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When the Mercedes-AMG GT was driven on stage by none other than Nico Rosberg at the car’s global unveiling outside AMG HQ in Affalterbach, Germany, the message was loud and clear: This was going to be a serious sports car. At the global drive event, held at the very challenging Laguna Seca in California, we found out exactly how serious.
While representatives of (the newly rebranded) Mercedes-AMG are loathe to say the GT is a successor to the recently discontinued SLS, the common consensus is that the new car nicely fills a gap created by the departure of the old car. The biggest difference between the SLS and the GT? Not performance, but price.
The SLS was a wildly expensive car, with the 2014 version of the 'base' coupe starting at a staggering $468,320. If the base version of the Mercedes-AMG GT is confirmed for Australia, it won’t arrive until 2016, and is expected to cost about $228K less. Sure, it’s still going to take a large stack of money to purchase the latest AMG supercar, but when you consider the relative performance levels of the two, the new car suddenly appears to offer excellent value.
Let’s look at the hardware.
The SLS AMG was powered by a 6.2-litre V8 (which Benz called a 6.3) that developed between 420-464kW and 635-650Nm, depending on the version. The quickest of the iterations accelerated from 0-100 km/h in 3.3 seconds and had a reported top speed of 328km/h.
The AMG GT features a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 that is, according to Mercedes, the first sports car engine with turbochargers mounted inside the cylinder banks, a design called “hot inside V". This layout, also used by BMW for some of its engines (including the M5/M6), enables better throttle response and a more compact design overall.
Initially, there will be two different versions of the new car arriving in dealerships around the world, the GT and the GT S (the latter higher-performance version coming first), both powered by this same engine, but with different levels of boost. In GT trim, the V8 will develop 340kW/600Nm, while the GT S will produce 375kW/650Nm. Mercedes-AMG CEO Tobias Moers, in attendance at the drive event, spoke to an eventual Black Series while officially confirming a GT3 race version.
The AMG GT doesn’t appear to be a match for the SLS in terms of raw performance – at least not yet. The GT S, the version tested, has a claimed 0-100-km/h time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 310km/h. On the other hand, the new twin-turbo engine contributes to the startling fuel efficiency of the GT – the estimated combined rating of 9.3L/100km would make the base version the supercar segment class leader.
The other main difference between the SLS and the GT of course is that the coupe version of the former featured 'gullwing' doors. The entire concept behind the GT is that it should be a more approachable and more affordable sports car; gullwing doors are particularly tricky, especially when you’re trying to engineer as low a centre of gravity as possible.
On track, the true nature of the Mercedes-AMG GT S quickly revealed itself. First, it is very much a supercar, despite the GT moniker; Moers noted that the car’s name was just a name – it did not mean to signify that the car was a gran turismo. (To our mind, if a car sprints to 100 km/h in less than four seconds, it’s also blitzed every GT out there.)
The car is, for sure, fast. It’s not (yet) ridiculously fast like the hardcore versions of the SLS. It’s also not frighteningly fast like the SLR, which was no faster than the SLS, but was less controllable. We think that the AMG GT S didn’t feel blindingly quick for precisely this reason – it’s so easy to control at the limits, so manageable, so predictable.
The day started out under grey skies and some spots of rain appeared on the dauntingly quick track. Despite this fact, the pace driver from the AMG Driving Academy, successful GT racer Jan Seyffarth, recommended starting out in the less extreme Sport setting of the four driver-selectable settings ... before ramping up to the Track mode, which reduces the level of driver aids involvement.
(Note: For the rain-soaked drive south from San Francisco to the track, we were given the standard GT S. Once at the track, we drove the more aggressively styled GT S Edition 1, the launch edition that features, among other things, a different front splitter, a fixed rear spoiler, a carbonfibre roof and 10-spoke light-alloy wheels.)
Everything on the Mercedes-AMG GT S behaved as it would on a proper sports car. Input into the steering wheel produced direct, linear responses. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, triggered by paddle shifters, was crisp and quick. The low centre of gravity and advanced aerodynamics on the car – combined with the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires – produced mammoth cornering capabilities.
Another feature on this version of the car, the electronically controlled locking rear differential, helped produce truly enjoyable handling characteristics. Normally, a powerful front-engine/rear-wheel-drive car can produce some undesirable qualities at the limit – corner-entry understeer, snap oversteer, spins, the whole shooting match. The GT S displayed none of these weaknesses.
Some of the corners at Laguna Seca have the capacity to instill genuine fear in first-timer visitors to the circuit (like myself) – corners that require a high level of precision and a great deal of speed in order to produce a decent lap. But the AMG was the perfect accomplice – the kind of supercar that is so composed that even the novice driver would be able to power along at a decent clip. Enter a corner with too much speed? No problem. Just do your best to hit the apex and the GT S will slide around the bend in an easily manageable drift.
At one point, we had a full-throttle speed wobble exiting a corner that could have gone bad in other sports cars. In the Mercedes, all it took was one small correction on the wheel and the drama was over.
At the end of the day’s track session, we had the chance to confer with Bernd Schneider, the other pace driver for the day, a five-time DTM champion for Mercedes and an AMG division brand ambassador. Two full days of track action, he said, and none of the cars needed any service apart from refuelling – no need for new brake pads or new tyres. The car behaved just like a race car, he added, its inherent balance making all four tyres wear evenly rather than burning through just the fronts or the rears.
For the uninitiated, this is not common at track events. We’ve seen brakes fade within two laps on some cars. Other cars needing new tyres every half-day. And special equipment like extra coolers fitted just to make sure the vehicles lasted a day without overheating and breaking down. There are very few cars capable of this level of speed and durability.
When it comes to criticisms, there are very few. The drive from San Francisco on public roads revealed that the suspension system on the GT S is a bit firm for everyday use (even in Comfort) and the sport seats could stand to have more support over bumpy roads. When I posed my findings to one of the AMG representatives, he fired back another question. “Can you think of a hardcore sports car in this league that has a softer suspension setup?” Well, actually, no. The Jaguar F-Type is firm, as is the Aston Martin Vantage and Porsche 911.
Being a two-seater, interior space is not overly abundant; the GT S will be a difficult car for taller drivers to get into, but headroom is very good once you’re settled. Otherwise, the cabin is a wonderful environment clearly designed for maximum driver involvement. The quality of the materials is fantastic and the design is striking –it’s simply beautiful inside, but in a completely different style compared to the similarly high-end S-Class sedan and coupe.
The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S is a brilliant car as-is and is certainly a serious competitor for the class-leading Porsche 911. (Which version of the 911 the AMG competes with will largely depend on pricing; in some markets, it seems the new Carrera 911 GTS is the most likely target.)
More interestingly, the GT S makes us wonder just how good future versions of this AMG supercar will be. We can’t wait…