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First Look | A seriously quick SUV

LiveMint logoLiveMint 20-05-2014 Ouseph Chacko

Luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz is expanding the footprint of its performance sub-brand AMG. It has inaugurated three AMG performance centres—one each in New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai—aimed at improving customer experience. These centres will act as hubs for all AMG events in India.

In April, the company launched the GL 63 AMG, and on 15 May, the ML 63 AMG joined the ranks of the AMG models available here. The ML 63 AMG enters a niche segment where it rivals the likes of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the Range Rover Sport.

The ML 63 AMG is quick. The 5.5-litre twin-turbo motor is good for 550 bhp and 77.4 kgm of torque and gets the ML 63’s 2.2 tonnes to 100 kilometres per hour (kmph) in around 5 seconds, which is about as quick as the Cayenne Turbo. Peak torque kicks in below 2,000 revolutions per minute (rpm), and when it does, there’s a long, guttural bellow as you’re hurtled to the horizon. Once in the higher gears, it can terrify you with its ferocious ability to close in on traffic.

While the seven-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox can be hesitant initially, the Sport and Manual transmission modes allow you to get sharper responses. After selecting the latter mode, you need to be careful that you don’t allow the engine to run into its revolution limiter, which cuts in aggressively at around 6,250 rpm. Learn the motor’s quirks though, and you can cover ground quickly and devastatingly.

It is on smaller, tighter roads that the ML’s 2.2-tonne kerb weight becomes more evident. Despite the fact that the ML 63 is surprisingly agile for something so big, you need to be careful. The steering is accurate, but uninspiring. There’s plenty of grip, but there is a sense of aloofness when you’re looking for connection. The brake pedal tends to go soft after hard use as well.

So what you need to do to have fun in the ML is to choose your lines carefully and guide the weight around.

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 it’s never uncomfortable. The car’s 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+. 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. There’s a sense of solidity to everything you touch and operate. 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 it for just another big Merc SUV with fancy wheels. Some might not like that subtlety, especially since they are paying so much more.

The ML 63 AMG costs `1.5 crore (ex-showroom, New Delhi) and that’s not cheap by any measure. Merc then is hoping that those who have it will flaunt it.

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