4

The Mercedes-AMG ML 63, which we’ve just sampled in the UK for the first time, isn’t actually the ultimate Mercedes M-Class – not measured by function alone.

It’s not available with the locking differentials, underbody protection and clever traction control of Merc’s On & Offroad package; on a braked trailer, it won’t even tow as much as an ML 350 Bluetec. It will, however, accelerate to 62mph in less than five seconds – every bit as quickly as a Porsche Cayenne Turbo or a BMW X5 M, and quite a lot more than a Range Rover Sport Supercharged.

If you like generous helpings, you’ll like what you find here. AMG’s twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 engine has more cubic capacity than any other performance SUV. And while its standard 518bhp and 516lb ft of torque aren’t outstanding outputs amongst some very powerful rivals, if you spend £6165 on Merc’s optional Performance Pack, you can endow your ML with 549bhp and 561lb ft - which are unsurpassed in the class.

Brisk. Our test car didn’t have the uprated engine - unless you’re shopping specifically for the very gutsiest 4x4 on the market, you don’t need it. For any 2.2-tonne luxury family car, the ML 63 is seriously fast - particularly through the everyday meat of the rev range. Peak torque is available from below 2000rpm, and so powering along motorway slip roads and accruing overtaking speeds are tasks this luxury five-seater takes to with spectacular relish.

Urgent progress can be affected initially by hesitancy from the seven-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, but manual mode allows you to get sharper responses from the powertrain. Having selected that, you need to be careful not to allow the engine to run into its rev limiter on full throttle surges, which intervenes abruptly at a fairly modest threshold just beyond 6000rpm. Learn the motor’s quirks, however, and you can cover ground as quickly as you would in almost any smaller fast car, enjoying excellent forward visibility, plenty of grip and very impressive body control.

If there was as much involvement as performance and composure, the ML 63 would be outstanding. AMG’s dynamic brief here was clearly to temper entertainment value with even greater refinement and ease-of-use than would usually characterise its cars. And so, for all its potency and purchase, there isn’t much to hook you into the act of driving the ML 63 hard - aside from its speed and V8 exhaust woofle. The steering’s light and fairly remote: accurate and easy to get on with, but a little bit uninspiring. The handling’s very tidy and precise, but the damping of the car’s air suspension lacks suppleness and dexterity over uneven surfaces, and sometimes fails to engender a strong sense of connection with the road.

The trade off is that, while it would be a fabulous car to live with, the ML isn’t the supreme fast SUV to actually drive. You could certainly spend your £80k on something a little more exciting in its handling. But if you want to spend it on a car to use every day, as variously as big family 4x4s tend to be used, and that’ll still feel pretty special when you do stretch its legs, you’ll struggle to improve on the ML63’s overall showing.

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