Does an SUV with more than 400kW of power make any sense?
At $181,900 plus on-road costs, the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG SUV doesn’t really make much sense. It’s a blend of extreme power with family-friendly practicality; the ultra-niche vehicle for those that must shave a few seconds off their school run.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love the thing and having spent a few months with a Mercedes-Benz ML350 diesel as our primary family car, the ML itself is a very pleasant car. It's more family-friendly with respect to the way it rides and drives compared to the BMW X5 equivalent (which is a better driver’s car, but not necessarily a better family car), but in AMG guise, the ML is a little bit nonsensical.
Having now spent more than two weeks with the ML63 AMG I can safely say that it’s cars like this that will one day be looked at with extreme admiration by enthusiasts. For Mercedes-Benz to put a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 into a family SUV is just a blast.
There are of course other cars built with the same idea, notably the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and the upcoming BMW X5 M, but there’s something unique about that old-school (yet very modern) V8 sound that shoots from the quad-exhausts of the Mercedes that should even make Christine Milne smile.
With an awesome 386kW of power and 700Nm of torque, the 2345kg (kerb weight) ML63 AMG will move your family around with some serious grunt. It also helps that it does it in style, with an AMG bodykit that leaves little to the imagination.
There are a few ways to drive the AMG SUV. You can simply leave it in ECO mode and punt around like a regular Joe, or you can make use of the additional $80,000 you paid for the AMG treatment (over the ML350) and engage Sport mode.
This will make going from 0-40km/h in school zones extremely exciting, considering the ML63 can make enough noise in the process that your kids will either be embarrassed at your legal hooliganism or become the school heroes.
Thankfully, Sport mode doesn’t mean an uncomfortable ride, as the three settings for the suspension (Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus) allow you to remain comfortable while the engine is in blitzkrieg-mode.
The AMG version is a huge improvement over the standard MLs in how it goes around corners, yet it’s hard to fathom why going super fast around corners would really be a requirement in an SUV as big as this.
That’s not to say it’s not fun, because it is. The side-to-side bodyweight shift found in the regular ML350 is basically non-existent in the AMG, yet it remains just as calm in comfort mode. It’s a shame the regular ML doesn’t get this suspension setup, for it would vastly improve its dynamics.
During a quick sprint up Mt Glorious on the outskirts of Brisbane, the ML63 provided plenty of entertainment. In a sense, it hides well from the local constabulary as clearly no one is mad enough to drive an SUV fast up a mountain, right?
In any sense, though, it needs to be driven with respect to its bulky size, so it’s not as planted as a Cayenne or even the previous generation BMW X5 M (new one coming later this year). A few times it tended to understeer when pushed hard into a corner and then you can clearly feel its weight.
The Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG’s engine is made in Germany and is then shipped to America, where, like all other MLs, it’s put together. As such, it certainly seems to tick the box for going really, really fast in a straight line (0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds) and making a lot of noise in the process.
Actually, it’s fair to point out that its in-gear acceleration past 80km/h is sensational. It’s almost relentless in how the power is delivered. If you want a good laugh as your bulky SUV overtakes plenty of performance cars from the lights with the little ones happily asleep in the car, this is certainly the SUV for you.
You can even go a little crazier and pay an additional $10,950 to get the performance pack (which was optioned to our test car) and get an extra 24kW & 60Nm as well as an AMG steering wheel, red brake calipers and a carbon-fibre engine cover.
Of course, with all that noise and power comes the fuel usage, which although Mercedes-Benz says is around 12L/100km, you should feel lucky at 15L/100km if you intend to have either of the two turbos doing any serious work.
Those figures mean frequent trips to the petrol station are a necessity, and whilst the Middle-East is currently reluctantly discounting fuel thanks to the increased production from North America, when it goes up to $2/L for 98 RON (and it will), you’ll start to feel it.
Jump inside and it’s a bit hard to tell the AMG version apart from the regular ML350 with a few options. Sure, there are better seats, steering wheel, trim and a few extra buttons, but nothing really screams AMG or performance and the central-instrument cluster and infotainment system remains out-dated much like the regular ML.
In saying that though, it’s super comfortable. Our family consists of my wife, our German Au Pair, our three-year-old and three-month-old boys and myself. With all of us on-board, the ML easily manages to take the two bulky ISOFIX seats, including the rear-facing one for our little guy and still provides ample room for the middle rear seat to comfortably fit an adult while leaving tons of legroom for the front passenger seats.
The boot too, can take our over-sized double-pram, all the week’s groceries and even a small scooter all at once. The ML63’s rear air-conditioning controls are also handy.
So it’s hard to complain about the ML63 when it comes to practicality. It would be nice to have the option for two small seats in the boot in case we have an additional passenger, but that’s what the GL range is for, if you ask Mercedes-Benz.
Perhaps the best way to think about the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG is that it’s the cheapest way you will get access to the 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 from Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division. The E63 AMG, which makes use of the same engine, will cost you around $250,000 (but you do get an extra 14kW of power).
The Mercedes-Benz ML range would be my current choice for a luxury family SUV, in particular the ML350 diesel. There’s an all-new model due later this year (as is the case with the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90), so some good deals are to be had across the current ML range, which would work to your advantage if having the absolute latest for long isn’t a necessity.
The reason why it’s so hard to really recommend the ML63 AMG is because the ML350 diesel is so damn good. With a few options, the ML350 looks almost as good without being an AMG and though it doesn’t have anywhere near the power or torque (or the soundtrack), it does an otherwise perfect job of hauling a family around in luxury without excessive trips to the petrol station.