The true luxury SUV market segment was actually created by Mercedes-Benz when the German automaker debuted the first generation M-Class in the fall of 1997. Now 14 years later the 2012 M-Class rolls into dealer showrooms adding new standard features and options loaded with state-of-the-art safety technology. Starring at the top of the model lineup is the ML63 AMG which is scheduled to go on sale in early March.
The ML63 AMG is the only AMG model built in the U.S., and it is the most powerful production SUV on the planet. Power for this third generation high-performance SUV comes from a 5.5-liter DOHC, 32-valve Biturbo V8 with direct injection that produces 518 horsepower at 5,250 rpm along with 516 pound feet of torque in a range from 1,750-5,000 rpm. Opt for the AMG Performance Package priced at an extra $6,050 and the horsepower climbs to 550 at 5,750 rpm, while the torque increases to 560 pound feet from 2,000-5,000 rpm. Both engine versions connect to an AMG SPEEDSHIFT PLUS 7G-Tronic transmission that effectively gears power to all four corners via the Permanent four-wheel drive system.
The interior and exterior dimensions are shared by all 2012 ML models, with an improved drag coefficient, while the ML63 AMG appears to display a lower stance, thanks to its aero-packaging. The performance SUV rides on standard 20-inch AMG alloy wheels, while 21-inchers are optionally available. Curb weight is increased only minimally over its predecessor, and the rapid transit gains an additional 6.8 cubic feet of cargo space.
The new exterior design takes on the GLK’s basic form, but exhibits smoother and more contemporary lines. The overall attitude reflects a certain boldness with a more athletic image, displaying dynamic character lines, while retaining the familiar, signature “C” pillar or sail panel of the original M-Class. The ML63 AMG is alluring from all angles and the twin dual outlet exhaust serves fair warning that this is an SUV not to be challenged.
Moving to the interior, the new M-Class serves up an expected level of luxurious ambience with metamorphic front seat controls now positioned on the doors rather than the seat sides, and with reclining rear seat backs. A seven-inch LCD screen displays navigation while also serving as a monitor for other vehicle functions. Large natural finish wood panels accent the doors, dash and instrument panel, with a meaty, substantial, leather-covered four-spoke steering wheel controlling vehicle direction. Cupholders provide both a heating and cooling function with a temperature range from 56 degrees to 101 degrees, and there are center controls with 2 favorite function save buttons, in addition to an iPod holder for rear seat entertainment with Bluetooth and a USB converter. Also, addressing a long-standing complaint issue, the multi-function stalk and cruise control stalk positions have been reversed and repositioned thereby eliminating the unintentional activation of one or the other.
I experienced the new ML AMG hot rod on a challenging drive over backload routes from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica. I barely topped 100 mph, but that was in fourth gear. Our first test vehicle was a base ML63 AMG with a Steel Grey metallic exterior and Auburn Brown Designo interior with naturally finished Brown Satin Ash wood trim accents. The base price was set at $94,900 while optional features and equipment elevated the final sticker to $100,065. Our second ML63 AMG steed sported an Iridium Silver metallic exterior with the same interior theme as the first, but with the AMG Performance Package for a final total price of $105,025.
Admittedly, that’s a lot of money for an SUV, but the ML63 AMG was packed with state-of-the-art technology – in fact, the high-tech safety features represents the strong point of this latest M-Class Mercedes. There are not only familiar safety features, but new and innovative ones as well, such as: AMG AIRMATIC Air Suspension; Adaptive Damping System; Active Curve System; PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist; Adaptive Brake; Blind Spot Assist; Lane Keeping Assist; and DISTRONIC PLUS with Pre-Safe Brake. There’s lot’s more, but space here is limited.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG and its 5.5-liter Biturbo V8 with Gasoline Direct is an incredibly safe and capable high-performance SUV that performs well in every possible application. We didn’t take it off-road because, let’s face it, most consumers will never engage in off-roading activities more severe than a grocery store or shopping mall parking lot. Stabbing the throttle delivers an instant response, and the changing of gears via wheel-mounted paddle shifters is buttery smooth with virtually no hesitation. The ride quality is ever changing to achieve maximum comfort through the automatic damping and suspension control features, and should you make an error in judgment or allow your focus on the task at hand to drift, this Mercedes is there to help in maintaining control as well as your well being. The ML63 AMG is incredibly stable through even the most severe twists and turns. Steering is electromechanical rather than hydraulic, providing excellent handling characteristics and exceptionally positive input.
In the bottom-line analysis, the base version of the ML63 AMG delivers more than enough performance capability for even the most enthusiastic and accomplished driver, so the necessity for spending the extra cash for the AMG Performance Package seems questionable. But hey, once you’re in that price range, what the heck, you might as well go for the gusto and top bragging rights, and it’s a pretty sure bet that you won’t have much competition on your block.
The 2012 ML63 AMG is built in Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and is not only the most powerful production SUV globally to date, it’s also easy on the eyes and emotionally charged.