML320
    Burn the Land Rover, but chances are it will do it itself for you

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I’m with 600 on this one.

    Buy: Jeep Grand Cherokee — An elegant sport utility that can actually live up to its brand reputation;
    Drive: Land Rover Defender II — Not so elegant but can do what it portends, even if reliability is questionable.
    Burn: Mercedes ML 320 — Simply does not live up to the brand which doesn’t lend itself towards budget vehicles of any type. Would also note questionable off-road capabilities and simply not good looking in any way. Yes, it does look like a modernized Geo Tracker, and for Mercedes, that’s not a good thing.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    Buy the Jeep. Drive the Land Rover (when it’s running) to look good around the neighborhood as a grocery-getter. Burn the MB – my old German employer bought these as company vehicles for the upper level managers at the plant. These MB’s spent a good 75% of the time either in the repair shop or waiting for a tow to the repair shop from a manager’s reserved parking spot by the admin building. Even a Land Rover was more dependable than these bricks.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Buy the Jeep, because being American it has lower repair costs than the other two.
    Drive the Merc, because it’s German.
    Burn the Rover because it’s British. Actually, it might do that for you anyway.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Buy: Jeep. It’s a slower, thirstier, more cramped version of my 4Runner but it fulfills the same general purpose and I’ve always liked the way these look.

    Drive: Land Rover. Regal and British for a day, then turn that heap back in. 188hp out of 4.0L of V8 and 13mpg city? I don’t care how cool it looks (and it does).

    Burn: Merc. Useless. The start of the Ovoid Road Eggs that have taken over.

  • avatar
    Thatkat09

    Buy the Grand Cherokee – Most reliable out of the bunch which is saying something
    Drive the Discovery
    Burn the ML – I have heard absolute horror stories about this gen.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    This is genuinely hard.

    I like the MB’s honest design but I know they’re crap.

    The LR is veritable crap.

    The Jeep is slightly better and slightly worse at the same time.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I’m actually kind of torn on this. On the surface the Jeep seems like the clear reliability winner. BUT, these early WJs are known for breaking off piston skirts on the 4.0Ls, whiny rear ends, Limiteds with climate control are likely to have blend door issues. I’ll actually go for the Disco on the buy and enjoy the massive cargo space and awesome seating position, excellent offroad capability, and I’ll just learn to be my own LR mechanic.

    I’d drive the WJ and wheel the hell out of it offroad. Burn the Merc. They’re not quite as useless offroad as modern crossovers, but without a low range and without a solid rear axle (to say nothing of no solid front axle like the other two) it can’t even approach the others in the rough.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      ^seconded. I agree 100%.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Actually, the first-gen M-Class (1997-2005) did have low-range gearing, as standard equipment. Even when it went softer to compete with the X5, it retained the low-range gearing an option, and I think you could still get it with a two-speed transfer case until it was facelifted and renamed the GLE-Class.

      That said, I still can’t stand the gen-1 M-Class.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Buy the Jeep to sample the I6.

    Drive the Land Rover because – people love them – when they’re running.

    Burn the MB because everyone I every saw driving one new was generally the wife/mistress/side-chick of a “Made Man” – regardless of his ethnicity, religious background, or criminal enterprise of choice.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    This is a tough one because I don’t like any of them.
    The Jeep is incredibly cramped in the front seat for all of its size.
    The MB is incredibly bland and blobby in its styling
    And the Land Rover is a mechanical nightmare. I know because a friend of mine owned one and the and the bits and pieces that were falling off of it was incredible.

    But having to choose…
    I can’t…I just can’t. I have to take the cheaters way out and say burn all of them.
    Sorry Corey, I failed in today’s game

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah, I’m just not enough of a masochist to deal with any of this bunch. The MB’s looks is the poster child for “meh”, the Jeep isn’t as reliable as it should be, and while the Disco is sorta cool, I wouldn’t trust it for any trips over 20 miles.

      Grimmest B/D/B ever?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Buy: The Jeep. Because we did (leased). And yes it did eat through a transmission.
    Drive: The Land Rover. Because I have very little time behind the wheel of this marque.
    Burn: The operating manual for this website. Because it is once again not working properly. Just like the Mercedes which had a reputation for problems with its build quality.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      Just out of curiosity, did yours have the transmission cooler on it?

      For the game, burn the Merc.
      Drive the Jeep.
      Buy the LR and when it burns itself take the insurance money and use it on an Old Man Emu kit, swaybar disconnects and good tires for the Jeep.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If we’re doing this as “what would you have bought if you were transported back to year 2000?”

