Available exclusively in coupe guise, the latest in an illustrious line of track-based models is, in essence, a road-going extension of AMG’s long and successful involvement in production car-based motorsport.
The Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series primarily exists so that a small group of money-no-object customers can drive themselves to a track, spend the day lapping it with various set-up changes that make them appear like true racing professionals, and then drive home again at the end of it.
It’s also a rather rapid showcase for all the various race-bred developments AMG has gathered for the GT since its introduction to the Mercedes-Benz line-up in 2014. It’s a car that is clearly intended to be driven – and driven hard both on the road and at the track, not to be bought as a capital investment and stowed in a low-humidity environment somewhere, never to be seen again.
If this all sounds a little bit familiar, it’s because AMG already has a track-based GT model in the GT R, which comes with an optional Pro package to amplify its performance. The GT Black Series, however, ups the stakes further with a host of new developments, not least of all a unique version of AMG’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine, the M178 LS2 as it is codenamed.
With 537kW developed between 6700 and 6900rpm and 800Nm of torque across a band of revs between 2000 and 6000rpm, it delivers a rather significant 107kW and 100Nm more than the engine used by the GT R.
In doing so, it also eclipses the 464kW and 635Nm of the naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 engine used by its direct predecessor, the SLS Black Series, to make it AMG’s most potent yet.
The most significant change is the adoption of a 180-degree flat-plane crankshaft in place of the 90-degree cross-plane crankshaft used by the engines of other GT models. With it come new camshafts and twin-scroll turbochargers that use anti-friction bearings like those employed by the GT63 S 4-door, as well as a larger compressor wheel for greater throughput of air.
There is also a larger intercooler and a revised stainless steel exhaust system featuring new manifolds among other changes. AMG has also altered the cylinder firing order of its new V8, which is mounted well back in the GT Black Series’s engine bay in a bid to improve throttle response.
The new engine deploys its firepower to the rear wheels via an updated version of the GT R’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It receives altered ratios among other revisions AMG says are aimed at ensuring it can cope with the added torque loading. The first Black Series model to appear since the SLS Black Series in 2013 also uses the electronically controlled limited-slip differential from the GT R.
AMG has done a lot to the exterior of the GT Black Series to ensure it can provide adequate cooling and cope with the added performance potential brought by its new drivetrain. Apart from the obvious bodywork changes, many of which have been adopted from the GT R and even more aggressive-looking GT GT3 endurance race car, is a newly developed aerodynamic package that is very much unique to the new car.
Developed in Mercedes-Benz’s new $375 million wind tunnel, it consists of a patented splitter element, which provides two settings: Street and Race. As well as increasing downforce to the front end, it adds negative pressure that helps to speed the air flow along the flat underbody to create a venturi effect.
There’s also a new carbon-fibre bonnet with two large openings to extract warm air, while reducing pressure built up within the engine bay at speed.
The most visible change, however, is a new twin-plane rear wing. Operating in combination with a newly designed rear diffuser, it can be manually adjusted in three steps per plane to provide what AMG describes as up to 96 per cent more surface area, and up to 2.7 times more rear downforce than that developed by the smaller wing used by the GT R Pro, with 400kg at 250km/h. To help enhance braking ability, it can also be set up to act as an air brake.
Inside, the GT Black Series retains the same basic interior as the GT R. Included is a standard GT dashboard, digital instrument displays with AMG-specific graphics, and an AMG multi-function steering wheel, along more purposeful-looking lightweight elements, including the Dinamica microfibre door panels, which use loop pull handles instead of conventional handles.
Carbon-fibre racing seats are standard, though for the full track experience you’ll have to add the AMG Track Package, which brings a titanium roll cage, four-point seat belts and a fire-extinguisher.
Weight reduction comes via the extensive use of carbon fibre, not only within the body, but also with various components. Along with the bonnet, roof and boot lid, details such as the torque tube integral to the driveshaft, transmission mounts and new body stiffening elements, including a so-called shear panel incorporated underneath the engine bay, are all carbon fibre.
