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Just when we thought the GL63 AMG was the fastest Merc SUV in India, the ML arrives on the scene with its AMG certificate

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Have you ever imagined watching a movie where Mila Kunis played the love interest of Darsheel Safary? Or a film based on the hardships of life for a eunuch starring Katrina Kaif in a double role? Doesn’t sound right, does it? In fact, it should be criminal to even conceptualise both these character associations, because both actresses have won a million hearts not by playing misfits, but for being glamorous, elegant and easy-on-the-eye. That’s what we’ve come to expect of them, both on and off the screen. That’s why they are famous. Worshipped, even.

In the same way, you normally wouldn’t expect a family-size SUV like the Mercedes ML – that’s known to be of the more premium sort – to blast to 100kph from standstill in less than five seconds. But this here is no normal ML250 or 350, it’s the ML63 AMG with a Performance Pack that drives up the numbers to 550bhp and 760Nm. To put things into perspective, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S goes from 0-100kph in 4.5sec, so the ML63’s 4.7 seconds (company-claimed figures) isn’t going to top any charts, but still, membership to the under-five second club is never a bad thing.

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When Mercedes hands over one of its cars to its pals over at the AMG division, the outcome is usually a spicy, delectable treat. But when its SUVs are given the AMG treatment, results aren’t always as expected. There’s no doubt about the AMG SUVs being blindingly quick, if not the quickest, but what they lose out on in this transition is the sheer ability to manage all that power, and be as confident going into corners as they are devouring straights. Classic examples being the G63 AMG and the GL63 AMG – both with mind-boggling power figures, and both developing cold feet the moment you show them a series of bends. And that’s where the ML63 stands out. It’s not only about power and uncontrollable aggression. It will take steering orders from you and get the job done as asked, but not without a hint of aversion.

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It’s an SUV with an AMG badge – an SUV with secret aspirations of being a sportscar. And what helps its unearthly quest is a masterpiece by AMG craftsman Matthias Lutz – a hand-crafted, 5,461cc petrol V8 with twin-turbos, spitting out a venomous 550bhp that’s been assigned to propel this 2,345kg monster with the help of 760Nm. And if these numbers are getting you all excited, wait till the V8 comes to life at the push of a button.

If you are lucky enough to be introduced to this Merc on an open highway then it’s your lucky day, because that’s exactly where this beast can be enjoyed to the fullest. The sheer manner in which the ML63 accelerates makes you work your neck muscles, as all of those 550 rearing horses reduce everything around you to a blur in a few seconds. The acceleration is brutal. It’s devastatingly quick. And every visit to the redline will see you being pinned back into the seat.

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There’s a surge of power from 2,000rpm, and before you know it, the needle will have breached the 6,000rpm mark every time the AMG-spec 7G-tronic gearbox upshifts while it flies to its restricted top speed of 250kph. Be it driving leisurely in the city or bolting down the expressway, there’s never a moment when you’re left wanting more power. Despite its size and power, the ML63 isn’t cumbersome to drive within city limits. Slot the gearstick in D, choose Eco mode and that should take care of the conditions you face.

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For everything else, there’s Sport mode, which quickens the shifts and the engine revs harder before shifting to a higher gear. Furthermore, if you want to take matters in your own hands, there’s Manual mode – where the needle will climb to the redline and stay there till you don’t change gears manually with the help of paddle-shifters. The thrill doesn’t end with the spiky performance in S and M modes, the quad tailpipes produce this well-orchestrated, heavy bass melody that further accentuates the experience. It’s an integral part of the AMG package that adds to the drama, urging you to repeatedly give her the beans, just to hear the V8 roar.

The combination of an addictive exhaust note, menacing power, shattering acceleration isn’t a new phenomenon when it comes to dealing with an AMG. But what caught us by surprise was the sort of poise it exhibited on all sorts of road conditions. In the past, AMG-spec tyres were not really known to give the car pliant ride characteristics over troubled surfaces. Plus, with all the extra aggression being carried into a corner, the AMG SUVs tend to lose grip and composure. But the ML63 begs to differ.

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It rides on 20-inch alloys and 265/45 section tyres, which will make you believe your spine is in for a real battering. On the contrary, the ML does a decent job of ironing out undulations. You could choose from Comfort, Sport or Sport+ modes, depending on the kind of surface you are driving on. It’s best left in Comfort mode for your city drives, while Sport mode feels more suited to the highway. But as soon as you see flowing corners and a series of bends up ahead, quickly shift to Sport+ and get ready to be surprised by the ML63’s ability to change directions. The chunky steering wheel – that’s nice to hold – is sharp and responsive. Plus, there’s a lot of tech that’s gone into making it good at cornering hard – like the Active Curve, Adaptive Damping System and the air suspension which has improved ride and stability.

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The overall ride is good, and handling is not bad for an SUV of this size with that much power. However, there is some body roll around corners, and expecting it to be as nimble and agile as a sportscar would be as stupid as asking Sunny Leone to play the protagonist in Mother India. And while we talk agility, the AMG-spec high-performance brakes excel in bring this massively powerful SUV to a halt, but not before a notable nosedive.

As far as looks go, we never had a real issue with the ML to begin with. But with an AMG kit, the ML63 looks all the more mean. Those large air dams on the front and rear bumpers, flared wheel arches that give it a squat stance, five-spoke AMG alloy wheels, added chrome and AMG badges – all put together, they give this SUV a purposeful look. The inside story isn’t all that different either. There’s a mix of high-grade materials like leather, piano-black inlays, aluminium trim elements and a four-spoke steering wheel – all feel sporty.

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Plus, with a bucketful of creature comforts and safety features, the ML63 takes good care of its occupants. There’s ample space for five passengers and their luggage. Apart from being monstrously powerful, this AMG SUV is dynamically sound too. Obviously, it still doesn’t handle like a sportscar, but does far better than its AMG siblings. At Rs 1.49 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi), which is Rs 83 lakh more than the respectably-powerful ML350 CDI, the ML63’s sticker price does make it difficult to sign that cheque off. But then, if all you ever wanted was an immensely powerful and civilised AMG SUV, then your quest ends here.

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Add to that a decent efficiency figure of 5.8kpl in mixed conditions, and the ML63 won’t be that difficult to live with on a daily basis. But we need to remember, the ML63 AMG is a performance-SUV, conceived to be driven fast, to give you the thrills few other SUVs this size can. And that makes this Merc quite an interesting prospect, if not the most convincing. So with that done and dusted, should we seriously prepare to embrace the sight of Darsheel romancing Mila in the near future?

(Words: Devesh Shobha, Photos: Photography: Somdutta Nhawkar)

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The numbers

Engine: V8, 5,461cc,
twin-turbo petrol
Power: 550bhp
Torque: 760Nm
GearBOX: 7A
Weight: 2,345kg
Tyre: 265/45 R20
Price: Rs 1.49 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi)

TG Performance Test
0-100kph: 4.99s
30-50kph: 1.54s
50-70kph: 1.6s
80-0kph: 24.61m/2.28s
Top speed: 250kph (restricted)
Overall kpl: 5.8

PROS: Monster of an engine, intelligent gearbox, extremely supportive seats
CONS: Pay the same money, get  a quicker, more agile SUV in the Porsche Cayenne Turbo

The verdict
The closest any AMG-badged SUV has gotten to being a proper sportscar

Rating: 7/10

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