    Buy: Discovery. I like how it looks and it delivers on both snob appeal and rugged lifestyle image.

    Drive: ML320 because I assume it is the fastest choice.

    Burn: Jeep. No problems with it but I don’t go off-road.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Burn Jeep, the I6 after I think MY98 cracks heads and the V8 is garbage.
    Drive the Benzito.
    I think that’s still the Buick 215 in the RR so it will still run while every other part of it fails you. Keep.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      At my work we’ve had several Jeep go to salvage with dead engines, and newer Liberty on its secobnd engine, and its burning something up.

      They’re probably my least vehicles on the lot!

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      The LA motor has been around forever and as long as you use the correct oil in the newer ones they dn’t have many problems. If you are talking about the 4.7l I might agree.

  • avatar
    gtem

    My magic pill in this market segment: 2000 Mitsubishi Montero equipped with the “winter package.” MSRP at right about $32k.

    Easily the best built and most reliable out of any of these, at least as roomy as the LR, at least as capable as the LR and Jeep owing to the locking rear diff in the Mitsu, and I’m willing to bet it would stand up to abuse much better than the other two. Where it would lose would be power/acceleration, and likely ride quality. The Torsion bar front end is rather truck-ish.

    • 0 avatar

      I intentionally left the Montero out of the considerations here, for a couple of reasons:

      -It was very old by this time.
      -It doesn’t have the middle class suburban appeal of these three.

      OG idea for this article was larger MY2000 luxury SUVs, with Escalade and Navigator. But there was no third contender at the $46,000 price point. The Land Cruiser isn’t a fair third option, and everything else is too expensive.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, would you fancy a brand new ES300?

      https://www.ebth.com/items/9012067-2000-lexus-es300-platinum-series-luxury-sedan

      (Yes I know, revised version blah. BUT STILL.)

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I’d fancy a Zephyr instead.

        https://bakersfield.craigslist.org/cto/d/1978-mercury-zephir-z7/6623101457.html

        Needs two tone paint. Grabber blue and Aegean blue (the latter is the color of the 2018 Civic Si I love, and the former is what I plan on doing the Taurus in). I’d also put some bucket seats and a console in it.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Not so easy…

    Buy the Jeep – it might not be the most reliable thing out there but getting it fixed won’t be much of a problem.

    Drive the Land Rover – nice experience, just don’t go too far from help.

    Burn the Mercedes – plasticky and cheap-looking.

    And fix the damn site login!

  • avatar
    MBella

    I get the comments, and if it wasn’t for my personal background I would likely agree with those above. Since I almost bought an ML instead of my E320 wagon, I have to be honest and say buy the ML, drive the Jeep, and burn the Land Rover. The 163 chassis ML wasn’t bad, but tremendously misunderstood. When Diamler started researching the demand, they found out most of their customers had an Explorer or Blazer in there garage. These were designed to be competitors to those and not fancy luxury cars. The problem is that the focus groups said they wanted a simple rugged off roader with a low range transfer case while they actually wanted a Lexus RX. There were teething pains when they came out, but are pretty reliable now.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    My perception is that you’d have to be crazy to buy any of these, so:

    Burn the “Mercedes.” It’s just awful.
    Drive the Jeep.
    Buy the Land Rover. And take it off road. After all, if there’s one thing crazier than buying unreliable junk, it’s taking said unreliable junk off road. Go big or go home.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Not a SUV guy but here goes

    Buy the Disco, why not I have never driven in one but the best looking in a different way and I will learn to off road in it when it runs.

    Drive the Jeep, I put a premium in the drive vs buy part so the jeep makes it, out of the 3 it has to be the cheapest to keep running long term Right???
    Burn the ML because it started this whole stupid category

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      To be fair, the first-generation M-Class was BOF, and had a two-speed transfer case. In fact, the M-Class was supposed to be co-developed by Mitsubishi. Then something happened, and Daimler went its own way.

      The first-gen X5, first-gen RX, and first-gen MDX probably started this segment you don’t like.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Woah, yet another realization for me: I had always assumed the ML was a reinforced unibody, not a BOF! That’s pretty cool, my respect for these rigs just increased slightly.

        • 0 avatar
          derekson

          The ML was originally planned to replace the G-class, so the first generation was built as an actual SUV (though not one as capable as the G-class).

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    This ones tough, I dont like any of these choices!

    Drive: Mercedes thing, since this was a widely copied design and even a few styling bits were nicked by other car-makers. I wouldnt keep it though, I never liked these.