Lightweight forged wheels – 19-inch up front and 20-inch at the rear – as well as thinner glass for the windscreen and rear screen, and ceramic-compound brake rotors, are also standard.
The result is a kerb weight of 1540kg, or some 92kg less than the GT R. This gives the GT Black Series a weight-to-power ratio of 2.9kg per kW.
For comparison, the last Porsche 911 GT3 RS ran a naturally aspirated 4.0-litre six-cylinder boxer engine developing 382kW and weighed 1430kg to endow it with a weight-to-power ratio of 3.7kg/kW. The Ferrari Pista, meanwhile, uses a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 with 530kW and weighs 1385kg to give it 2.6kg/kW.
Acceleration times in cars primarily conceived for driving on-track are rarely that special due to the high downforce they employ. However, AMG’s 0–100km/h claim of 3.2sec is 0.4sec quicker than that of the GT R, or the official claim for the SLS AMG Black Series that previously held the fastest accelerating claim for a Mercedes vehicle.
Top speed, meanwhile, is 10km/h up on its SLS predecessor at 325km/h. The only road-going AMG model to top this is the CLK GTR, produced in a run of 26 between 1997 and 199, which boasts a claimed top speed of 344km/h.
And so it is with a combination of elation and trepidation that we find ourselves strapped firmly into the new AMG flagship at the Lausitzring in Germany. Our first drive of the GT Black Series optioned with a Track Package consists of five laps of the in-field circuit, though we did manage to bag a second outing later on in the day when things got a bit quiet after lunch.
We’ll clearly need more time on the road to get a full understanding of its performance and dynamic qualities, but in these times of COVID-19 restrictions, it is a big win just getting some track time, however brief, in the car AMG describes as its best yet.
Initial impressions are almost exclusively centred around the new engine, and they begin before we even reach the first corner. There is greater sensitivity to throttle input compared to the less heavily developed version of the 90-degree V8 used by the GT R. The revs rise with greater purpose, almost like a highly tuned naturally aspirated engine in character. The power delivery is nothing but dramatic.
Before his move to Aston Martin earlier this year, Mercedes-AMG’s former chairman Tobias Moers rarely let a quiet moment go by without extolling the potential of the company’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine. While I always suspected he was right, I never expected it to mature into something quite so special... So memorable.
The base engine, as used by the GT R, is already a tremendously fiery proposition. But, my goodness, this new flat-crank variant is good. Testament, if you will, to the engineering prowess of Mercedes-Benz’s performance car division and its British-based sister company High Performance Powertrains, both of which had a hand in its development.
Its exhaust plays a full range of melodies, going from a rude burble at idle to a deliciously hard-edged sonorous scream at the business end of its rev range. The overall tone is different in character to that of other models in the AMG line-up – less baritone and distinctly more mechanically driven.
Having gained razor-sharp response, it also revs with great determination through the mid-range, pulling all the way to 7200rpm more freely and unreservedly than any previous production car engine from Mercedes-AMG. Similarly, torque builds in a more linear fashion than with the cross-plane-crankshaft engine of the GT R. Stepping off the throttle, there’s a decisive reduction in flywheel effect as the revs drop with greater purpose on the overrun, too.
To make things clear, there’s nothing at all subtle about the way the GT Black Series drives. It is, in essence, a full-blooded race car with little or no concession given to factors such as comfort, refinement or overall well-being. But what you get in return is staggering response, breathtaking levels of purchase and astonishing feedback.
At the moment we can only tell you how it is on-track. However, it clearly operates on an altogether higher dynamic level than the GT R. It fully involves the driver, scything into corners with immediate reaction, its aluminium and carbon-fibre body remaining wonderfully flat and hunkered down as you aim its long nose at the apex. There’s a wonderful harmony to the way the engine, chassis and electronic systems all work in unison, giving it a terrifically fluid and tactile feel.
You could argue the old SLS Black Series does all this, too. And, yes, it is very much in the same non-compromise-race-car-for-the road mould, but in our experience it isn’t nearly as absorbing or as adjustable at the limit.
One notable exception to all this fluidity is the transaxle, which can be quite abrupt, especially on full-throttle upshifts. You can short-shift and pick up speed quite smartly using the full force of the torque, of course, though not with the same rabid intent as if you rely purely on the revs.
