First Look: 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG

Super SUVs are nothing new to Mercedes-Benz -- it created the first AMG-powered M-Class in 2000 with the ML55 AMG. That car was powered by a 342-hp 5.5-liter V-8 and ran from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.7 seconds. Now, with the third-generation ML63 AMG, Mercedes has pushed the performance credentials even further: 0 to 60 a scant 4.6 seconds and a maximum of 550 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque from a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8.

For 2012, Mercedes has dropped the naturally-aspirated 6.2-liter V-8 in favor of a smaller, forced-induction engine that is quickly finding its way under all "63"-badged AMG vehicles. While it may not sound quite as ferocious and guttural as the outgoing engine, the twin-turbo 5.5-liter has momentous power on tap from as low as 1750 rpm.

The ML63 routes power to all four wheels using a tweaked version of Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel drive system that has a 40/60-percent front/rear torque spilt and now uses AMG's seven-speed automatic transmission. Standard power is more than adequate at 518 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, but the optional AMG Performance Package increases that to a massive 550 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque thanks to a maximum boost jumping from 14.0 to 18.8 psi.

The result of this serious power in Benz's midsize SUV is a 155 mph electronically-limited top speed and a 4.7-second time to 60 mph in basic ML63 guise; with the AMG Performance Package the 0 to 60 mph time drops by a tenth of a second and top speed rises by a healthy 19 mph. The pack also adds red brake calipers and a carbon fiber engine cover.

Bringing the AMG ML to a stop are ventilated and perforated disc brakes that are 15.4 inches up front and 13.6 inches out back. Those brakes sit behind five-spoke, 20-inch, high-gloss titanium grey wheels wrapped in 265/45R20 high-performance tires. AMG also offers 21-inch alloy wheels with 295/35R21 rubber as an option.

Mercedes hopes to up the ML63's green credentials as well, with it claiming that the 2012 model is 33-percent more efficient than the outgoing model. The automaker claims that the new ML63 will achieve a combined fuel economy of 16 mpg, a solid gain over the 12mpg of the old car. Part of that is thanks to a new Controlled Efficiency mode in the seven-speed transmission, which includes a start/stop function that shuts down the V-8 when the car comes to a stop. It also includes earlier shifts and often starts in second gear to lower fuel consumption. The SUV is also 99 pounds lighter than the old ML63.

To differentiate from lesser MLs, AMG has added 0.4-inch wider front and rear fenders -- to accommodate the larger rubber -- and "V8 Biturbo" badges. There is also a new three-port AMG rear skirt, and functional front air intakes to cool the engine. AMG trademark LED running lights, and high-gloss paint finish on the grille, and rectangular quad exhaust help to make the top ML stand out among the crowd of super SUVs. Inside has been swathed in premium designo leather with contrasting double stitching with aluminum and piano black trim. AMG has also added a four-spoke performance steering wheel with perforated leather grips, aluminum shift paddles, and a flat bottom. There are three interior color options: auburn brown, porcelain, and black.

The 2012 ML63 AMG stacks up favorably against its super-SUV competition. It is more powerful than all but the 555-hp BMW X5 M, and is mid-pack with its 4.6-second 0 to 60 mph time. (The BMW and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo are both quicker at 4.5 and 4.4 seconds, respectively, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and Range Rover Sport Supercharged are both slower at 4.8 and 5.9 seconds, respectively.) At an estimated 16 mpg combined, the Mercedes should also be one of the most frugal; only the Cayenne bests it, getting one more mpg combined.

Pricing hasn't been announced yet for the 2012 ML63, but Mercedes says the new car will go on sale starting in the first quarter of next year after its full debut at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show.

For more on the 2011 Los Angeles Show, including videos, the latest photos, and more information, click here to visit our L.A. Show homepage.

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