    Buy: The Range/Land/Whatsit over, this one looks okay and I’d like to see just how unreliable everyone says they are.

    Burn: The Jeep, I hate driving these things and we’ve had some on the lot with dead engines. Big, slow, bulky, I dunno why anyone would buy one of these.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I always considered the ML to resemble the first gen Kia Sportage and first gen Sorento more so than the tracker mentioned above.

      In other news, how’s the car search going? If you were in my neck of the woods, I found a nice mid 90s Accord LX coupe 5 speed for very reasonable. If I needed a car, it’d be at the top of my list.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Heres a list of what the ML makes me think of:

        Sorento/Sportage
        Lexus RX300
        Honda CRV
        Ford Escape/Mercury/Mazda duplicates
        To lesser extent the Buick thing that was made on the Aztek chassis.
        I’m sure other mid-2000s CUVs that I cant think of atm.

        As for the car search I’m still waiting on pics of that old Camry, I have a 2000 Camry I might look at, and theres a few redblock Volvos I’m trying to get more info about.

        Accords of that time are decent cars if you can get them in good shape, unfortunately its pretty rare to see a good one on sale.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          I bet 28 cars later would approve

          https://stlouis.craigslist.org/cto/d/99-grand-prix/6639024149.html

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Not impressed but it will probably run as long as it doesn’t rot from the inside.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            My favorite bodystyle of the GP. I found a GTP sedan on his craigslist, but it had over 400K!

            I’d like a GTP coupe, preferably with less miles than the space shuttle.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            I prefer the late 90s Bonneville myself, before it became a huge Grand Am.

            Maybe 10 years ago my father had an 03 Grand Prix SP2(?), good engines, never held an aligment over city roads though, and the heater core went bad.

            Still, I find it crazy how many modern sedans share that Grand Prixs proportions, the wide angry effeminate lights, the protruding corporate grille, the sloping way to low roof, the awful ground clearance..

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            That is true. And, I’m a fan of the Bonnies as well. For some reason, I don’t mind the bigger FWD Pontiac cars, but the FWD Cutlass Supreme, Intrigue and 88/98 just aren’t my thing. Yes, I’d take them over an equivalent Buick, but if I’m going big GM FWD (that isn’t an Aurora) of my choosing, it’d be a Pontiac.

            Midsize cars, I’m back in the Olds camp. Calais/Achieva/Alero over Grand Am/Malibu/etc any day.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Agreed. And all three were truck-ettes. We had a first-gen, loaded-up Kia Sorento, and I thought it looked heavily inspired by the first-gen (and contemporary) M-Class.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    This is a tough but good one! Man, I sure did love me some early 2000’s SUV.

    Buy – Jeep Grand Cherokee. I don’t know what it is about these, but I always liked them. Something about the modern curve looks while still staying traditionally Jeep. My uncle had I believe a 03 Overland and boy did I love that thing. Seeing them now in sad BHPH condition breaks my heart ever so slightly.

    Drive – MB ML320. I always thought these things looked sort of feminine, probably because my mom’s friend had one. Still a surprisingly tough yet comfortable SUV. A true start of an era. I’ll keep it around.

    Burn – Land Rover Disco. Tough call, but let’s be honest, it will probably burn itself first. Never cared for the styling and the stupid skylights (although admittedly cool now). Give me the real thing (Defender) or give me the Jeep.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Buy: Discovery II. The classic, iconic looks stand out, it will go nearly anywhere, and there’s plenty of enthusiast knowledge as far as common pitfalls and maintenance goes. The 4.0-liter (bored out to 4.6-liters in the 2003-2004 models) engine is an evolution of the classic Rover 3.5, itself a modified version of the Buick 215, so it gets a bonus point for having some GM powertrain roots.

    Drive: Grand Cherokee. The only unibody vehicle of our trio, it demonstrates an excellent level of composure. It also still looks modern enough today, and has the classic Jeep 4.0-liter I6. It’s also not expensive to keep up.

    Burn: M-Class. I hate the dorky rounded styling. Early models were plagued by poor build quality. They got it better after the facelift, but still not enough, as Mercedes-Benz as a whole was facing a decline in terms of fit-and-finish, and overall longevity. I would have picked a contemporary X5 (which lacked the BOF and the low-range gearing) over one of these jalopies, even the AMG version. It simply didn’t feel like the Mercedes-Benz of trucks, and it should have.

  • avatar
    ernest

    The best one of the bunch wasn’t listed- the Cherokee that wasn’t “Grand.” That being said, there’s only one choice here- the Jeep.

