There are plenty of practical, purposeful, and very driver friendly SUVs on our roads, yet we do not classify any of them as truly sporty in the true sense of the word. At the luxury end of the market, things become a little more complicated as the design emphasis tends to gravitate to on road performance. A simple rule of thumb is that the more expensive the vehicle, the less likely it is to ever leave the road. Of course this theory is thrown out the window when you consider luxury competitors such as the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport and the V10 powered Touareg. While vehicles of this class all fall into the luxury SUV category, it is probably arch rival the BMW X5 that the ML Class will be compared. The ML Class off roader from Mercedes certainly wasn't the best car on the block when first introduced back in 1998, and still today, poke its nose over the side of a mountain road onto a bush track, and I'd rather be in a Range Rover equipped with all the fruit to tackle such terrain.
In plain guise the ML 63 is a competent, in fact better than ordinary SUV, but add the magic of AMG, and this beauty becomes a real Porsche eater! Throw away the staid Mercedes image and this baby absolutely rocks. The AMG badge signifies something special. As Mercedes-Benz managing director, Horst von Sanden explains, "These three famous letters are the ultimate synonym for cutting edge technology, performance and exclusivity." AMG is a fully owned subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler and is responsible for all development processes relating to the chassis, engine, powertrain, suspension, brakes, electronics, aerodynamics, interior and design. In October 2006, Daimler-Chrysler introduced four special models, each powered by the AMG 6.3-litre V8 engine. Along with the ML 63, the exclusive AMG treatment is found on the E 63 AMG, CLS 63 AMG 4-door coupe and the CLK 63 AMG.
If you want to join this exclusive club, the choice of the ML 63 AMG is a good one as it is the cheapest of the family, some $73,700 less than the E 63 Estate! The second generation M Class is vastly superior to its predecessor and is substantially advanced with the addition of the AMG?make over. Beneath the bonnet the 6.3-litre V8 develops 375kW of power at 6800 rpm and a thumping 630Nm of torque at 5200rpm. The engine was developed 100 percent by AMG and no other competitor has a better displacement in regular production. It is 46 percent more powerful than the outgoing model and delivers acceleration that would put many sports cars to shame. It charges from 0-100 km/h in just 5.0 seconds and has a limited top speed of 250 km/h. While the power is impressive, this is not a case of being an over powered boys toy, but a competent and safe vehicle that is fully engineered to harness and utilise the available power to its natural advantage. Acceleration response is instant and with such a massive torque on tap, urgent thrust is achieved at any speed with minimum fuss. The V8 is mated to a slick AMG Speed-shift 7G-Tronic automatic transmission with a direct select shift lever on the steering wheel.
Three shift programs specially configured for the sporty performance of the AMG V8 engine make full use of the available potential. Selectable using a switch in the centre console, the shift modes - "S" (Sport), "C" (Comfort) and "M" (Manual) - differ in terms of their shift characteristics and shift speeds. In "S" mode, the shifts are around 30 percent faster than in "C" mode. In "M" mode, they are around 50 percent faster. The seven gears can be shifted using the shift buttons on the AMG ergonomic sports steering wheel. The permanent all-wheel drive of the ML 63 AMG is also decidedly sporty in nature: in the interests of optimum agility and cornering capabilities, the V8 engine's abundant power is split 40:60 between the front and rear wheels. The gearing is first class enabling the driver to shift manually, using the steering wheel buttons, and to hang onto gears for enthusiast driving. The rear wheel drive bias is also weighed towards providing maximum driving enjoyment.
Despite being a heavy SUV the driver is never conscious of the weight, as the overall suspension package delivers handling characteristics more akin to a sports car than an off roader. The ML sits on an adaptive air suspension that allows exceptional chassis control. The comfort mode is a little soft for my tastes, but things firm up in sport mode, delivering sharp and direct steering response, moderate understeer, but generally the car sits smooth and flat, even over rough surfaces. The ML rides on 19-inch wheels, that sit under flared guards. The vehicle has a wide and purposeful stance, with an AMG specific radiator grille, stainless steel running boards with rubber studs and tinted rear lights. A subtle note emanates from the AMG sports exhaust system with two chrome plated twin tail pipes emphasising the latent power of the model. It is a nice visual and acoustic touch to the car. As expected the ML 63 AMG is equipped with an abundance of safety features that start with strong monocoque construction, permanent four-wheel drive and a strengthened drivetrain for optimal power transfer.
