Home » You Can Buy A 500 Horsepower Mercedes For The Price Of A 10 Year-Old Corolla

You Can Buy A 500 Horsepower Mercedes For The Price Of A 10 Year-Old Corolla

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Ask a child for a big number, and there’s a non-zero chance they’ll say “500.” They aren’t wrong. More than 500 horsepower is a properly zesty amount in a road car, capable of enabling some serious shenanigans that your local Sheriff won’t like. It takes self-restraint to enjoy and sensibly deploy 500 horsepower, but as of now, it doesn’t take a whole lot of money. Depreciation is a beautiful thing, and it’s made several 500-horsepower cars surprisingly inexpensive. The original Mercedes-Benz ML63 might be the cheapest of the lot, with some examples only costing as much as a 2013 Toyota Corolla.

Could depreciation be the thing that turns traditionalist enthusiasts onto performance SUVs? It’s not a guarantee, but it’s definitely a possibility. In the beginning, fast on-road SUVs were dismissed as chariots for rich idiots who cared about status more than driving. However, after nearly two decades of potholes and Taco Bell farts, this class of vehicles has lost enough value that they aren’t just for rich idiots, they’re for all idiots.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Sure, they might not handle anything like sports sedans, and they chew through gasoline like an overenthusiastic Jack Russell Terrier destroys its favorite toys, but you can certainly tow more with most of them than with sports sedans. If you acquire enough shitboxes, a boss tow rig absolutely comes in handy, and the ML63 AMG is among the bossiest of them all.

Ballistic Rhinoceros

Ml63 1

The second-generation ML, made from 2006 until 2011, was a do-over car for Mercedes-Benz. See, the original ML sold well, but it came at the apex of the three-pointed star’s Y2K quality slump. Learning from mistakes, Mercedes-Benz gave the second-generation car more luxury, more toys, and more power. A whole lot more power. At the top of the heap sat the 503-horsepower ML63 AMG, powered by the biblical M156 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V8. Sure, this engine was used in a whole bunch of models, but don’t let that dull the fact that a 6.2-liter overhead-cam V8 is a special, special thing.


Ml63 2

Of course, power is nothing without control, so AMG went to work on the rest of the car, making some dramatic changes. The seven-speed automatic transmission shifts 50 percent faster in manual mode than the one in the ML500, the rear air suspension is 60 percent stiffer than on the ML500, and the front air suspension is 100 percent stiffer than on the ML500. The front discs measure a gargantuan 15.4 inches in diameter, and the tires were massive 295/40R20 steamrollers. The result? This 5,093-pound predator could put up some serious numbers.

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In 2007, Car And Driver clocked an ML63 from zero-to-60 mph in 4.6 seconds, with the rolling start five-to-60-mph time flashing by in 4.9 seconds. Stamping on the wide pedal brought things to a halt in 160 feet, while keeping the loud pedal pinned for just over 35 seconds would send the ML63 right into its speed limiter of 155 mph. We’re talking zero-to-60 mph acceleration to match an Aston Martin DB9, a brand new Land Rover Defender 110 V8, and a Lexus LC 500. Braking distance? That’s on-par with a Lotus Elise. Oh, and did I mention the ML63 can tow 5,000 pounds?

How Cheap Are We Talking?

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Even on online auction sites, you can pick up an early ML63 for less than $10,000 if you’re okay with a vehicle with some mileage. And sometimes, you can spend a whole lot less – this 2008 ML63 AMG with 182,000 miles on the clock just sold on Cars & Bids for an astonishing $6,300. How many cars that rolled out of the factory with 500 horsepower can be had cheaper?

Black Ml63 Interior

Sure, this might not be a cosmetically perfect car, some major maintenance items are unknowns, and the mileage is up in “holy crap” territory, but we’re talking $12.52 per horsepower here. Hell, since it’s an ML63 AMG, that’s $100 per singular unit of AMG in the nameplate. I might not know how math works, but that’s an obscene deal for people who want to go fast, and it leaves plenty of room in the budget for maintenance remedies and, say, forced induction. If these things are a riot at 503 horsepower, imagine how much fun they are with more than 700 horsepower.

Silver Ml63

Alright, so maybe that’s a particularly cheap example, but you know what? Other examples are also heinously cheap. Here’s a 2007 model that’s seen head stud replacement for peace of mind that hammered for $8,900 on Cars & Bids back in October of 2023. Sure, that’s $2,600 more than the black example, but keep things in perspective. Where are you getting this much this much power and this much capability for such little money?