    The ML320 rivalled the Land Rover in unreliability, although the Land Rover could burn itself without help, while the Mercedes may need a bit of assistance. Just a bit of assistance- friend in Kentucky had his burn to the ground in the driveway. Ironically, after giving his son his GC to take to college.

  • avatar
    Dan

    A good buddy of mine bought a loaded WJ right when they came out. Impressed was an understatement.

    It was fun. This was a car the size of a Ford Escape with a short axle, short tires, and an all new V8. Add to that, sitting on stilts over a wheelbase that was also the size of a Ford Escape, with live axles front and rear besides. Add to that, 90s expectations. It was amazing.

    It did everything. A middling bordering tiny car that fit anywhere yet was comfortable for four people, had plenty of cargo space, was great offroad, could even tow. Again, 90s expectations. SUVs, such that they existed, were either big clumsy trucks or slow crampy ones. Wagons were penalty boxes where you sat on the ground and banged each others’ elbows. A crossover before crossovers was a revelation.

    And it was nice. All of the nice of the ZJ, only nicer and with more room and better leather. Smooth, quiet, nice engine sounds, great stereo. Everything else that competed was so much more expensive that it didn’t compete at all. A loaded Jeep was in the 30s. The ML430 was $50,000. The LX470 was $60,000. I don’t know what the Disco cost but I’d never seen one and neither had anyone else that wasn’t a tow truck driver.

    It was also a total POS that was shedding weatherstripping and dropping windows into the doors inside of a year and eating HVAC blend doors and brakes and transmissions soon after that. Got 14 mpg on a good day, which didn’t much matter in 1999 but surely did after that.

    So buy, drive, and burn it and forget the other two.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy – Jeep Grand Cherokee. I’ve had friends who have owned them during that 90’s SUV era and even today they swear by them. The I-6 is robust and the 5.2 318-8 has a fine legacy. The euro look TSi is a unique find but a hood vented 5.9 Limited is the neat sleeper muscle SUV. Just get a trailer hitch to shield the rear fuel tank.

    Drive – Land Rover Discovery. Sure they have reliability issues, electrical, trim but its rugged in the mud and off-road plus the Buick/Olds 215 based 4.0 V8 is a great motor.

    Burn – Mercedes-Benz ML320. The beginning of the cheapening of the brand. Yes, its comfortable but needed a bit of G-Wagon in it. When you sat in and drove an entry 190E you still said “yeah, its a Benz”. Less so 1st generation ML or the C230 Kompressor hatchback.

    • 0 avatar
      W210Driver

      In defense of the C-Class Hatchbacks they were affordable premium coupes that were RWD and quite fun to drive. I doubt they were ever intended to appeal to the old money crowd but rather to the new breed of yuppies and young professionals who wanted to blend fun and entry-level luxury in a somewhat stylish compact package.

      My partner at the time, a Mercedes fan, owned one and I also enjoyed driving it. These were actually fun cars.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I know, I’ve been looking for a practical second car and recently did a quick search of the C-Class Hatch compared to a similar Mini or GTI.
        They do have their pluses; RWD, cavernous hatch and a timing chain. The Kompressor unit unlike the one on the Mini S is pretty reliable.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Problem was, that entire generation of C-Class felt cheap compared to predecessors. That was a bad time period for Mercedes-Benz. Even the contemporary (W220) S-Class felt significantly downmarket. Which is why they retained the old (and superior) W140 platform when developing the top-shelf Maybach 57 and 62.

  • avatar
    W210Driver

    Buy: The Jeep. Cheap, fairly reliable and good off-road. Perfect SUV for the DIY crowd on a budget. Any provincial mechanic should be able to fix them if something should fail. I like the design; classic Jeep GC with some more curves.

    Drive: The Mercedes. Early models were awful but even before the facelift their quality was steadily improved. I have a handful of friends with high mileage examples (one of them in Australia who uses it in the Outback!) and from what they have told me these SUVs are not as terrible as is often claimed. My neighbor has an ML430 and I find them to be better-looking than the second and third generation (current model).

    Burn: The Land Rover. It‘s the best-looking SUV here hands down. The cabin materials and design also appeal to me. Their reliability isn‘t an issue for me since I believe horror stories are often overblown and exaggerated. From this list it‘s just the SUV that I would place in third place, hence it gets burned.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Buy Jeep
    Drive Land Rover
    Burn Benz

    (same reasons as everyone else)

  • avatar
    Instant_Karma

    Burn them all, but after I pull the Disco’s engine in case I ever want to do the Rover V8 swap to my 71 MGBGT.


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