Standard safety systems include preventative occupant protection system Pre-Safe, crash-response Neck-Pro head restraints in the first seat row, adaptive two-stage airbags for the driver and front passenger, front side airbags, window airbags and belt tensioners and belt limiters for all seats. Other systems include ABS, brake assist, adaptive brake lamps, electronic stability program, electronic brake power distribution and 4-ETS (electronic traction support). Cornering lights are also a clever feature, illuminating the area to which you are turning. Further enhancing the off road credentials of the ML Class is an Off Road Package that adds a High-Low range transfer case and centre and rear differentials. It is not available on the AMG. Inside the theme is all luxury with heated AMG contoured sports seats finished in nappa leather. There is an AMG sports steering wheel with multi function buttons. There is power windows, mirrors, front seats, steering adjustment,sunroof and tailgate.
Satellite navigation, widescreen reversing screen, parking sensors, six stack CD and climate control air conditioning. In the centre console there is a command screen, which provides commands for the audio system and satnav. The information centre provides a standard display of oil level, coolant temperature, outside temperature, speedometer and tyre pressures. A unique feature on the AMG model is a race timer which allows the driver to record lap times on private racing circuits, storing not only the time for the fastest lap, but also the average and top speeds as well as the lap length. Through the command centre are settings controlling the interior motion sensors, distance warning, parktronic and audio preferences. All of this information can be called up using the thumb operated buttons on the sports steering wheel.
The multi adjustable driver's seat has power adjustment for head restraint, seat cushion, seat height, backrest angle and fore and aft adjustment. The rear seats feature 65/35 split, with seats tumbling forward. There is a cargo blind and side storage compartments. Unfortunately under the cargo floor there is only a space saver spare wheel. The ML 63 AMG is a brilliant vehicle, although its attributes are strongest on road, rather than off. The sports suspension works well, comfort and convenience features are exceptional, while the 6.3-litre V8 is something else again. Despite being a SUV, the ML 63 is very much car like and demands to be driven with gusto. It can be driven with total confidence and lacks for nothing in safety equipment. Visually its performance is understated, although styling is contemporary and muscular with AMG additions adding a touch of class.
Specifications: Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG
Type: AMG?6.3-litre V8
Bore &?Stroke: 102.2 x 94.9mm
Compression ratio: 11.3:1
Max. Power: 375kW @ 6800 rpm
Max Torque: 630Nm @ 5200 rpm
Max. speed: 250km/h (limited)
Acceleration: 0-100km/h 5.0 seconds
Type: AMG Speedshift 7G-Tronic with three shift modes. Seven speed automatic, permanent all-wheel drive.
Power distribution: 40:60
Type: AMG Sports suspension based on Airmatic. The three modes are Sport, Comfort and Manual - and are selected using a switch in the centre console.
The air suspension features AMG-
specific damper struts and specially configured adaptive damping system.
A level control system automatically lowers the suspension at higher speeds.
Brakes: High performance AMG system. Ventilated front and rear discs, ABS with EBD and BAS.
Wheels & Tyres: 19-inch alloy wheels, tyres 295/45 R19. Space saver spare.
Optional 20-inch 295/40 ZR20
Dual front, side and window airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist, 4-ETS (electronic traction support), ESP
Dimensions & capacities
LxWxH: 4812 x 2127 x 1844mm
Ground clearance:169 - 242 mm
Turning circle: 11.6 m
Fording depth: 490mm
Approach/departure angles: 24°/26°
Kerb weight: 2310kg
Ave. fuel consumption: 16.5L/100 km
Fuel tank: 95 litres
Towing: Braked -2260kg
Drawbar down weight 225kg
Pricing: ML 63 AMG - $159,000
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km