Even standing still, it looks menacing. The ML63 AMG is the supremely potent, sport focused model of Mercedes-Benz’s M-Class luxury family SUV range.
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As luxury barges go, it’s a bit of a cracker. While the wisdom of a high-performance variant of a large, heavy and aerodynamically challenged SUV may be debatable, customer demand is strong, and MB has responded with the most powerful ML63 AMG to date.
Visually differentiating the ML63 AMG from its less fire-breathing siblings is aggressive front and rear apron treatment along with new side skirts running the length of the vehicle to connect the more sporty design. The front end flows into distinctive front wheel arches, which are 12mm wider on each side than the standard ML in order to accommodate the larger, 20in AMG alloy wheels.
Unique ‘V8 BI TURBO’ badging on the front flanks tell of the herd of stallions lurking with intent under the bonnet. At the rear, the lower sill is centred around a unique black diffuser that houses the AMG sports exhaust system with two sets of chrome twin tailpipes.
Contrasting with the nature of the beast, the five-passenger cabin is a calming environment in which to munch some serious mileage and is dressed in sumptuous leather with special touches like a unique four-spoke steering wheel and AMG badges incorporated into the backrests of the specially bolstered sport seats.
All major controls are within safe and comfortable reach and the multi-point seat and steering wheel adjustments ensure the desired driving position is precisely achieved. In traffic, the high driving position affords excellent visibility of the road ahead. In a rural setting, there is that pleasant surprise at being able to see over hedgerows to views you never knew existed.
At the heart of this family-friendly performance SUV is AMG’s latest monster motor, a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 that – as standard – produces a prodigious 518bhp and 516lb-ft of torque while still managing 33 percent better overall fuel economy than the outgoing motor. If that isn’t enough thrust to take the kids to school, the optional ‘AMG Performance Package’ as fitted to the test car winds up the boost from 14.0 to 18.8 psi, resulting in 550 ponies and 560lb-ft of transferable twist. Transmission duties are managed by the AMG Speedshift Plus seven-speed automatic transmission, which – via the permanent 4MATIC four-wheel-drive – brings three unique driving programs.
The first, ‘Controlled-Efficiency’ or eco mode, sets the engine’s start-stop to active, delivers more comfort-oriented gear shifts and makes earlier gear changes to stay in the ‘green eco spot’. This mode is non-aggressive and will typically launch the car in second-gear, bypassing the thirsty first gear altogether.
Next up are ‘Sport’ and ‘Manual’ modes, both of which fully disable the start-stop engine function, putting the engine into an ‘assume the braced position’ mindset. Where ‘Sport’ mode will shorten gear shift points and still work as a normal automatic transmission, ‘Manual’ mode assigns gear change duties to the driver.
The huge amount of power is transferred to the black stuff via Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which distributes engine power at a ratio of 40:60 to the front and rear axles. Not that the average buyer of this car would be overly perturbed, there are penalties for all that power and performance. The ML63 AMG achieves 23.9 miles-per-gallon on the combined cycle, while emitting 279g per km of CO2 in the process. Annual road tax is a nut-kicking £1,060.
So, how does it drive? Astonishingly well, actually. With historic justification, one would expect a large, heavyweight SUV of this scale to be a bit of a handful – like sitting on a blancmange, one could say, similar in a way to the old Range Rover (and the new one to a now lesser degree). Steering is precise and exceptionally well weighted, giving good feedback as to what’s happening on the ground floor.
Ensuring that ML63 AMG isn’t just a straight-line bullet are handling-enhancing features like an AMG-developed sports suspension with AIRMATIC air springs, independent damper struts, automatic level control and Adaptive Damping System (ADS), all of which are combined for the first time with Active Curve System, which provides active roll stabilisation. It’s hugely composed and planted in the corners and delivers a thrilling experience to those seeking an occasional, let’s say, ‘enthusiastic and spirited’ driving experience. After all, that’s what AMG is really all about – the thrill of the drive, a full-on attack to the senses. The wonderful noise emanating from the throaty V8 twin-turbo is an experience in itself.
