Call it the folly of youth, but the first time I drove the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, I couldn’t stop grinning. There was something deeply satisfying about flinging a two-and-a-half tonne projectile at the horizon with unreasonable velocity.
However now at a wise age of 35 — but more due to the overdose of hyper SUVs I suspect — my gums no longer threaten to make a break for freedom every time I get behind the wheel of a rocket-powered 4x4. The novelty has worn off a bit.
Yet, within minutes of driving the new ML 63 AMG two things are clear: a) it’s very, very fast in a straight line and b) it tries to conceal its girth in the corners, but not very well. Let’s expound on the pace first.
The old ML 63 had a huffing and snarling naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8. The new one, like other 63s — except the C-Class — hides a twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8.
On paper it reduces fuel consumption drastically (Mercedes claims a remarkable 11.8 litres-per-100km), but in real life with 557 horses at the beckoning of your right foot, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be driving sedately enough to see a figure anywhere near that.
And while turbos are good for efficiency and power, they tend to kill the exhaust noise a tad. However, AMG engineers have managed to give the ML 63 a proper muscle car burble despite not one but two turbochargers spooling up to 1.3 bars in our Performance Pack-equipped tester.
Plant the throttle and the ML will nail 100kph in 4.7 seconds and hit the electronic wall at 250kph, but thanks to the seven-speed auto’s propensity to leap to the highest gear as quickly as possible, there is a chin-scratching pause between ‘ask’ and ‘receive’ from the engine. This is remedied if you flick to manual mode.
Man the gear changing duties yourself and progress starts feeling like you’d expect from something with this much horsepower. The steering is perhaps one of the best aspects of this car.
The electronic assistance isn’t unnatural and there is genuinely great feel. Obviously it doesn’t chatter incessantly like an SLS AMG, but the response is far greater than a half-hearted nod you’d expect in terms of communication from such a large car.
Then you hit the corners and that’s when things start coming apart slightly — not physically, of course. Sure it can tackle turns convincingly, but it doesn’t feel natural.
This is down to a gamut of technologies working in the background — and you can feel them working — to keep you safe when ambition gets the better of talent.
There is a freakishly complex new Active Curve System that employs hydraulics to quell body roll, working alongside adaptive air suspension and roll-bars, to keep things tidy when the 2.3-tonne leviathan hits its stride.
But despite all the techonology aiding the dynamics, the ML 63 AMG has a spectacular ride quality. The suspension resolutely blocks out all harshness, even on horribly broken tarmac.
And that’s what I really like about this car. It doesn’t forego occupant comfort to find the nth of a second around a corner. It’s a happy compromise between refinement and performance.
The ML 63’s limits are decidedly higher than anyone with a fully functional brain would try to breach on public roads. And you could never rock up for a track day in one of these without getting laughed off the pits.
So, that extra bit of pace that’s eked out at the cost of ride quality in other fast SUVs, doesn’t pay any dividends in real life. I’d happily swap the milliseconds and the lateral Gs for an extra dollop of comfort. Maybe it’s an age thing.