Mercedes-Benz’s M-Class started as a dog and now emerges as a thoroughbred. Parading at the L.A. Auto Show this week is the new ML63 AMG, with its big attraction, a 5.5-liter V8 outputting 518 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque.
This will be the third generation of high-performance M-Class cars from AMG, which Benz calls “the founder of the high-performance SUV segment.” This has turned out to be a good thing, because the first 1998 ML 320 factory version was a sort of half-breed, with substandard M-B quality.
AMG got into the act in 1999, and the car has been much the better for their tuning. Of course, it costs a bundle more than the standard version, but you get a lot more. Whether that incremental value is worth the cost of those prominent fender-mounted “V8 Biturbo” badges is another question.
The new engine gives you more clout, particularly in torque, over last year’s—plus a 33 percent improvement in fuel economy, now 16 mpg combined. A 7-speed automatic provides three driving programs, stop/start engine on/off function and shorter shift times.
Now, the interesting question is who this car is designed for. The answer, according to Susan Carpenter of the L.A. Times, is that it’s perfect for those “soccer moms in the country’s more exclusive neighborhoods.” Wrong, Susan.
Yes, the interior design has been improved, with so-called designo premium leathers standard, those vaunted AMG badges in the seatbacks and a generally fancified appearance. But that stuff isn’t for the moms; it’s for the dads.
AMG also offers a Performance Package that boosts output to 550 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque, with a top speed of 174 mph. “Who in their right mind would want that?” you may ask, as if the standard engine wasn’t enough. Well, dads who need 174-mph capability on L.A.’s freeways.
The ML63 AMG is a beautifully engineered 5-passenger high-speed tourer with sports-car performance and off-road capability. We imagine it will be seen more often at the Club than fording a mountain stream. And that’s cool; just keep those kids with their dirty cleats out of the car.
Which would you rather have (for whatever purpose): the ML63 AMG or the Porsche Cayenne? Tell us why.