The development engineers at Mercedes-AMG are all dedicated to automotive excellence, yet the vehicle they can't stop talking about is the ML63. They'll tell you that it laps the old, long Nrburgring Nordschleife in eight minutes, thirty seconds-if you're brave enough, of course.
The made-in-Alabama ML has come a long way from its first iteration as a minivan with a German brand name, and the new generation of this sport-ute drives more like a Mercedes sedan. While Mercedes-Benz likes to portray the ML as an off-road device, the ML63 AMG more closely resembles the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, one of the breed of sport-utes that are meant to be sports cars.
It took a breathtakingly comprehensive makeover to move the ML into such exalted company. The 6.2-liter V-8 develops 503 hp, yet it's defined by its wide range of torque between 2000 and 5000 rpm, which delivers exceptional drivability in concert with the seven-speed manu-matic transmission. Meanwhile, the all-wheel-drive system has been recalibrated to distribute 40 percent of the power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear, a proportion that suits an all-weather pavement machine. The chassis reflects an extraordinary amount of work, including a rigidly mounted front subframe, stronger hubs and wheel bearings, stiffer suspension bushings, and a performance-tuned variant of Mercedes-Benz's air suspension system.
As we snaked through the foothills in the shadow of Spain's Sierra Nevada, the ML63 proved far more agile than you'd expect, not the least because its 295/40ZR-20 Continental CrossContact tires put so much rubber on the ground. But the ML is really meant to offer adults a comfortable, upright place to sit while pounding down the autopiste at 120 mph. It punches a massive hole in the air at these speeds, and the wake turbulence must be powerful enough to suck Seats off the road and throw them in the ditch. We didn't stop to find out.