Mercedes-AMG GT 2019 r, Mercedes-AMG GT 2020 c

2020 Mercedes-AMG GT review

Australian first drive

Rating: 8.3
$311,142 Mrlp
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AMG's GT range has been facelifted, including a new cabin makeover. So why isn't it a substantially improved breed?
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“Better looks and a far nicer interior, but still the same angry V8 growl,” we wrote about the facelifted 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT range at its international launch back in April 2019. “What’s not to love?”

Fast-forward six months, to the local Aussie launch, and it turns out a few ‘nots’ have surfaced. Such as the $50K pricier tip-in point. Or the price hikes across the range. Or, in fact, that not-actually-that-nicer cabin treatment…

Let’s address these three specifics first. There’s no longer an entry GT version in Oz, which is fine: it hasn’t been as popular a seller as variants further up the tree because, well, a base version of AMG’s most exotic model line has limited appeal. But where once – earlier this year – you bought into Affalterbach’s two-door sports car dream at $261,129 list, you now need an extra $50K-odd ($311,142) for the ‘new’ GT S coupe entry point.

Post-facelift, the MRLP for the aforementioned S and R Coupe (now $361,042 list) versions rose by around $10K, while the GT C Coupe increased by over $13K (now $329,843). Be it factors internal or external – exchange-rate factors impacting Aussie motoring retail across the board – you’ll now need five figures more investment for what’s ostensibly a mild exterior touch-up and a fancier interior makeover.

Fancier? I’ll wager that’s tough to argue against. But “nicer”? Well, that’s a matter of personal taste. And of perspective in interior design.

I’ve spent a bit of time in the older GTs, particularly the GT C at its international launch, and I’m not nearly as enthusiastic as Alborz about the interior updates, most of which he covered off in detail driving the revamped range in Germany in April. In fact, I’m feeling strangely conflicted with my personal opinion that the best bits of the GT centre around the slightly unhinged hot-rod-isms carried over unchanged from old. And that the new interior fanciness, in a good many areas, works against the theme, aesthetically and in usability measures.

Specifics? The LED display buttons along the centre console and steering wheel look techy and impressive. The switchwork on the wheel, in particular, such as the drive-mode dial, is a notch or two above the cheap-looking unit on Porsche’s 911. But while the buttons on the driver’s side of the console are clear and legible some of the time, the passenger’s side buttons angle away from the driver and you have to lean distractingly over the console to see/read them.

Meanwhile, the driver’s side buttons are only legible when you’re not using the console as an armrest, which is almost always. And the stability-control switch sits right under your resting elbow. Hmm… The non-LED if coloured climate-control buttons remain in the console fascia on the inside of the cupholder bin… So they’re obscured and unusable when drink containers are present. Except… They don’t clamp drink bottles properly, so you shove them in the flexible door bins instead.

Slotted above the climate-control switches are silver buttons of another design that are tucked under the quartet of air vents, angled towards the roof and completely illegible unless you lean far forward to take a peek. Oh, and seat-conditioning buttons of another design again are, when fitted, in an overhead panel.

Congruent and logical design it ain’t. But to be fair, the old versions located most switchgear in the same positions.

The old GT, though, fitted AMG’s old ‘codpiece’ infotainment controller, which had a roller dial. The new cars fit a haptic touchpad, yes, just like Lexus, CarAdvice’s favourite whipping boy of clunky infotainment control. But unlike newer Lexus models, which fit a far easier-to-use touchscreen interface as a handy alternative access point, the AMG’s isn’t a touchscreen.

There, I said it: this AMG’s infotainment is harder to use than a Lexus. And the touchpad is set well rearward in the console, allowing room for those cupholders, so it’s awkward to even reach the thing to begin with. And when you do, you rest your wrist on the transmission controller. As outlined at the international launch, this infotainment revamp does include Apple and Google phone mirroring, some ‘Mercedes me’ smartphone app synergy and adds a new front-view camera, but you don’t get the next-level MBUX cleverdickery you’ll find in the current A-Class.

Gone is the simpler 12-button wheel of old, and replaced by a much ‘blingier’ tiller that fits dials, rollers and buttons both analogue and LED, plus those dual thumb controllers AMG has been fond of lately. It’s a wheel with the sort of ornate complication that might look much more at home in an S-Class than it does in, well, hard- and harder-core super sports car weapons. It’s particularly at odds with the race-themed GT R. The one blessing amongst all this shemozzle is the 12.3-inch instrument cluster, with its neat and clear central roundel tacho and digital speed display.

