Mercedes claims to have invented the original performance 4x4 with its ML55 AMG in 1999. This Mercedes ML63 AMG is the third generation of the German firm’s hot off-roader and, despite the eye-watering fuel consumption and price tag, its predecessors have gained a loyal following with more than 24,000 leaving showrooms. The new Mercedes ML63 AMG goes on sale inthe UK July 2012, three months after the standard new M-class, for around £85,000.
How much? That’s nearly double the price of the best-selling turbo-diesel version. Is the Mercedes ML63 AMG really worth it?
We’re not about to deny that the new flagship ML doesn’t fall into the ‘naughty but nice’ category. Like its other cooking rivals from Land Rover, Porsche, BMW et al, there’s no question that the AMG is an acquired taste for those lucky enough to be able to afford its price tag and the running costs.
Under the bonnet is the same 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 with 518bhp and 516lb ft as seen in the AMG versions of the E-class and CLS. That’s enough to project the ML’s 2.3 tonnes from 0 to 62mph in just 4.8 seconds and onto a top speed (limited) to 155mph.
The good news though is that there’s been a 28% improvement in fuel economy (though it’s still hefty at a 23.9mpg average) and emissions have dropped to 276g/km from 392g/km CO2. Neither are about to get you a Christmas card from Friends of the Earth, but both are well ahead of the supercharged Range Rover Sport (19mpg, 348g/km, and also slower and some 200kg heavier).
OK, so the straightline speed is there, but does it handle like the QE2?
Surprisingly not. Despite that performance, few owners will be expecting their ML63 AMG to handle like a sports car, but we think it might raise a few eyebrows.
Mercedes has adapted the ML’s four-wheel drive system for a more rearward bias than before, plus there are now active roll bars front and rear. The result is that the AMG remains incredibly flat while cornering and along with reasonably direct steering, it’s actually quite a 'driver’s' car.
It doesn’t object to being hustled through turns and the ride is pretty respectable too. Don’t be tempted by the £6500-odd optional AMG Performance package though, it might give you an extra 32bhp and an even rortier exhaust note, but the larger 21-inch wheels and 295/35 tyres make the ride quality far too fidgety.
What about inside?
If past M-classes have been somewhat lacking when it comes to their interiors, that’s certainly not the case here. This may be the AMG version, but there’s a noticeable step up in terms of the Merc’s materials, build quality and overall feel.
The interior is cosseting but spacious with plenty of room for adults in the rear. Our only criticism is the seats which, while providing plenty of side support, feel a little firm. A Bang and Olufsen stereo is optional and, interestingly, Mercedes claims that its Designo individualisation programme is gaining in popularity, suggesting that cost isn’t too much of a problem among AMG buyers.
As family transport that can out-run most so-called sports cars and give them more than a run for their money down a twisty B-road, the ML63 is a very tempting package. It might not make sense on paper, but we’re glad that Mercedes has built it all the same. As hot 4x4s go, the ML63 AMG is among the best.
But of course, as with the numerous other petrol-powered cooking and hot 4x4s on the market, it’s hard to justify the ML63 AMG when viewed with cold, hard logic. Aside from on performance, the equivalent diesel M-class makes much more sense as daily transport. But you already knew that.