What is it?
It was no coincidence that Mercedes-Benz chose Santa Barbara, California to give journalists their first taste of the ML 63 AMG. This is the German car maker’s powered-up rival to the likes of the BMW X5M and Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and nowhere has it traditionally sold in greater numbers than here. Where better to show off the US-built performance SUV than on the roads where the majority are set to spend their life?
What’s it like?
Like most new AMG models released in recent times, the ML 63 uses a new twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 engine. The forced induction unit replaces the old model’s naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8, packing 518bhp and a prodigious 516lb ft of torque – an increase of 15bhp and 52lb ft respectively. If that’s not enough, there’s also a performance package option that increases boost pressure and adds a more free-flowing air manifold, bumping output up to 549bhp and an even more heroic 560lb ft.
There’s a lot to like about the ML 63, but the engine is clearly its most compelling feature. With all that torque delivered at just 1750rpm the full force of its performance is never far away, as reflected in its 0-62mph time of just 4.7sec – a 0.3sec improvement on its predecessor. Accompanying its sheer speed is a wonderfully exuberant exhaust note that tempts you to hold on to lower gears longer than is absolutely necessary just to experience its aural delights. With two heavily overdriven ratios at the top of its gearbox, it’s also a terrifically relaxed and well refined cruiser at the sort of motorway speeds it will face in the UK.
Unlike other AMG models with the company’s seven speed MCT (multi-clutch transmission), the ML 63 makes use of a closely related seven-speed automatic gearbox complete with lock-up torque converter. The reason for this is simple: no other AMG model is used as much for towing purposes as the ML 63. “It was a decision we made right from the start of development,” says AMG drivetrain boss, Fritz Eichler. And with a towing capacity of 3050kg, it appears fully justified.
It might lack the rapid fire action of the MCT, but the smooth shifting nature of the automatic perfectly suits the ML 63. Full load up-shifts are dispatched in a resolute manner, although it is a touch indecisive on downshifts in automatic mode – the result, no doubt of having to corral all that torque. Three driving modes are on offer: C for controlled efficiency, S for sport and S+ for sport plus. In the former, the standard stop-start function is automatically activated to provide valuable fuel savings when tooling around town. The combined cycle consumption has improved by 6.8mpg, or over 30 per cent, compared to the old model.
But while the engine steals the show, it is the overall ability of the chassis that really impresses. We’ve already noted the improved on-road prowess of the latest M-class in tests of lesser models and the ML 63 takes it to even loftier heights. Reduced ride height, unique elasto-kinematic properties, grippy rubber and roll-reducing active roll bars combine to provide it with a surprisingly agile nature with little lean along with well weighted and accurate steering, while delivering an unexpectedly compliant ride and top notch rolling refinement given the performance potential even on coarsely surfaced roads. The way it puts its substantial reserves to the road is nothing short of spectacular.
Visually, the ML 63 is differentiated by a series of exterior styling changes that help to give it an instantly more aggressive air than lesser third-generation M-class models. Included is a high gloss black grille, reworked front bumper with larger cooling ducts and a matt silver splitter element, front fenders that are widened by 10mm each side, more substantial side sills and a deeper rear bumper with fake blanked off air ducts, a pair of trapezoidal shaped chromed tailpipes and AMG’s signature wheels – the latter measuring 20-inch in diameter as standard and shod with 265/45 tyres.