While the engine is very much the star of the show on account of its dramatic power delivery, it’s the sophistication of the suspension, electronic stability program (ESP) and aerodynamic package that gives the GT Black Series its outstanding responsiveness, controllability and determination on the track, even without the four-wheel steering of the GT R.
The double wishbone and multi-link suspension is similar in concept to that used by the GT R, with a coil-over design that can be manually adjusted for spring pre-load, anti-roll bar stiffness, as well as damper compression and rebound. All up, you can lower the ride height by up to 10mm.
It’s easy enough to alter the rebound, but changing the pre-load, compression and roll-bar settings require taking the wheels off – and despite having a full team of AMG engineers on hand, we just didn’t have time. Beyond this, the GT Black Series also offers adaptive damping across three modes: Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus.
Using the setting chosen by AMG, it bristled with tautness on the smooth surface of the Lausitzring, feeling very much the purpose-built race car AMG clearly set out to deliver. It feels wonderfully tied down, ensuring great body control along with greater resistance to dive and pitch under braking and acceleration than any other GT model as you begin to push the pace in Sport Plus mode.
I’m not sure it really needs 10 different traction modes, but for those wanting to play the racer, there’s certainly no shortage of settings. If you choose your mode sensibly and take your time working up to the limits, it’s not at all a particularly difficult car to drive fast. Nor is it as intimidating as some rear-engine rivals, thanks to its superb balance and ability to communicate a clear sense of just how much grip there is at the front and rear axles.
A big part of this can be attributed to the 285/35ZR19 front and 335/30ZR20 Pilot Sport Cup 2 R MO tyres, which have been developed in partnership with Michelin. They’re available in two compounds, the softest of which is fitted as standard. We’re on the hard compound, which uses a different side-wall stiffness designed for higher temperatures on the track.
With the multi-stage ESP (electronic stability program) active and the AMG traction-control system set up to provide maximum resistance to drift, the GT Black Series carries great speed into corners, turns in without feeling hurried, and grips as hard as any front-engine car I can think of. And when you turn it off and dial the traction up to nine for maximum drift, it becomes terrifically adjustable on the throttle with absorbing mid-corner exploitability, great traction and a truly riveting exit speed.
Whether these vivid track properties extend to the road remains to be seen, though I’d suggest the new AMG range-topper has already secured a place among the world’s leading supercars. If there is any doubt about how it will cope away from the track, it centers around the extremely direct and rather light steering, which may just prove a little too animated when combined with the inevitable bumps, undulations and broken bitumen you’re likely to encounter.
The brake pedal, which operates on 402mm front and 360mm rear carbon-ceramic discs, is a little devoid of feel and bite in the initial degrees of travel, too. But you soon discover it has strong and reassuring action once you’ve put some meaningful pressure behind it, and they remained fade-free after five laps of hammering.
Mercedes-AMG is heading into a future where electrification is set to play a major role in drivetrain engineering. But it is doing so having achieved something quite remarkable with one of its last pure combustion-engine models.
Putting to a side homologation specials like the maniacal CLK GTR from 1997, the GT Black Series is, without doubt, the most heavily focused road car AMG has ever placed into production. Breathtakingly quick, superbly balanced and as heart-thumpingly exciting to drive as any car to ever flaunt the apple-tree-on-a-river emblem that is the AMG badge, there’s no denying it will leave a significant mark on the supercar scene in general.
Perhaps even more significant than the attention it will create among rivals once customer deliveries begin later this year, is the trickle-down effect its race car engineering will have on other yet-to-be-introduced AMG models. One thing’s for sure – it’s going to take a very special Mercedes-AMG model to better it.
If you’re able to afford the rumoured $500,000-plus price tag (UPDATE, October 16 2020: make that $800,000...) and are serious about track day running, the GT Black Series should definitely be on your shopping list. It’s one of the most exciting cars we’ve driven all year.
You’ll need to be quick, though. With AMG already at work on a follow-up to the first-generation GT, it’s not going to be produced in significant numbers.