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Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG review, test drive

When you have it, flaunt it, is what Merc is saying right now. First it was the G 63 AMG, then last month, they unleashed the GL 63 AMG, and now there’s this, the latest incredible hulk in Merc’s Indian stable, the ML 63 AMG. It’s for people who like generous helpings and, to be honest, the mix of extra speed and effortlessness along with the SUV stance and good ground clearance does have its advantages in our country. The ML sits between the G-Wagen’s ‘butch’ and the GL’s ‘scare-seven-people-simultaneously’ abilities. Also know that the ML 63 enters a super niche segment, one that, apart from its own siblings, includes the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the supercharged Range Rovers. We had a day with the ML 63 AMG and here are our initial impressions.

 It’s quick. 5.5 litres of carefully hand-built, twin-turbo Affalterbach tech gets you 518bhp and 71.3kgm of torque. It gets the ML 63’s 2.2 tonnes to 100kph in around five seconds, which is about as quick as the Cayenne Turbo. That, and the fact that the ML masks its speed really well, means you end up breaking speed limits without even trying, and mostly without knowing. Peak torque kicks in below 2,000rpm, and when it does, there’s one long, delicious, guttural bellow as you're hurtled to the horizon. It’s a seriously quick SUV and once in the higher gears, it can terrify you with its ferocious ability to close in on less-endowed traffic.
 Urgent progress can be affected initially by hesitancy from the seven-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox, but the ‘Sport’ and ‘Manual’ transmission modes allow you to get sharper responses from the powertrain. What you need to be careful about after selecting the latter mode is that you shouldn’t allow the engine to run into its rev limiter, which cuts in aggressively at around 6,250rpm. Learn the motor’s quirks though, and you can cover ground quickly and devastatingly. You need expressway-sized roads to take full advantage of its performance, though.

Take it to smaller, tighter roads and the ML’s 2.2-tonne kerb weight comes to the fore. You now become the manager, rather than the partner in crime, of so much power. Despite the fact that the ML 63 is surprisingly wieldy for something so big, you need to exercise caution. The weight isn’t tightly controlled (even in the AMG suspension’s Sport+ mode) and if you get your lines wrong and ask too much of the massive Pirelli P-Zeros and the all-wheel-drive system, the ESP kicks in brutally. This is good in a get-out-of-trouble-free way, but it kills the fun you are having. The steering is accurate, but it is uninspiring. There’s plenty of grip, but there is a certain sense of aloofness when you’re looking for connection. The brake pedal tends to go soft after hard use as well. We don’t blame the brakes though; hauling down so much momentum isn’t a task for the faint-hearted.
 So, what you need to do to have fun in the ML then, is to choose your lines carefully and guide the weight around. Get it right and you’ll smile, but a Porsche Cayenne Turbo will probably make you laugh under similar conditions.

 The ride is nice though. Sure it’s firm and can lead to some side-to-side head nodding from its occupants over lumpy tarmac, but its never uncomfortable. Its ability to deal with sharp bumps without crashing through them is also quite impressive. You can choose from three suspension settings – Comfort, Sport and Sport+ - and our favourite was the ‘Sport’ mode’s ability to provide a flat ride without giving up too much body control.

For all other purposes, the ML 63 is a Merc. That means there’s a sense of heft to everything you touch and operate (except maybe the lid for the cupholders on the centre console). If anything, you might complain that this cabin, apart from the AMG dials, flat-bottomed, Alcantara and leather steering wheel, superbly bolstered AMG seats and Alcantara roof lining, feels too subdued and non-AMG on the inside.
 The same can be said about the outside – the AMG hints are subtle. You need to look for the AMG wheels and the massive brakes, quad rectangular exhaust tips and the 'V8 Biturbo' badges on the flanks. The bumpers are different as well, but not too different from the Launch Edition ML 350 CDI, and the uninitiated could mistake if for just another big Merc SUV with fancy wheels. Some might not like that subtlety, especially since they are paying so much more.
 Speaking of which, Mercedes hasn’t announced prices yet. They will when the ML 63 AMG is launched in India later this month, and it won’t be cheap. Going by how much more a GL 63 AMG costs over a regular GL 350 CDI, you can expect the ML 63 AMG to be priced around Rs 1.4 crore. If you have it, flaunt it.


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