2012 Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG

The Good:
– Fastest 4×4 ever tested
– Cabin space and features
– Fairly comfortable ride
The Bad:
– Not so fast off-road
– Tubby styling
– Pricey with options

Honestly, this thing is crazy! How is it even allowed in the hands of the general public! Damn, it’s a killer! An SUV that goes this fast? Who would create such a thing! But let’s calm down, back things up a bit and start at the beginning. So we drove this new model of a 4×4 called the Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG.

First thing’s first, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class was redesigned from the ground up for 2012 and it now looks a whole lot portlier for some reason, which is ironic considering it is still roughly the same size as the old one, only growing in width substantially. While we aren’t fans of the bulky new styling, it grew on us very quickly, especially in our tester’s dark colour. A unique body kit, huge 21-inch alloys and aggressive exhaust tips round out the too-subtle AMG design cues.

And now a word on the interior. It is typical Mercedes-Benz, with generous amounts of leather upholstery, padded surfaces and real matte wood, strewn all over the dash, doors and armrests. Even the sliding cover for the freaking cup-holders has wood on it. There’s some alcantara too, limited to the steering-wheel grips, if you must know. And even with a phone keypad on the centre-console, it doesn’t look very cluttered at all. It’s all very nice indeed.

Space? No complaints there either. There is more than enough space for five tall adults, and the lack of a third-row means the boot is massive. Some wide people may whine about the heavily-bolstered sports seats up front, but then again, it’s an AMG. This is also the most practical interior we’ve seen in a German luxury SUV, with large storage cubbies, lots of grocery-bag hooks, several seat-back and door pockets, enough covered cup-holders, and even a place to keep your cellphone and other doodads within reach.

As for gadgets, please, this is a Merc. It’s got everything from power headrests to rear LCDs. To cover the basics, yes the Harmon Kardon stereo is excellent, yes it plays iPods, yes it has navigation, yes it has Bluetooth, and finally, yes it has a surprisingly good tri-zone a/c, which is a rarity among German cars. Going above and beyond mere basics, it’s got dual sunroofs, tyre-pressure monitor, vented power seats, keyless start, adaptive cruise control, rear camera with guiding lines, HID headlights, power tailgate, enough airbags and more than enough LEDs lighting up the exterior. Some of those features were optional though. Further options on our tester included blind-spot monitor, lane assist, adaptive brake lights, fuel-saving auto start-stop and a 6-disc DVD changer, among other things. Apparently standard is a system that detects drowsiness, showing a coffee symbol that grows bigger in the gauge-cluster the sleepier you are.

But we’re wasting time. Let’s get to the engine already. Even though the badge still hints at a 6.3-litre engine, this new one has a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8, kicking out 525 hp at 5250 rpm and 700 Nm of torque from 1750 rpm all the way up to 5000 rpm. Our car apparently came with the Performance Package that bumped up the juice to 557 hp. Mated to a 7-speed automatic, we fired off a 0-100 kph run of 4.9 seconds, that too in the middle of hot June weather. This thing is ridiculously quick for a 2345-kilo SUV, and the quickest we’ve ever tested, besting our run with the BMW X5 M by a large margin. There’s just power, power and more power at any speed. Switch to “sport” mode, and the exhaust lets out the loudest growl you’ll ever hear from an unmodified non-supercar. We also burned a whopping 19.1 litres/100 km of “Super” RON98 fuel, just so you know.

As for handling, it matches the engine perfectly fine on high-speed corners. There is hardly any perceptible body roll, and with its light steering as well as responsive brakes, it feels almost like a high-riding hot-hatch when driven fast on long curves or when taking on tight turns at 80% of its limits. Attempt to reach its actual grip limits on tighter twisties however, and the stability control kicks in rather noticeably, killing the fun long before the tyres can howl louder. Even in “sport” mode, the ESP is too restrictive for a “sport” vehicle, which is a pity because those ultra-wide 295/35 tyres are certainly capable of so much more. However, there is a button to turn off the ESP fully, but we’ll leave that experiment up to actual buyers of this beast.

In casual around-town driving, the ML 63 rides fairly smooth for a sporting trucklet, occasionally feeling firm on certain bumpier surfaces, and is very quiet on the highway. The light steering firms up a bit at speed, and offers a bit of feedback if you look for it. The auto start/stop system works well enough, shutting and restarting the engine every time you stop, while keeping the a/c going. It is easy enough to park thanks to the rear camera and sensors, but rear visibility on the road is rather limited due to the tiny side-mirrors, possibly an aerodynamic compromise, and made up for with a beep-happy blind-spot monitoring system.

There is no scope for off-roading here, even if Mercedes-Benz thinks their 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system is up for it. That front bumper lip is pretty low, and the height-adjustable air suspension doesn’t go as high as the previous ML 63 used to any more. If you do venture onto the dunes with those low-profile tyres, getting stuck would just be an eventuality, and there is no low-range gearing to pull you out. This AMG likes to sit at the lowest ride-height setting as standard, and would prefer to be treated as a sports sedan instead.

The new ML 63 AMG is a very impressive vehicle. While it has totally given up on offroading in its new iteration, it was likely a calculated move on the carmaker’s part to do so, as almost all owners of these super-SUVs prefer to stick to the roads anyway. And stick to the road it does very well, speedily and efficiently. It is very expensive, but in our part of the world where only few cars can handle the weather, this new AMG could very well be the fastest production SUV around here ever.

Price Range:
Dh 365,000-480,000

Current Model Introduced in:
2012

Body Styles:
5-door wagon

Engines:
5.5L 525 hp V8 turbo / 700 Nm

Transmissions:
7-speed automatic

Setup:
Four-wheel-drive

Suspension:
Front: independent
Rear: independent

Brakes:
Front: discs
Rear: discs

Curb Weight:
2345 kg

Length:
4803 mm

Wheelbase:
2916 mm

Top Speed:
250 kph(limited)

Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
4.9 sec.

Observed Test Fuel Economy:
19.1 litres/100km

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