Mercedes-Benz ML 63 2012 Review
Imagine this: a 2.4-tonne SUV that can match a Porsche 911 to 100km/h. Well, a Mercedes-Benz ML 63...
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This is the beast that spearheaded prestige performance SUVs and became the benchmark for the field -- although berated by some for sullying BMW's pure focus on driving dynamics uber alles.
Love it or loath it, the Boss -- as it's nicknamed at BMW for its command of their bottom line -- has ca-chinged more than 1.3 million cash registers since it launched in 1999, and continues to lead the field.
The first gen was a landmark marriage of prestige, practicality and proper sports ability, but the next model was panned for losing its driving focus and punishing fans with a harsher ride. BMW has answered both gripes in the third generation, which is larger, punchier, more refined and better equipped.
We tested two of the first three twin-turbo engines that will launch in Australia in November: the diesel xDrive30d and petrol xDrive50i, both of which get sharper acceleration and more easily slaked thirst -- the latter helped by stop-start technology.
The base 30d 3.0-litre diesel now adds 10kW and 20Nm to deliver 190kW/560Nm, shaving the 100km/h sprint by 0.7 for 6.9 seconds, and trimming fuel burn by 1.2L to 6.2L/100km. The new-generation 4.-litre V8 in the 50i benefits from variable valve timing joining the direct-injection and turbo tech to lay on an extra 30kW and 50Nm for peaks of 330kW/650Nm. That fillets 0.5 secs to bring in a 0-100km/h time of a neat 5 secs, while dropping the bowser fill by a whopping 2.0L for 10.5L/100km.
Carrying over at launch is the top-shelf X5 M50d's 280kW/740Nm 3.0-litre straight-six unit with three-stage turbocharging, which has been tweaked to skim 0.1 sec off the acceleration to notch up a 5.3 sec run to 100km/h, while dropping thirst by 0.8L to 6.7L/100km.
Underpinning all is BMW's xDrive system that draws torque from eight-speed autos -- slicker sports ones for the upper models -- and delivers it to whichever wheels can do the most good. They'll be joined early next year by more models, including the 35i, 40d and possibly the rear-wheel drive 25d carrying a 2.0-litre diesel.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
Pricing kicks off at $99,900 for the base model 30d, a rise of $7655 over the outgoing one but with about $12,000 worth of extra standard kit added in -- much of which would have formerly been on BMW's interminable options list. It steps up to 19-in alloys and a host of other goodies from the tip of the bi-xenon headlights' washer system to the auto tailgate: 360 birds-eye 'surround' view for parking and manoeuvring, onboard internet, heads-up display and more.
The 50i asks a rise of just $245 to $133,900, and the M50d is up $735 to $147,900 -- with both scoring extra kit on top of the new standard list, including HarmonKardon audio and adaptive suspension (surround sound and dynamic respectively for the M), digital radio and wardrobe of new cosmetic upgrades inside and out.
The once-damned iDrive infotainment control system is these days more intuitive, and now features a new touchpad surface on which you can finger-scrawl letters and numbers -- a process we found frustrating -- but also pinch and stroke to zoom in and out of maps. On the way is a new 'traffic jam' function that will keep slow down and speed up to keep pace with the traffic in front - and steer you in the lane hands-free -- but it won't be arriving until next year's shipments.
It's largely the Germans in this field: Porsche Cayenne, Merc's M-Class and the Audi Q7 -- the only one to match the seven-seat option. The Porsche is the main contender for performance and dynamics, but none of the three are now on par with the Beemer for features.
It's larger and a little lighter, but BMW has stayed with the successful recipe: imposing proportions -- visually elongated and streamlined -- and a commanding road presence. The profile is more streamlined, headlights integrate better with a wider kidney grille, LED cues give a six-eyed beast effect, and the strong body crease and there's sporty intent from the aerodynamic vents to bridge air from the front fascia to behind the wheel arch.
Boot space has swelled 30 litres to reach 650L with the seats up and a whopping 1870 with them down, and the optional third row that folds into the floor now has a three-way split. The roomier cabin has been given five-star materials, with extra trims of metal, gloss black and veneer, plus changeable coloured ambient lighting.
Expect five stars, with a stronger body, and arsenal of airbags and safety features including dynamic traction control, lane departure and pedestrian and collision warnings, hill descent control and active protection that preps the seatbelts, windows and sunroof if a collision threatens.
But it's the change under the skin that really matters, and that shows when you hit the road with more refined manners. It's quieter and rides better, with degrees of comfort or sportiness selected simply in the 30d but a bit more confusingly with the 50i's extra settings. There's some wind rush around the monster side mirrors, but little tyre or engine noise is rude enough to intrude.
On paper, the 50i's outputs trounce the 30d, but the diesel lacks so little that you wonder when all that extra would come into play -- except perhaps for spontaneous overtaking, where the 50i doesn't need any forethought. The diesel gives you all the torque at an early 1500rpm, and while it fades a bit above 3000rpm there's still enough there for most jobs.
But there's no overlooking the 50i's shovels of torque and power, which makes response so instantaneous as to seem mind-controlled. Think overtake, and you're past. It downshifts at almost any middling throttle stamp, and heads for the horizon.
There's not enough ground clearance for serious offroading -- and seriously, the target buyer has no intention of going there. But a run through an admittedly mild circuit of gravel and mud showed it will able to amble over most dirt tracks unless there are deep washouts.
Buyers will be more focused on the interior than the undercarriage -- or even what's under the bonnet. And on that score, they've no concerns -- the cabin is a luxurious place to be; beautifully formed and finished. Our test cars perhaps had one too many variations of finish, with two tones of leather, veneer, piano black and metal within a handspan on the terraced dash. But that aside, there's little to fault in the prestige furnishings.
The Boss is back, and has just raised the benchmark higher.
BMW X5 30d
Price: from $99,900
Engine: 3.0 six-cylinder turbodiesel, 190kW/560Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto; AWD
|X6 M||4.4L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$60,800 – 76,890||2013 BMW X Models 2013 X6 M Pricing and Specs|
|X5 M50D||3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$38,800 – 49,610||2013 BMW X Models 2013 X5 M50D Pricing and Specs|
|X1 Sdrive 18D||2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$14,400 – 20,240||2013 BMW X Models 2013 X1 Sdrive 18D Pricing and Specs|
|X1 Sdrive 18D Sportline||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN||$15,400 – 21,780||2013 BMW X Models 2013 X1 Sdrive 18D Sportline Pricing and Specs|
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