Mercedes-AMG GT 2019 r
launch-review

2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R, GT C, GT S review

International first drive

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Better looks and a far nicer interior, but still the same angry German V8 growl. What's not to love?
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There’s something rather unique about the ever-expanding range of Mercedes-AMG GT cars. What started life back in 2010 as a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, then turned into a proper GT using the same chassis, without the funny doors, that now encompasses a GT, GT S, GT C, GT R and GT R Pro, not to mention the upcoming Black Series.

But while the range is incredibly expansive, new facelifted 2020 models destined for Australia around September-October this year see somewhat of a rationalisation. We flew to Germany’s Formula 1 track, better known as the Hockenheimring, to find out what’s new.

Firstly, the Australian range has been somewhat culled down to just the three cars, that being the GT S, GT C and GT R. In that regard, the base-model GT is now gone, and the only way you will get a roadster is with the GT C (even though the brand did just announce the GT R Roadster, it won’t be coming to Australia).

From the outside, the new Mercedes-AMG GT range gets a slight facelift that sees the addition of new LED headlamps and new daytime running lights (taken from the GT4) for the front. If you opt for the GT S, it also gets new side sills and wheels.

The rear gets a whole new diffuser and modified exhaust system, which is now two tips per side, adding a far more menacing look to the back of the car. The base GT (which we don’t get) has quad round exhaust tips, but the models that come to Australia have the angular tips. We sort of like the round tips a little more for their subtlety, but the angrier ones look pretty special as well.

It’s the inside of the updated GT range that gets the most work. The cars take a lot of design elements from the GT4, including a new steering wheel with a ton more buttons and functions that allow for nearly all operations of the infotainment without moving your hands.

The most noticeable change is the use of LED display buttons in the centre cluster that have replaced the more traditional analogue ones. Everything from the exhaust, suspension, volume and driving mode can be selected using the new light-up system. It looks far more modern, but we found the actual display inside the button housing to not be as large as the housing itself, which looks a little peculiar. The display is about half the size of the button itself to allow room for a toggle, for things such as volume or mode selector – which looks fine, but when there is no toggle, it’s a tad odd.

Mercedes has also brought along a more advanced instrument and infotainment system that includes a new 12.3-inch fully digital cluster behind the steering wheel and 10.25-inch widescreen display on the centre console. This is a nice improvement over its predecessor, but it lacks the latest version of the company’s class-leading MBUX system that is readily available as a standard fit in the A-Class and its derivatives.

On the feature side, you can now finally get a front camera (helpful given the super-long bonnet), and the AMG Track pace system takes a page out of the Porsche track logging book and gives sector and lap times around known tracks. Meanwhile, there is also the availability of what Mercedes calls ‘AMG dynamics’, which supposedly ‘anticipates how the car will react and distribute power perfectly’. Sounds like marketing fluff, so we jumped in a super-bright-yellow AMG GT S first to find out.

Picking between these three is actually harder than it seems. Although prices for the facelifted cars remain to be confirmed, the current difference between the GT S ($301,129), GT C ($316,129) and GT R ($351,129) is almost negligible. In which case, I can hear you shouting, ‘why would you not just buy the GT R?’ and you know what, most buyers agreed with you, as the GT R was the most popular model sold in Australian in 2018. But what exactly is the difference?

It seems that to truly compete with the Porsche 911 – which the AMG GT very much is – variety is a necessity. While whole car companies offer fewer variants and variations to their entire model line-up than Porsche does just for the 911, the AMG GT’s range breakdown makes more sense when you consider it in light of the 911.

The previous base-model GT at $261,129 made a lot of sense as an entry car that you could own as a daily and cruise in. It was comparatively down on power with 350kW and 630Nm of torque (0–100km/h in 4.0 seconds), and here in Australia (one of AMG’s biggest markets outright), we don’t really want base-model performance cars. As such, most went for the GT S or GT R (hence why the GT is no longer).

While the letter ‘S’ is usually higher on the scale of ‘fast’ than the letter ‘C’, Mercedes has confusingly made the GT S an entry car. It really doesn’t make an awful lot of sense anymore, because for just a measly $16,000 more, you can have the more powerful, better-equipped C.

Although the entire AMG GT family uses the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, not all GTs are created equal. The GT S has a power output of 384kW and 670Nm, which means it will go from 0–100km/h in 3.8 seconds. Move up to the GT C and that jumps to 410kW and 680Nm, bringing that acceleration time down to 3.7 seconds. Push further into GT R territory and that’s an incredible 430kW and 700Nm with 3.6 seconds for the traffic-light drag.

But while paying $16,000 to save 100ms from 0–100km/h sounds rather silly, it’s the addition of the wider rear track (same as GT R) that sets it apart. It may only by 57mm wider than the S, but add in rear-wheel steering and more aggressive bodywork from the track-ready GT R, and all of a sudden it starts to sound like a pretty good deal to opt for the C.

We spent a considerable amount of time behind the wheel of all three variants in rather wet conditions around Germany and on the autobahn. While it was rather hard to tell the power difference between the GT S and GT C on the open road, the addition of rear steering was very much noticeable both when punting hard and even at low speeds. There’s a more eerie sense of confidence you get from the GT C that feels lacking in the S.

Both cars possess excellent ride (for a sports car) and can be driven very hard before any contemplation of a so-called limit is ever reached. But then you get into the GT R and it’s another world altogether.

The AMG GT R is a track car you can drive on the road. It’s really as simple as that. It’s fast, ferocious and not taking any prisoners. It has the most delightful steering system that makes you want to go fast no matter what. It also wears Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, which are unbeatable as a tyre for a car like this.

Yet, as hardcore as it is, AMG went and created an even more hardcore version called the GT R Pro. We drove that extensively around Hockenheimring racetrack, and can report that it was bordering GT4 territory in terms of track performance (but not coming to Australia and all 750 are already sold out). But it's almost entirely unnecessary, unless you really want a more focused track car that can drive itself there and back (in which case, skip the Pro altogether and go for the Black Series).

So, why would you pick the AMG GT R? Because you can, and because your heart tells you to. For an extra $50,000 over the GT S and about $34,000 more than the C, it’s a no-brainer. Especially in that incredible Green Hell colour scheme. Actually, just ignore the S for the moment and consider that it’s a tiny step up from the C and, really, do you want to own a car called GT R or do you want to own a car called GT C? Exactly. But there is a catch.

Firstly, if you want a roadster, then it has to be a C. Secondly, if you intend to daily your GT R, well, consider that you will spend 99 per cent of your driving life in city environments in a race car that looks like it took a wrong turn and got lost in the urban jungle. Or you can buy the GT C and enjoy nearly all the same power and dynamic capability without the super-harsh ride and track-focused steering, suspension and other bits here and there.

In saying all that, if I were buying an AMG GT, I would find it hard to go past the GT R at first. And if I intended to track the car frequently, I would put up with the downfalls, but a more rational version of me would definitely pick the GT C and live happily ever after. Maybe.

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