Yes, yes, I know: AMG owners today apparently want such ‘effect’. It certainly looks opulent and appeals to one of CarAdvice’s two GT reviewers who happens to own an AMG of this sports car’s lineage (hint: not me). I’m not judging taste in styling here, but rather design functionality.

And because the areas outlined above are the key highlight changes to this GT range facelift, I’m somewhat duty bound to nitpick stuff like, well, why you need to dig four submenus' deep into a clumsy infotainment system to turn off lane-departure warning in a device, in the R’s case, that’s perilously close to being a genuine race car with rego plates.

There are far more similarities than differences between the drop-top GT C Roadster and GT R Coupe we drove exclusively on-road at launch, but you do notice the disparities. Put simply, the C uses the front axle of the (now) entry S, the feisty and tail-happy beast that it is, but adopts the rear axle of the hardcore R, bringing a wider rear track, active rear steer, anti-squat/anti-dive smarts, and AMG Ride Control with adaptive damping.

Result? Add an extra 10mm of (275mm) front and (305mm) rear rubber and the C seems to drill the rear end into the tarmac harder, remains more neutral at higher cornering speeds, and is both faster and friendlier than the S. As I discovered at the C’s international launch…

The R is something else. It adds a bespoke, wider-track, coil-over spring front end with extra trickery (braking torque support) and fits wider rubber still (up 10mm front, 20mm rear) in sticky Pilot Sport Cup 2 R-spec against the C’s road-oriented hoops. The R promises another level of grip, sharpness, response and agility meant to reward best during a white-hot racetrack punt, but on a mild spring morning in country Victoria, there are more than a few extra hairs on its chest than the mid-grade C. Even if you can't scratch at either car’s capabilities on a public road.

Is there much in it by the seat of the pants between the C’s 410kW/680Nm 4.0-litre biturbo V8 and the extra 20kW and 20Nm afforded by the higher-boosted (1.25 versus 1.35bar peak) version of the same engine in the R? Not really. Both shimmy their rumps and nibble at the traction control with a firm squeeze of the right foot, and if there’s any disparity between their excellent, smooth and lightning quick seven-speed dual-clutch gearboxes, it’s really tough to pick.

Both are slightly manic and more than a little unhinged in response to ham-footed driver inputs. Quite a contrast to rival Porsche 911s’ typical moderation – GT2 apart, perhaps – and very much parts of the GTs’, and indeed AMG’s, core DNA. There’s a fair slice of animalistic hot rod you buy into with Affalterbach’s super sports car breed.

But as grand tourers, the GT C Roadster is the more attractive prospect. Not that it’s soft around its frankly very firm edges, but because it’s tempered just enough for Australia’s below-average highways and byways compared with the bone-jarring, spine-fusing masochism the GT R Coupe presents on-road. Take, for instance, ride: the adaptive damping in the C seems to go from firm to rock hard, whereas the R goes from rock to granite.

To a fault? Not really. Because if you happen to find, as I do, the R too extreme an extended on-street experience, especially for hours on end, the C is the most desirable option that still retains the monstrous character you’re buying into. And there’s still another step down to the S if the C is a little too brusque for your liking.

In fact, the GT C Roadster can be downright polite when burbling around the ’burbs or rumbling through Melbourne's CBD, as we did. Fabric roof up, the noise and temperature isolation is a good approximation of a hardtop coupe bar some faint ambience rumbling from behind the seats. And that V8 growl sounds intoxicating whether the roof is up or down.

While it’s tricky to pinpoint the source, the overall vibe of the R is that everything seems just a bit edgier, sharper and more highly strung. It bottles more electricity in its vibe. The front end certainly points more assertively than the C in the corners, even when those R-specs are cold, and those huge ceramic brakes have a little too much bite to be comfortable in a peak-hour crawl. But, thankfully, the track specialist doesn’t feel darty or nervous on-road like, say, a Lotus is.

It’s easy to place on the road, predictable, and there’s nothing knife edge or trigger happy about its manner that makes you cautious about digging deeper into its lofty abilities, even when there’s clearly much more to give than reasonable driver sanity permits. I’d love to uncork the R and experience uncorking more of its powertrain and chassis’s ultimate capabilities, but it’s not to be today.

I’ve always warmed to AMG’s particularly visceral take on super sports cars. Its inimitable take thoroughly unlike anything in rivals such as the 911, 570S, R8 or Vantage. Another punt of the GT range – well, two of the three variants – just reaffirms my personal like of the C and confirms that, yes, there’s enough of a wedge between it and the R to offer viable alternatives for different buyer tastes.

I just don’t think the newly introduced updates, digital instrumentation apart, genuinely improve the breed from a critical, usability standpoint. Even if the new window dressing will undoubtedly swoon some AMG buyers, both established and new.

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