The old saying, don't bring a knife to a gun fight, seems to have formed the brief for the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S, as it lands locally with both barrels blazing in the ‘everyday supercar’ corral that has been dominated by the Porsche 911.
It’s not a bad fight to join either. The Porsche 911 has seen 12.9 per cent sales growth this year (over 2014) and the overall $200k-plus sports car segment is up almost 22 per cent. Roll on happy days!
The new GT coupe is officially a Mercedes-AMG rather than a Mercedes-Benz, heralding a new focus for the in-house tuning brand. The GT now replaces the gullwing SLS AMG as the pinnacle-sporting model available from the German marque. And in the metal, the GT really is a fabulous looking thing.
With obvious design cues taken from the iconic 1954 300SL Gullwing, the AMG GT features a wide, gaping grille that feeds into an endlessly long bonnet and over a low cabin turret. The rear tapers into slim, LED tail lights and an integrated pop-up spoiler – it is 2015 after all.
While in profile, the AMG might be comparable to the Porsche, from any angle, and particularly in our test car’s Iridium Silver metallic paint, it is every-way a Mercedes.
There are some cool little touches too – the multibeam LED headlights have a subtle AMG logo in the housing, and the 272 gloss-black hexagonal points (yes, we counted them) on the grille give an almost shimmering effect to highlight the giant three-pointed star which is back to Flava Flav-style size and prominence.
Under the magnesium bonnet is a newly-developed 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 putting out 375kW of power and 650Nm of torque. Conforming to the AMG tradition of one-man, one-engine, we can personally thank Alexander Kasarez for the mechanical surgery required to hand-assemble the GT’s powerplant.
In a first for Mercedes, the turbochargers are mounted within the top of the engine rather than on the side of the block – something Mercedes calls ‘hot inside V’. This setup provides optimal air flow to the turbos, resulting in better response, better emissions and a more compact overall design.
What is more impressive when looking at the engine though, is just how far back into the car it sits – most of the M178 engine's 209kgs is actually behind the front wheels. The rest of the nose of the car is taken up with ducting and cooling, including a specific channel that directs air from the massive grille, up through the bonnet, and directly onto the turbochargers for supreme cooling efficiency.
All this, plus a rear transaxle mounting for the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, gives the GT a 47:53 front-to-rear weight distribution. And while principally constructed from aluminium, the AMG weighs in at 1645kg – about 200kg either side of the lighter Porsche 911 GTS and heavier Jaguar F-Type R Coupe.
Unlike both the Jag and Porka though, the GT offers a relatively usable and spacious 350-litre boot, which can comfortably fit a pair of golf bags side-by-side. Perhaps take the ‘other car' to IKEA however, as given the long and shallow shape of the boot, soft weekender bags and, well, golf clubs, are pretty much all that fits.
Up front, the cabin is the high-end quality you would expect from a Mercedes of this caliber. There is a mix of leather and aluminium accents, and in typical ‘personalisation’ style, pretty much everything can be covered in either gloss ($3800 option) or matt ($4100 option) carbonfibre.
The seats are comfortable and supportive, and once you get over the bright red hue, the GT cabin is as nice a place to spend time as you want. A notable highlight too are the eight function buttons arranged in ‘V’ formation on the centre console – not big on subtly those Germans.
Sitting low and further back from the dashboard than you would in a C Class, some of the ergonomics take a bit of getting used to, particularly the switchgear below the central vents.
The gear shifter too feels a bit awkward to reach. Almost inline with your hip, the trick, we discovered, is that most of the centre console controls are more easily accessed by reaching over with your right arm – strange but true. That said, with nicely-sized aluminium paddles located behind the steering wheel, you don’t have to linger there for long.
It is, though, a more natural and better-proportioned cabin space than the SLS this car effectively succeeds: less separation between the two seats, more head and shoulder room, a clearer view across the bonnet that no longer looks to disappear off into the next postcode. Without those gullwing doors – the cause of the awkward SLS cabin packaging – it’s also easier to get in and out of (though you do lose some rockstar appeal).
The seats themselves are also very sports focused and lack a degree of give, adjustment and general long-haul comfort found in other AMG models.
The Command infotainment system and instrument binnacle displays are common to other Mercedes-Benz models, but there are some functions conspicuously absent.
