When the sticker crowds $100k, one should not have to fret over a wiper stalk hidden behind a steering wheel spoke, poor rear visibility, a gear shift location usurped by cup holders(!), and brake and throttle controls crying out for recalibration. But, goose the gas pedal, release all 510 horses, and these piddling issues immediately fade away. The firm-riding, overpowered, chunky-looking ML nurtured by AMG is the ideal place to weather torrential rain or to race a Porsche Turbo Cayenne for pink slips. The front buckets are the best money can buy, the paddle-shifted transmission knows what you want, and the engine is one of the sweetest V-8s ever created. Coated in a discreet hue, the mightiest ML is one stealth machine that’s hard to top.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
I know that Mercedes and AMG have collaborated on high-performance SUVs since the first-generation M-class and that their efforts also have extended to the old-fashioned Gelandewagen, but I now find these types of vehicles to be pretty silly. I mean, really: the ML550 and its 382-hp, 391-lb-ft, 5.5-liter V-8 isn’t enough? I do not share Mercedes-Benz’s opinion that there should be an AMG version of every single vehicle in the Mercedes lineup, so how about if we drop the AMG M-class, for starters? The fewer AMG models there are, the more special are the ones that still exist, and I would just as soon that they all be sedans, coupes, and roadsters.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I agree with Joe. The night I drove the ML63 AMG I also talked to a friend who always wants to know what I’m driving. I explained the ML63 to him and immediately asked why anyone would bother paying the substantial fee to upgrade from an ML550 to its AMG cousin. I never thought the M-class was too slow, too common, or too cheap.
That said, I know there are suckers born every minute and at least a few of them have decided that a 500-plus-hp SUV is needed to run the kids to school and cut off everyone on the morning commute. Mercedes clearly acknowledges the existence of these suckers and extracts an extra $35,720 when they pass up an ML550! Personally, I’d find a way to get the insane G55 AMG if I were trying to spend six figures on an AMG SUV, but to each his own.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
Like all normally aspirated 63 AMG cars I’ve driven, the 2011 ML63 has a superbly addictive engine note, one that makes you rev and rev the engine, just to hear the sound. The big engine almost helps you forget the fact that this ML weighs 5100 pounds, but when you go to turn a sharp corner, it’s hard to forget, as the ML is more prone to understeer than I expected. Still, for a mid-size SUV like this, it’s hard to top the ML63, at least as far as the performance numbers are concerned, as we found out in 2007 when we conducted an extensive test pitting an ML63 against four other hot haulers.
Since then, however, the ML has gotten new seats that have the lumbar and bolster controls tacked onto the inner corner of the driver’s seat cushion, where it constantly rubbed against the back side of my upper calf. Dear Dr. Zetsche: the ridiculous location of this control is an unforgivable oversight, and it would most certainly be a dealbreaker for this reviewer if I were ever considering buying an ML63. The new SLS AMG’s driver’s seat has a similar (identical?) control that rubbed against my leg even more severely when I drove that car. Seriously, Mercedes, did you ever have anyone around five-and-a-half-feet tall drive your cars before you put them on the market?!
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
BMW took a bit of a beating for its introduction of the X5M and X6M performance utility vehicles, but the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG seems to have a free pass for fusing irrational amounts of power in a cumbersome handling package. Perhaps it’s the fact that the AMG formula has always been about a big engine compared to the whole-package M approach that places greater emphasis on handling excellence. The 465 lb-ft of torque and growling exhaust of the ML63 AMG are addicting and I love the meaty steering wheel and fabulously supportive seats that seem to be infinitely adjustable. The ride, though, can be rough with side-to-side jostling and as Phil points out, $94,000 is ludicrous.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Like most of my coworkers, I fail to understand the logic of a near six-figure luxury performance SUV. Even as a halo model of sorts, it’s rather confused since it’s not much nicer or richer than your workaday M-class, thanks to some of the cheap details Don noted. Worst of all, it’s just not all that fun. Sure, it checks all the performance boxes – plenty of grip, ferocious acceleration, negligible body roll, and I’m sure it would embarrass many of our favorite sports cars on a race track. But this is all accomplished in such a clinical fashion, from a command seating position and with 5093 pounds of leather, glass, and steel separating you from the road.
If you insist on having luxury, performance, and utility all for the bargain price of $95,000 (enough to buy an ML350 and a Porsche Boxster), I’d still suggest an alternative in the Range Rover Supercharged. That vehicle, at least, feels truly special, and at only $75,000, will leave you plenty of spare change for repairs.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2011 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG
Base price (with destination): $93,465
Price as tested: $94,185
6.2-liter V-8 engine
7-speed automatic transmission
20-inch AMG wheels
4Matic all-wheel drive
AMG 2-stage electronic stability program
4-wheel electronic traction control system
Power tilt/sliding sunroof
10-way power front seats
Heated and ventilated front seats
AMG premium leather upholstery/dashboard
AMG performance steering wheel with aluminum shift paddles
Comand system with 6.5-inch HD color display
40 GB hard drive with GPS navigation
Harman/kardon Logic7 surround sound system
12 speakers and Dolby Digital 5.1
Sirius satellite radio
iPod/MP3 media interface
Bi-Xenon headlamps with active curve illumination
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Options on this vehicle:
Palladium silver exterior paint — $720
Key options not on vehicle:
Rear seat entertainment system — $1950
Heated rear seats — $620
Trailer hitch — $550
11 / 15 / 12 mpg
Size: 6.2L DOHC V-8
Horsepower: 503 hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 465 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Curb weight: 5093 lb
Wheels/tires: 20-inch AMG wheels
295/40R20 Continental Cross Contact UHP performance tires