There are only a handful of mainstream manufacturers that still believe in producing an outright super sports car. If you want to know just how special the Mercedes-AMG GT S is, look at arch rival BMW, which has no answer to the GT at all (the hybrid i8 doesn’t count). Why? Because the costs in producing a standalone platform for such a car are seldom worthwhile for large manufacturers.
Even Audi, which has the R8, shares the costs and burdens with Lamborghini (in the form of the Huracan). That’s not to say the R8 isn’t a competitor to the GT S, more so that Mercedes-Benz is targeting Porsche 911 buyers when it created its own everyday supercar in the $280-$330k price range.
Just like the 911, the $298,771 (plus on road costs) AMG GT S offers a package that doesn’t share its underpinnings with a lesser model, giving buyers a unique experience that is harder to come by in the current age of modular platform sharing.
It didn’t start there though, as the GT S is based on the SLS AMG (gullwing) which was a far more expensive car ($450,000+) and the very first vehicle that the men and women of AMG built entirely in-house. Gone are the iconic doors and 6.3-litre V8, but in their absence is a far more engaging driving experience which, for the 2018 model year, has been further enhanced.
To the untrained eye, the updated AMG flagship looks very much like the model that debuted in 2015, but look a little closer and you will spot a new front-end design that first made its appearance on the top-spec GT R and now further evolves the current design language of Mercedes-AMG’s top performance vehicles.
The Mercedes-AMG GT S has a great deal of road presence. The long nose and the overall coupe body style turns heads in the right crowds and for all the right reasons. It has the same appeal that set the Porsche 911 apart many years ago, a gorgeous yet practical supercar, but without the commonality issue now facing its German rival.
However, that’s about where the similarities end. The GT range presents a super quick package for the race track (quicker than plenty of 911s) but they are more at home on an epic road tour than the Phillip Island track.
It’s for that reason that we found ourselves conquering one corner to the next on the outskirts of Melbourne heading into the country.
The first thing you’ll notice about the updated AMG GT S is the steering. It’s vastly improved, with the previous model having lacked weight and feel. It’s the same steering rack as before but it appears the folks at AMG have revised the ratio and added a few other tweaks to give it a more natural feel with better communication through the front wheels than before.
We say ‘appears’ because there is no official statement as to what has changed inside the steering system. Same goes for the suspension, which feels a tad softer in comfort but remains a firm ride no matter how you look at it.
It that regard, the GT S doesn’t have the extreme everyday practicality of a 911, so you will endure a less than ideal ride if you find yourself on poorly surfaced roads. But that’s not the point of the GT S. It shines on smooth, winding roads where it can unleash its mighty 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 to maximum effect.
With 384kW and 670Nm of torque, the GT S can accelerate from 0-100km/h in just 3.8 seconds, which is the same as before. The engine has thus remained unchanged, as has the dual-clutch seven-speed transmission. At speed, the drivetrain is top notch with V8 barks and crackles and a ripping gearbox that rapid fires from one gear to the next in about the same time it takes you to blink.
Thanks to its two turbos, there seems to be endless torque that pulls and pulls across the entire rev range, an ideal setup for escaping corners. As we expected, our test GT S always found itself sitting in the right gear for the task if Sport+ was selected. Driving the GT S at speed through a country road is an extraordinary experience. The theatre, the dynamics, you can’t help but smile.
It sounds good too, for a turbo V8. It doesn’t have the snarl or brutality of its naturally-aspirated predecessor, but it’s by no means muted. We would have loved to see the engine and exhaust tune of the new Mercedes-AMG E63 S make its way to the GT S, for that is a beast of an engine note, all from the same power unit.
At speeds above 80km/h, both on country roads and on the highway, we found a fair bit of road noise making its way into the cabin courtesy of the front 265/35/19 and rear 295/30/20 Michelin Pilot Sport tyres. You can block it out either with the exhaust or the 640w 10-speaker Burmester sound system.
Around the twisty stuff it’s hard to complain about the GT S. It’s a little long on the front end but get your braking point right, point the steering in the desired direction and it will go forward with extreme confidence. As the road gets narrower and the corners become tighter, it may not be as precise and user friendly as a similarly priced 911 Carrera S, but put it in the hands of a pro driver who is comfortable with oversteer and the GT S turns into a true weapon.
Our favourite thing about the GT S, however, is the interior. Ignoring the 8.4-inch infotainment screen that really could be bigger and better integrated – not to mention lacking Apple CarPlay – we loved the finish of the cabin in general. From the six air con vents to the chrome highlights around the centre cluster that houses everything from the miniature gearstick to the COMAND control module. It’s a busy cabin, but it works and the design flows beautifully from one end to the other.
We recommend you tick the box for Nappa leather (saddle brown/black) with performance seats ($5900). It lends the interior a truly sensational visual appeal, not to mention the comfort factor.
There is a whole lot of AMG logos throughout as well, from the AMG emblem embossed in the centre console armrest to the illuminated door sill panels and AMG sports seats. But if your taste is anything like ours, you’ll find yourself falling in love with the three-spoke Nappa leather-covered steering wheel with a race-ready 12 o'clock marker.
Given its everyday usability factor, it’s ideal then, that the cabin is such a nice place to be. It’s also ideal that the GT S comes with distance pilot ‘DISTRONIC autonomous cruise control’, so you can palm off some of the responsibilities in stop-go traffic, or on the highway. A feature sorely lacking in the current 911.
Overall, the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT S improves on an already great package that should appeal to those who seek an everyday and practical supercar with a level of exclusivity no longer offered by Porsche’s regular 911 models.
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