The AMG GT S does not feature the excellent Distronic adaptive cruise control system at this time, mainly because the radar array ‘ruins’ the look of the three-pointed star on the front of the car. Form before function – almost forgivable in a sports car.
Regardless, any foibles are soon forgotten when you press the glowing red ‘Engine Start’ button and the V8 rumbles lazily into life.
Sounding like an idling ski-boat, by aural thrill alone, the AMG can put a smile on any face.
Given the AMG will spend most of its life around town, the standard ‘Comfort’ settings of both the suspension and gearbox make urban duties very liveable. The suspension has three settings (Comfort, Sport and Sport+), each with varying damping rates.
Road imperfections and speed humps are manageable in Comfort but tend to be a bit jarring in the Sport and Sport+ settings. It does thump over square-edged road imperfections and move about over lumpy surfaces, though it applies so much footprint to the road surface that it rarely seems to become unsettled.
Allowing you to enjoy the more compliant ride while still sounding like a hooligan, there is an active exhaust function that bypasses the silencing baffles to free up more of that addictive V8 crackle – perfect for runs to the shops.
In its ‘slowest’ setting too, the gearbox is smooth and generally effortless to deal with in traffic.
Swapping city for country gives the Mercedes a chance to open up and stretch its legs, and the new AMG does not disappoint.
You quickly discover that, in regular Sport mode and the gearbox left to self shift, the GT S can be effortlessly brisk in covering territory. It feels light on its feet, the energy of the 4.0-litre 'biturbo' V8 unfazed by the car's mass.
Selecting Sport+ increases the drama and excitement of the car, and the exhaust growl is only bettered by the induction noise of the turbos coming from under the bonnet.
Response, anywhere in the rev range, is hugely impressive. Squeeze the throttle and the GT S pulls harder every time. Lift, and you are treated to a firecracker-like explosion from behind.
Grab a shift-paddle and the gearbox drops into 'manual' mode, though with flexible torque always on tap, few gear changes are required to maintain speed through naturally flowing backroads. It’ll pull cleanly and confidently in fourth gear out of tight corners, where most cars prefer third or even second.
The car feels balanced and never too twitchy, although the suspension in its firmest setting is perhaps a little too stiff for Australian B-roads. Turn-in is extremely sharp and accurate and, while the light steering makes it an easy drive, feedback through the wheel isn’t as involving as in a 911.
The steering is also a little vague off-centre at low speed, improving in feel and communication the harder you push and the quicker you go. Up the pace and there’s none of the dartiness like that found in the old SLS; you can place the GT S accurately through corners with surprisingly little steering input.
Powering out of corners, there is a hint of oversteer as the 295mm-wide rear Michelin tyres deal with the brutal onslaught of torque. But keep your inputs smooth and the Benz rockets away with rewarding confidence. And while it doesn’t take a huge amount of right-foot provocation to break rear-end traction, the tail is surprisingly planted – even on damp surfaces – and the sheer corner-exit drive is tremendous.
Better yet, dig into the handy 'Individual' mode and the GT S can be perfectly tailored to suit a great back road suffering from lumpy and inconsistent surfaces: you simply assign whatever sporting tune for the engine, transmission, exhaust and ESP that tickles your fancy, and leave the dampers in Comfort. Works a treat.
Cruising back to town on the freeway, the heart rate of both driver and car back to normal, the GT S returns to a quiet and comfortable tourer. From the moment you hit the start button, it’s an eventful thing to drive. And like a true thoroughbred, it’s more than willing to serve up lofty levels of excitement and ability depending on mood and circumstance.
The Mercedes-AMG GT S is a tremendously fun car to drive. It's still more GT than pure sportster, as despite all your setting choices, there are still computers and assistance systems working away to make the car point where it should and make you look (and sound) good in the process. Worth noting too that the car we tested is absolutely standard and has no options – which means what you see in the photos is what you get for your list price of $295,000 (plus on-road costs).
The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S is the first in a line of new sports AMG models due to land over the next few years. We may see more hardcore versions (read: black series) in the future, but for now, as an equally liveable and head turning alternative to the staples, the Mercedes-AMG GT S is an impressive starting point for the new performance brand.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S images by Tom Fraser.