2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG
2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG Review:
Believe it or not, in this era of hard times, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, there still are multitudes of people out there with a lot of money. They are not movie stars, corporate titans or professional athletes, but people you likely have never heard about.
They are people who spend six-figure sums at high-end auctions to buy 1970s-era muscle cars that can barely stop or keep a line around a curve in the road. They also are people who are the targets of the AMG cars from Mercedes-Benz.AMG is the high-performance arm of Mercedes. It’s not that most of the company’s cars are dogs; just that some customers are not satisfied driving the mainstream version. And among the AMG models, there even are higher-performance versions for the deep pockets set.
A prime example is the tested 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG with the performance package. It is about as close as you can get to a race-track-ready car in the guise of a mid-size sport utility vehicle.
The ML dates back to 1998, when it arrived as the first of the modern luxury SUVs. Then it was a true truck, with body-on-frame construction and substantial off-road capabilities. It had more than acceptable performance, with a 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission.
Over the years since, it morphed into a unit-body crossover that emphasizes the lavish comfort end of the equation—except for the AMG model, which is still plenty comfortable but mostly about satisfying those customers who absolutely must have the super-hot model and dang the price.
The standard—if it can be called that—ML63 AMG comes with a 518-horsepower, 5.5-liter V8 engine with twin turbochargers and a base sticker price of $95,865.Linked to a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift control, it can hit 60 miles an hour in 4.7 seconds. It has 516 pounds-feet of torque, which is a measure of twisting force and, in this case, is likely enough power to pull down your average garage.
Not enough? Check the box for the “AMG Development Package,” which will set you back an additional $6,050. That gets you 550 horsepower and 560 pounds-feet of torque. However, it knocks just a tenth of a second off the zero-to-60 acceleration time. Both the standard ML63 and the high-performance model have top speeds electronically limited to 155 miles an hour.
The ML63 is the only vehicle from AMG with all-wheel drive. To enhance the handling, the drive system is biased 60% toward the rear wheels, and there are active roll bars front and rear that sense transient movements and stiffen the suspension accordingly. The air suspension can be adjusted to three different settings, ranging from comfort to maximum handling.
In truth, you don’t need the stiffer settings. The ML63 handles fine in any of them, although the ride—because of the performance orientation—gets choppy on rough surfaces.
But it doesn’t matter much because the front seats are among the best in the business. They are deep, supportive and comfortable for distance cruising, with massive side bolsters to cosset the torso in enthusiastic flings around corners. Fat tires on giant 21-inch wheels enhance the grip.
The 550-horsepower engine responds instantly, despite the 5,170-pound curb weight, and it actually barks back when you shift the transmission manually. Overall, it displays more of a sports-car persona than that of a tall crossover vehicle.
In a measure of how engineering and computing prowess has progressed over little more than a decade, the ML63, even with the high performance package, has fuel economy that rivals that of the original ML back in 1998. It is rated at 16 miles to the gallon in combined city/highway driving.Contributing to that on the test car was a stop-start system that shuts down the engine at stoplights and re-starts it when you lift your foot off the brake. Though it delivered a muted bump and roar on re-starting, it was not annoying.
Standard equipment reads like a Who’s Who of luxury-car appointments. Among the items: Power sunroof, dual-zone climate control, satellite and HD radio, iPod and Bluetooth connections, rearview camera, navigation system, power hatchback, rain-sensing windshield wipers, real wood trim (including $1,600 piano black on the test car), blind-spot warning and full safety equipment, including stability and traction control, and brake assist.
In addition, the test car had the optional Distronic cruise control, which maintains a set distance from the car ahead, and active systems to maintain the ML63 in its lane.
The test car had a panoramic double sunroof, the front of which opened. Unfortunately, the power sunroof shade was made of a flimsy, cheesecloth-like material that allowed sunlight to intrude into the passenger pod. These shades are becoming a cliché among luxury vehicles and should be relegated to the discards bin. Shades should be opaque.
The high-performance package and its load of options brought the tested ML63’s price tag up to $111,335. You can spend way more than that with special-order “designo” touches. For example, the “designo” steering wheel tacks on an additional $1,050 and the black “Dinamica” headliner costs another $1,920.
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