Hold Up, The Wear Items Are What Now?

Mercedes Ml63 Amg Engine

Unfortunately, with big power comes big bills. In addition to the obvious specter of air suspension, there are a few foibles you should know about the ML63 that apply to most cars with the M156 6.2-liter V8 engine. The most egregious? Prematurely worn camshafts. As fast Mercedes specialist JM Speedshop writes:

Camshaft replacement should be considered a regular maintenance task as most camshafts show wear failures around 100,000 miles. Wear occurs most commonly on the left and right intake camshafts and if left unattended, the cam lobe will eat through the hydraulic lifter. Frequent oil changes, using the correct oil viscosity for your climate, and including an anti-wear additive with oil changes are all measures we recommend to protect your engine. Additionally, higher mileage engines should have their oil sent out for analysis periodically or the valve covers should be removed and camshaft lobes inspected for signs of wear.

What in the Mickey Mouse Chevrolet 305 flat-tappet bullshit is this? Camshafts as wear items? Camshafts are pretty much never wear items! Still, that didn’t stop Mercedes-Benz from making them so in M156 engines. One solution is to get regrinds from legendary AMG tuner Victory Road Performance. Pricing runs at $2,999 just for the camshafts, but their harder regrind alloy should solve wear issues permanently, and these cams come with the bonus of a claimed 20 extra horsepower. Keep in mind, you’ll probably need to replace your hydraulic lifters at the same time, so expect to splash out another thousand or so on the kit for those from FCP Euro.

The next common issue is head bolt failure. Each cylinder head is affixed to the block with a series of bolts, and over time, some of those bolts can break. Once that happens, the heads can lift, and coolant can enter the combustion chamber. This affects M156-powered vehicles up to 2012, but can be remedied with updated bolts from Mercedes-Benz. The bolts themselves are cheap, at just $65.99 a set on FCP Euro, but replacing head bolts is a labor-intensive job.

Oh, and then there’s the potential issue of conductor plate failure inside the seven-speed automatic transmission. I’ve done a full article on this if you want to read more, but to cut to the chase, conductor plate replacement requires coding the new part to the car and can cost thousands of dollars to have done at a shop. Not fun.


Should You Buy An ML63 AMG?

Silver Ml63 Rear

If you’re asking yourself this question after learning that the camshafts are considered wear items, you probably fall into one of two camps. The first camp is thinking, “What are the chances all these failures could happen to me?” If that’s the case, you shouldn’t buy an ML63 AMG. They are as rapid as they are ruinously expensive to run, especially if you’re unable to do your own wrenching. However, if you’re thinking is along the lines of, “That sounds much easier than the time I did BMW N62 valve stem seal replacement on my driveway,” you should absolutely buy an ML63 AMG. They are seriously rapid, seriously comfortable, and seriously well-appointed, all while being deeply unserious. These lovable German louts bellow with the fury of a billion dinosaurs as they consume premium gasoline at near-single-digit MPG numbers, and aside from pain at the pumps, it’s hard not to smile at such a disposition.

The ML63 AMG is a lunatic, so it’s only right that anyone buying one is a bit excessive while displaying a blasé attitude to four-figure repair bills. I’d love one, but then again, I’m a bit of a lunatic. You just have to be to own one.

(Photo credits: Cars & Bids, Mercedes-Benz)

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Max Drelinger
Max Drelinger
3 months ago

So amongst the many AMGs I have owned, the ML63 was the first and it also took the crown as the worst. It doesn’t handle particularly well, it feels slow, the electronics are garbage and it had terrible build quality. It is a badly [American] built Mercedes with an engine that just doesn’t work particularly well in an SUV. Hard pass for me.

3 months ago

Given that there’s a known fix for the camshaft and head bolt problems, you’re still getting a 500 HP car for a pretty reasonable price and once you pay for those fixes the engine should be good to go.

The air suspension is scary though. I’m betting that’s a lot more expensive to fix than any of the engine issues. That’s what would give me pause about owning one of these.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
3 months ago

They are as rapid as they are ruinously expensive to run,”

That’s what I suspected. They are cheap for a reason… the purchase price might be the same as a used Corolla.

But the operating cost is likely comparable to owning 5-10 Corollas.

3 months ago

Just wondering – if it’s a engine with overhead cams, why would I need hydraulic lifters?

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