The SUV Evolves in Illogical Direction

The sport-utility vehicle -- the vilified, popular, demonized, versatile SUV -- was the hottest vehicle of an entire generation. Taking outdoorsy imagery and mixing it with warm-as-apple-pie family situations made the SUV the family vehicle of choice in the ’90s. The family station wagon and boring minivan were replaced by a big, truck-like vehicle that spoke of off-road adventure in exotic latitudes. So what if the majority of them were used -- and still are used -- to shuttle kids to school and to drive to family-vacation destinations that are no more exotic than Disneyland?

Instead of going the way of the brontosaurus, as some had predicted, the SUV adapted and evolved. This decade has changed everything we know about the SUV and its close cousin, the crossover. While in their heyday, SUVs were all about outdoor adventure. But the newest, hottest SUVs largely eschew any hint of outdoor exploration and instead adopt a high-performance, high-luxury philosophy. The leader of this vanguard is the just-introduced Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG. If you want to know what the coolest soccer moms on the planet will be driving next spring, just take a look at this baby. To the new-generation M-Class line that Mercedes-Benz launched earlier this year comes the addition of a hyper-powerful twin-turbo V-8 engine and the all-wheel-drive traction of the renowned 4MATIC system. This is no rock-crawler; it’s a pavement-burner.

For the sake of painting the picture, let’s say your daughter is late for the playoff game, and you’re a little tardy leaving the driveway because you were gathering some sushi, designer water and a Tommy Bahama folding chair. There’s no better way to make up that time than by jamming the accelerator of the 518 horsepower bi-turbo V-8. You will undoubtedly take your place in the upper reaches of the soccer field car park. In fact, there’s only one way you’ll be one-upped, and that’s if someone else arrives in an ML63 AMG equipped with the optional-at-serious-extra-cost AMG Performance Package, which offers an additional 32 horsepower and a 174-miles-per-hour top speed capability.

You’ll also appreciate the designo leather interior, the black headliner and the four-spoke AMG Performance steering wheel with perforated leather grips, aluminum shift paddles and a flat bottom. The dashboard, armrests and door trim are also finished in designo leather with double topstitching.

The “more is more” theme is all over the ML63’s exterior. The special AMG bodywork includes deeper under-bumper aprons at the front and rear, heavily sculpted rocker panels under the doors and quad exhaust pipes. The standard engine is a direct-injection, bi-turbo V-8 that produces not only 518 horsepower, but also 516 pound-feet of torque. The AMG Performance Package ups the ante to 550 horsepower and adds the niceties of a carbon-fiber engine cover and red brake calipers. For those who like to keep their vehicles on the pavement, the ML63 AMG has both the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system and the newly developed Active Curve System, which supplies electronically enhanced roll stabilization.

The price for ML63 AMG has not yet been announced, but you can bet it will follow the trend in the ultra-luxury crossover class and be stratospheric. The model will be available at a Mercedes-Benz showroom near you in the first quarter of next year.

by Tom Ripley for DrivingToday