As you would expect when investing £83,000+ in a private mode of transport, the ML63 AMG comes lavishly equipped with a navigation system, a seven-inch display and real-time traffic and weather updates, HD radio and a USB port, a sunroof, PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist and heated and active ventilated front seats with 10-way power adjustability, plus a whole host of lifestyle toys and safety gismos.
You might want to pop the kettle on for this bit…the test car was enhanced by an extensive onslaught to the options list and included: AMG Performance Package consisting of power upgrade of 32hp (24kW) / 60 Nm, AMG carbon-fibre engine cover, AMG performance steering wheel and red-painted brake callipers, £6,165 * Keyless-Go includes door handles with chrome inlay, £930 * Ambient interior lighting with choice of three colour settings, £365 * Double sun visors for driver and front passenger, £100 * Easy-Pack load-securing kit, £310 * Comfort ventilated front seats, £750 * Heated rear seats, £355 * Memory Package to front seats, front head restraints, steering column and exterior door mirrors, £930 * Driving Assistance Package of Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane-Keeping Assist, Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Brake, £2,350.
You’d better set Countdown to ‘record’, because we’re only half way…
Night View Assist Plus, pedestrian detection system, £1,305 * COMAND Online system with integrated 6-disc changer, £315 * Rear seat entertainment system of two 8-inch screens mounted on the back of front head restraints, single DVD player, two sets of wireless headphones and remote control, £2,035 * Surround sound system of Harman Kardon Logic7 with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS. 14 high-performance speakers and additional amplifier, £880 * Telephone pre-wiring with hands-free facility, £410 * TV tuner – with digital reception capabilities, £1,035 * Brown Open-pore Ash wood trim, £380 * Set of four 21” AMG alloy wheels, 5-twin-spoke design, 295/35 tyres, £855. And breathe…
All of which removes a further £19,470 from the piggy bank.
Or two and a half Kia Picanto’s. Or 32,450 KitKats.
On the safety front, Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its passive and active safety features, and the ML63 AMG will certainly not tarnish that reputation. In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the SUV boasts nine airbags including two-stage front air bags, a knee air bag for the driver and pelvic air bags which work together with curtain and side air bags to provide extra protection for front occupants in dangerous side-impact collisions.
Fast Facts: Recommended retail price of standard model: £83,620. As tested: £103,090.
Engine: 5,5-litre V8, 32-valve.
Transmission: AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic 7-speed auto transmission, perm AWD.
Power / Torque: 557bhp (410kW) @ 5,500rpm / 760Nm @ 2,000-5,000rpm.
Top speed: 174mph (in conjunction with AMG Performance Package).
Luggage capacity to window line: Row 2 up, 690 litres. Row 2 down: 2,010 litres.
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds (in conjunction with AMG Performance Package).
Fuel tank capacity: 93 litres (20.5 gallons).
Fuel economy (combined): Official 23.9mpg. Range: 490 miles.
CO2 Emissions: 276g/km.
Kerb weight: 2,345kg.
VED Band ‘M’ / Current annual cost £1,065.
Euro NCAP rating: 5 Stars (2012)
Insurance group: 50A.
Warranty: 3 year / unlimited miles.
Also consider The ML63 AMG 4Matic has a range of worthy rivals including the precise-handling BMW X5 M, the silly-quick Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the recently unveiled Range Rover Sport in Autobiography V8 Supercharged guise. The less-expensive Jeep Grand Cherokee 6.4-litre V8 Hemi-SRT is also a capable performer that, interestingly enough, shares a basic platform with the ML63 AMG. Not many people know that.
So, is the ML63 AMG as good as the new Range Rover? Perhaps not quite but it is less common – which appeals. If we had £100k burning a hole through our bank managers left kidney (the thought of which sounds increasingly attractive), would we get one?