The 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG is the third generation of the company’s range-topping powerhouse, available with up to 549bhp and the potential to reach 175mph. But does it offer anything more than physics-defying performance?
Equipped with the optional ‘Performance Package’, the ML63 AMG nudges the performance ceiling of the segment marginally higher: it produces 549bhp, distancing itself from the BMW X5 M by a mere two brake horsepower. As standard, the ML63 produces 518bhp, which equates to a 0-62mph sprint time of 4.8 seconds (4.7 with the Performance Package) and a maximum speed of 155mph – which, with the electronic limiter optionally removed (for a not insubstantial price), increases to 175mph. Unseating the old 6.2-litre normally aspirated motor is a twin-turbo 5.5-litre engine, whose turbines spool up rapidly to ensure the big Mercedes performs spontaneously even at low speeds.
The main gripe you might have with a large-displacement petrol engine in an equally-large SUV is, of course, poor fuel economy - but Mercedes engineers have dug deep into their bag of tricks to keep consumption at a tolerable level. A start/stop system is fitted as standard, while the ‘Controlled Efficiency’ gearbox mode (others are ‘Sport’ and ‘Manual’) encourages frugal driving behaviour by changing up gears early and pulling away from standstill in second gear in most situations. However, all that ‘encouraging’ is undone by the aural drama: the bassy note urges the driver to hold onto gears that much longer when in manual mode, just to hear the pitch ascent of the V8’s burbling grumble. As a result, the 23.9mpg combined figure will seldom be achieved in practice; a figure below 20mpg is likely for all but the most featherfooted.
The air suspension also has three settings: ‘Comfort’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport Plus’. However, Comfort mode fails to live up to its title, with both driver and passengers being given too much detail about the road’s surface. A wider spread between the three stages would have been beneficial, not only to provide more cruising comfort, but also to highlight the abilities of the driving dynamics when a more assertive setting is selected. On winding roads, the direct steering, snatching brakes and active roll reduction system play out their benefits, assisted by a power distribution of 60:40, with a rearward bias. The sportscar-like cornering ensures an almost surreal driving experience from the off-roader – that the ML63 AMG tips a hefty 2,345kg on the scales is hard to believe.
Whether the driver is questioning or contemplative of the ML63’s abilities, it always takes care of them thanks to an armada of assistance systems – however, these can be disabled in most cases, should the driver feel ultra-inquisitive.
The interior of the ML63 AMG distinguishes itself from lesser stablemates by including a specific 200mph speedometer, a leather-clad instrument panel and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, with the aluminium shift paddles being imported directly from the ‘normal’ M-Class models. As expected, the ML63 also receives some exterior visual clues to its potency: it has wider bumpers and more substantial side sills, a front apron with large, geometric air intakes, a visually corresponding rear apron and a four-pipe exhaust system. In addition, 20-inch wheels are standard, with 21-inch rims available for an extra outlay.
Our conclusion? Those looking for a sporty, petrol-powered SUV will already be aware of the high fuel consumption figures associated with these types of vehicle, and therefore will be able to revel in the delights of the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG’s undoubted performance and driving dynamic prowess. Prices are yet to be confirmed, but can be expected to start at around £85,000.