Yes, I was sitting around waiting for that new bubbly economy with inexplicable wild profits to just fall back in my lap and realized that it was never going to happen. Everything will simply feel like it costs more from now on. So, all those shameless, untimely, and insensitive luxury sports car tests I've been putting off shall be put off no more. That goes for (maybe even) BP-refueling SUVs that go faster than most sports cars.
Witness my choice of the new "958" 493-hp Porsche Cayenne Turbo V8 and fairly-soon-to-be-replaced "W164" 503-hp Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG 4Matic V8. At least you can admit I showed some awareness in that both vehicles are extremely practical carriers of things and people, and both have a relatively stellar reliability and safety rating. And they tow pretty dang well, of course. (7,716 pounds on both the Cayenne Turbo and ML 63 AMG 4Matic, just in case you want to trailer-camp in fancy places.)
Frankly the primary reason for the comparo being between these two is logistics. Porsche and Mercedes (you could also say, these days, VW Group and Daimler, if you dare) have been nearby rivals on many fronts throughout the years. Mercedes would love to have that sort of Porsche 911 icon in its portfolio but still doesn't, while Porsche has always wanted those Mercedes-sized resources. The latter of the two may now be resolved for Porsche what with the VW takeover that shocked the world, but it's all still very tied up in courts and boardrooms. Yeah, I know-BORRRR-ingggg.
The ML 63 is honestly still the meat hammer of all high-performance Euro trucks, weighing in at at least 5,093 pounds at the curb and propelled forth by the fat-barrelled 6.2-liter naturally aspirated "M156" V8 that made AMG a real builder of its own engines in 2005. For each of the 503 horses there are 10.1 pounds to deal with in the ML. And they deal with it in just less than five seconds in getting me to 62 mph from a stop. The thing is pure momentum hurtling through space, displacing more air than some school buses. The wheels for The Last Great Oligarch.
Then we have the kinder, gentler second-generation Porsche Cayenne Turbo that follows the passionately criticized first-gen spice truck, which nonetheless has (in a depressing yet predictable turn of events) accounted for a huge portion of total company sales since its introduction. Vocal Porsche purists and "experts" hate being wrong like that. This new Cayenne peels off the weight and takes on more attractive lines on the exterior as it sits on the chassis shared with the new VW Touareg and existing Audi Q7.
This better looking Cayenne incarnation weighs in at a feathery light 4,784 pounds. Divide that fluffiness by the 493 horses of the 4.8-liter twin-turbo V8 and we get roughly 9.7 pounds per steed. No large surprise then that acceleration to 60 mph can conceivably happen in just 4.4 seconds, while the ML 63 lists at 4.8 seconds. And the Cayenne Turbo actually carries the more resistant drag coefficient at 0.36 versus the ML 63 at 0.34, when I was expecting quite the opposite. Shut my mouth!
From the front and rear, the ML 63 looks much more the part of the meat-fisted mayhem maker while in profile the Porsche wins the looks pageant. At 76.8 inches wide and 73.4 inches tall, the ML 63 is half an inch wider than the Cayenne Turbo and a gasping 6.3 inches taller. Then in length, the Porsche completes the good-proportions formula at 190.8 inches compared to the chunkier ML 63 at 189.8 inches. Overall, I likey the new effort made on the Porsche Cayenne and now await the next ML class design to evolve the Merc SUV DNA into less 1990s territory. I just hope the ML keeps a portion of that chunkiness that has made it so notorious.
At one point in this test, I just floored it. I had one of my many lackeys in one vehicle and me in the other. We looked at each other and decided to hammer the suckers on our handy wide-open airstrip. Granted, this was highly informal and not monitored or timed by the hundreds of sanctioning bodies that sanction these things, but the Cayenne Turbo and ML 63 stayed exactly together for at least the first ten or so seconds of tarmac despite those 0-60-mph estimates. Then the Porsche and all 516 lb-ft of its torque from 2250 to 4500 rpm pulled away bit by bit, aided by the lower weight.
Normal top speed for the ML 63 is the Daimler rule of 155 mph, while normal for the new Cayenne (bi-)Turbo hits 173 mph. Then in the curves and through the gears, it became pretty apparent that Porsche has done its homework and at least made the new Cayenne more of a Porsche-style SUV than the previous SUV-style Porsche. The AMG Speedshift 7G-Tronic with selectable Sport-Comfort-Manual knob on the console of the ML 63 is fantastic tech and Mercedes will probably only get an eight-speed to stay "with it" in marketing terms or to have better highway fuel mileage figures. In functional terms, however, seven is enough and the Speedshift box is plenty fast for this thundering hippo.
