Imagine this: a 2.4-tonne SUV that can match a Porsche 911 to 100km/h. Well, a Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG will blast its way to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds and top out at 250km/h, limited by electronic interference.
That's the same as a BMW M3 and a Porsche 911. It'll show a clean pair of heels to the best from HSV and FPV, not to mention a Subaru WRX STi or a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. It's quite incredible to think that this so-called family-friendly vehicle is really a wicked wolf in disguise.
So why? Why not? The ML 63 AMG is the pinnacle of the ML Class range, one which sits third on the sales charts behind the BMW X5 and the Land Rover Discovery. The 2012 facelift model should renew interest in the brand with all the improvements, particularly the fantastic new instrument panel and dashboard.
The embarrassment it can cause at the traffic light grand prix is humiliating. Goodbye HSV GTS, Falcon GT-P, STi and Evo. You pay for the privilege, a whopping $190K, but the joy of dragging off sports coupes and high-performance V8 sedans is priceless.It is expensive but consider this. The same engine in an E Class AMG sedan is $62,000 more and in the CLS, $80,000 extra.
Standard equipment includes parking sensors and rear camera, satellite-navigation, traction control, acceleration skid control, hill start assistance, anti-lock braking system (ABS), radar cruise control, start/stop function, automatic electric parking brake and Electronic Stability Program (ESP). Airbags include full-length windowbags, drive's knee bag, front and rear side bags.
There's also automatic climate control airconditioning, AMG door sills in stainless steel, AMG floor mats, AMG sports pedals in brushed stainless steel with rubber studs, a premium sound system with Bluetooth and USB interface, a tyre pressure monitoring system, headlamp cleaners, an electric sliding glass roof, heated front seats for driver and front passenger, blind-spot alert system and a lane-keeping system.
Amazingly, Benz says the ML 63 AMG is not only an autobahn stormer, but is relatively fuel efficient too. It says it uses 11.8 litres of fuel per 100km, undercutting the previous model by an impressive 28 per cent.
Unfortunately I was unable to get anywhere near that. I started about 23 litres/100km and managed to bring that down to 18.1 litres over a 280km drive which included a spirited run up the Gillies Range, across Springmount Rd to Dimbulah and the Bourke Development Rd to Dimbulah and back to Cairns.
The company says the AMG 5.5-litre V8 5 engine with a maximum power output of 386kW and a peak torque of 700Nm, represents an increase of 11kW and 70Nm over the previous model. If you must, an optional AMG performance package boosts the V8 engine's power output to 410kW and its maximum torque to 760Nm.
Power is transmitted to all four permanently driven wheels by an AMG Speedshift Plus seven-speed transmission featuring three modes and an automatic double-declutching function for downshifting. The radiator grille with louvres painted in high-gloss black and the large Mercedes star is a large cooling air intake.
The ML 63 AMG is an intimidating-looking beast, particularly from its brutal front, lowered suspension, large alloys and dark grey paintwork of the test vehicle.
Together with the two outer air intakes, the central radiator grille provides for an effective flow of air to the water, engine oil, charge-air and transmission oil coolers. Fitted at the bottom of the AMG front apron is a trim strip in matt silver chrome, which lends the front a wider appearance with the surrounds of the daytime running lamps in the side cooling air intakes.
The interior has electrically adjustable AMG sports seats with great lateral support as well as the four-spoke AMG performance steering wheel. Aluminium trim and the piano-lacquer retractable cover in the centre console highlight the interior's flair. The standard leather upholstery includes contrasting double topstitching and AMG badges in the backrests of the front seats and the outer rear seats.
The beast is docile around town and is easy to drive and park, a surprise package on the school run.
Tickle the accelerator, there's a split second pause and then it will raise its head and storm down the road with astonishing force. The noise is incredible, this is thunder down under. There's a launch system which enables you to hold the vehicle with the brake while burying the accelerator to the floor.
After lifting off the brake the SUV takes off like a creature possessed, arriving at 100km/h in less than 5 seconds. It's quite a feat. The gear lever is a simple wand to the right of the steering column with just drive, reverse and park.
Paddle shifts behind the wheel allow manual changes. In the centre console are settings to allow manual changes, Economy mode and Sport drive, and also Comfort settings, Sport and Sport Plus. The latter enhances the gear changes and the engine's performance for ultimate go.
Around town and on the open road Comfort is best to absorb our mediocre road surfaces. Sport sharpens everything and Sport Plus even more to make tackling uphill winding stretches like the Gillies a lot more fun and secure.
Despite its weight and its tall body the ML 63 AMG can be quite a tidy handler, with little body roll, good steering responses and great brakes. Often the stability control light flashed on and off up the Gillies but there was no noticeable interference from the electronic nanny.
The automatic downshifting and engine blipping is marvellous. It was a fine drive across the twisty and undulating sections of the Springmount Rd from Walkamin to the Dimbulah turn off. It stormed from corner to corner with aplomb and even on second rate country roads it traversed with dignity and tidiness unbecoming of a big SUV.
It cruises on the open road with relative quietness with just the large door mirrors causing wind rush but engine and road noise was subdued. Overtaking is a joy. Smash the loud pedal and the ML 63 AMG gets past slower vehicles briskly and safely.
For the journey down the Kuranda Range I engaged the radar setting which kept me a safe distance from the vehicle in front. At no time down the range did I use the brakes at all. I just steered and the big Benz did everything else.
The ML 63 AMG is an astonishing vehicle. It combines storming performance with the practicality of a 4WD five-door SUV with plenty of room for the youngsters and mum. Dad will be able to indulge his need for some Porsche 911 get up and go while still being able to provide regular transport for mum on the school, sport and supermarket runs. Economy is never going to be one of its strong points but it gives the family man the option of a sporty drive with all the requirements for the youngsters and mum. It's a no-brainer really.
Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG
Body: five-door luxury SUV
Warranty: three years/100,000km
Price: $189,713 drive away
Engine: 5.5-litre twin turbo V8, 386kW/700Nm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, AWD
Performance: 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds, top speed 250km/h (limited)
Thirst: 11.8L/100km, petrol (18.1L on test), 93 litres, CO2 276g/km
Dimensions: length 4804mm, width 1926mm, height 1796mm, wheelbase 2915mm, weight: 2345kg
Audi Q7 4.2TDI
Price: from $128,800
Engine: 4.2-litre 8-cylinder, 250kW/800Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, AWD
Thirst: 9.2L/100km, CO2 242g/km
Price: from $113,300
Engine: 3-litre 6-cylinder, 225kW/600Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, 4X4 constant
Thirst: 7.5L/100km, CO2 198g/km