We got to drive the Mercedes-AMG GT family in Germany, last September.
After two days of trudging the halls at the Frankfurt Motor Show, it seemed like a good idea to actually get behind the wheel of a car, hit the back roads and blow out a few cobwebs. Let’s do this the sensible way, I suggested: start with an entry level model. That way, we acclimatise to driving on the other side of the road.
Now, it’s one thing (and quite correct) to refer to the Mercedes-AMG GT as an entry level model. It’s another thing entirely when you sit down and think about the sheer numbers: 4,0-litre V8 biturbo engine, 350 kW peak power and 630 N.m peak torque. Having choked on that, try these other numbers: top speed 304 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 4,0 seconds.
Not that you’d have any success getting much beyond 200, never mind 300, on the cluttered autobahn that we briefly jumped on to a few minutes later. Ditto the easy-on-the-eye countryside, criss-crossed by uncomfortably narrow B-roads, on the drive from Paderborn – where Nixdorf computers once reigned – to where the GT’s big brother R waited at the Bilster Berg track an hour’s drive away.
But there are several more strings to the GT bow. The successor to the gullwing-door SLS that was the first in-house production from Merc’s AMG performance arm now encompasses a total of eight models. That range includes four coupés and two roadsters plus two customer sport racing cars, the GT3 and GT4.
My co-pilot and I got hands-on with the coupe, the roadster and the golden anniversary GTC Edition 50, as well (of course) as the R, current fastest production road sports car around the Nurburgring at 7 minutes 11 seconds. Apart from the engine outputs, ranging from 350 to 430 kW, there are also various versions of engine mapping, suspension and aerodynamics available. But there is a technical strength that all have in common, says AMG product manager Axel Wollesen:
• Front mid-engine concept with dual clutch transaxle at the rear
• Racing suspension with aluminium double wishbone
• Active optimisation of aerodynamics
• Intelligent lightweight design
• Highly dynamic driving experience
• 231 kg aluminium spaceframe body.
It’s safe to say that no matter what version of the front-mid-engined GT you pick you are pretty much guaranteed a memorable drive. Common to all of them is a ride that’s firm without being harsh and a soundtrack that just screams out for the Loud button. (I’ll apologise publicly here for having flipped the switch that turns the exhaust note from a menacing rumble to a thundering drumbeat that made the residents of Lichtenau’s eyes pop and got us the thumbs-up from at least one little boy.) The thing is, the sights and sounds and feel of the GT make you always aware that this is very much a sports car, without making it hell on wheels after a few minutes. That’s even true of the roadster, top down or up. It took a while, in fact, before I realised that the open-topped model felt every bit as stiff over bumps and in cornering as its coupe sibling. There wasn’t even the typical extravagant shimmy through the steering wheel to indicate the inherent compromise you’d expect in body rigidity. Score one for the rigidity inherent to Merc’s oft-touted aluminium-rich Intelligent Lightweight Design.
The old-school front-engine rear-drive layout means that the view out the front involves a lot of bonnet. Some drivers prefer to be perched more over the front wheels, as with mid- or rear-mounted engines. I’m a little torn: there’s something deeply satisfying about a car that makes no concessions about being a big, powerful grand tourer, finish and klaar. Yet, as it danced nimbly from switchback to switchback out on the roads, or flicked through some testing left-rights on the track, there’s no question of this car’s agility.
On the track, a first outing on a surface still damp after rain meant taking things even more cautiously than I would normally have on a completely unknown circuit. Even so, getting too enthusiastically on the accelerator to exit the sharp right-hander on top of the pit straight resulted in a heart-stopping tail-out slide that called on the best efforts of traction controlthe GT R’s rear-wheel-steering and my reflexes.
By afternoon, though, things had dried out. That’s when the R’s fantastic balance of power, agility and grip came into its own. It’s a blend that rewards skilled drivers by rising to the occasion, responding to well-schooled inputs and, when necessary, dipping into clearly deep reserves to provide on-demand massive thrust and neck-straining braking, time and again. It just never felt like you needed to back off, to let things calm down. As if it was meant for this scenario.
I could see that this was exactly how things were playing out up ahead ,as the two cars leading our three-car train dived into corners, sizzled through them and rocketed away from me into a lead, only to have to trundle a few hillcrests away to allow me to catch up. No excuses, but just for the record, my skill levels are not quite up to those of our lead driver, multiple DTM champion Bernd Schneider…
The Mercedes-AMG GT family
Road cars: 4-litre V8 biturbo with AMG speedshift DCT 7-speed transmission. GT (350 kW, 630 N.m); GT S (384 kW, 670 N.m); GT C 410 kW, 680 N.m); GT R 430 kW, 700 N.m)
GT3: 6,3-litre normally aspirated V8 with electrohydraulic sequential six-speed racing transmission,
GT4: 4,0-litre direct injection V8 with twin turbochargers. Sequential six-speed racing transmission. Depending on balance of performance classification, up to 375 kW and more than 600 N.m