And there really is thunder going on through the ML 63's four-tip chromed exhaust barrels. Left in Sport, the automatic revs out to about 7250 rpm within the red zone and it's one helluva show. I've got to say, too, that the 15.5-inch diameter AMG steering wheel is mega-sensational for grab positions and thickness. This is one that I muscled around and she appreciates it right back at me.
Clearly the Porsche Cayenne Turbo has a few advantages here that all stem from it being the incoming new kid. Whereas the ML 63 still has the old foot-pedal parking brake and plastic pull release handle ("ka-THUNK"), a standard manual rear hatch that is really heavy, and no onboard reverse camera (at least in my tester), the Cayenne Turbo comes loaded for bear with the space-saving and simple electronic handbrake, automated rear hatch, and reverse camera with a bigger screen. The ML 63 couldn't hide those crow's feet and she became despondent.
But-and every car has a big but-why on earth the Cayenne Turbo comes standard with the old unpleasant Tiptronic S multi-dysfunction steering wheel and thumb-knuckle toggle switches is something I cannot explain. These shift switches quite frankly stink and have been stinking up the place for years. And now that the big Cayenne has the flash new 8-speed Tiptronic S tranny, I comprehend this situation even less. At this level of price ($104,800 plus all your taxes), shouldn't Porsche throw in the much better optional paddle-shifter wheel for free? C'mon. At a base pre-tax price of $91,050 on the ML 63 AMG, it makes the choice here less easy, too.
Both the ML 63 and Cayenne Turbo can be pretty serious off-roaders, but why? Porsche has picked up on this by mimicking a bit what sister vehicle VW Touareg has done, bringing the Cayenne down from the hardcore offroad aspirant and making it much more a real road-goer. The ML 63 has pretty much always been this way anyway and was just waiting for the Cayenne to come join it. The reliable 4Matic setup with 40/60 torque split on the ML63 is as fine a setup as we recall, though the 21-inch in-your-face Pirelli P Zero Rosso tires of my tester must never touch dust or bumps if you wish to stay in love with your purchase. And though the Cayenne Turbo was dressed up, too, in 20-inch Michelin Latitude Sport treads, the active Porsche Traction Management all-wheel drive system is, like the 4Matic, as capable as ever. The Cayenne does benefit now from rear-axle torque vectoring Plus (consists of a large leather-covered cinder block in the cargo floor-yes, seriously, and worth every penny, she is) during dynamics testing, however, and this gives it the edge in chassis trickery.
Sitting in either contestant, I am happy. There is plenty of room for homo sapiens front and rear, and lateral seat support and overall comfort are outstanding while dicing up the aerodrome tarmac or mountain road. Cargo room at the normal setup goes to the Cayenne at 23.7 cubic feet, while seats down the ML 63 wins out at 72.4 cubed feet.
So, yes indeed, I hand it to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo this time around, but there are always a few touches where things can improve. A better sport exhaust option is needed, Sport Chrono Plus needs to be available right away, and that damned steering wheel needs to vanish from the portfolio.
The ML 63, for an aging model, still tugs the heart strings although it needs a redesign very soon, plus the all-new "M157" bi-turbo V8.
Basic message: Do not rest on your accomplishments, Porsche. AMG is charging hard in the next few years to dominate the German V8 kingdom.
2010 Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
6.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve
Seven-speed Direct Select with AMG Speedshift automatic
Front: Independent double wishbone spring strut dampers with adjustable air suspension, antiroll bar; Rear: spring strut dampers with adjustable air suspension, multi-arm axle with bottom track control arm, antiroll bar
Twin-circuit system with front-rear split; Front: Six-piston monoblock calipers, 15.4-inch rotors; Rear: Four-piston monoblock calipers, 14.4-inch rotors
Wheels and Tires
Cast two-piece alloy, 11x21
Pirelli P Zero Rosso, 295/35
Peak Power: 503 hp @ 6800 rpm
Peak Torque: 465 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.8 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph
2011 Porsche Cayenne Turbo
Longitudinal front engine,all-wheel drive
4.8-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, twin-turbocharged
Eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic
Front: Spring strut dampers with PASM multi-adjustable air suspension, aluminium double track control arm axle, sway bar;
Rear: Spring strut dampers with PASM multi-adjustable air suspension, multi-arm axle with bottom track control arm, sway bar
Twin-circuit system with front-rear split; Front: Six-piston monoblock calipers, 15.35-inch rotors; Rear: Four-piston monoblock calipers, 14.09-inch rotors
Wheels and Tires
Cast two-piece alloy, 8.5x18
Michelin Latitude Tour HP, 265/50
Peak Power: 493 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 2250 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.4 sec.
Top Speed: 173 mph