DRIVEN: Mercedes AMG GT S

CALIFORNIA, USA – Ten thousand. That is the approximate number of Mercedes-AMG SLS models that were sold as new vehicles in the past five years. It is an impressive figure in itself, but also significant for a few other reasons.

Firstly, the management of Mercedes-Benz’s passenger vehicle division wasn’t entirely convinced that the company should be competing in the super sports segment, at least not initially, but that sales figure proved the work carried out by AMG was from the top drawer and that there was sufficient demand for a supercar bearing the Three-Pointed Star.

Secondly, the first all-new model by Mercedes’s in-house tuning arm garnered enough praise to suggest AMG could hold its own against established sportscar manufacturers. And lastly, the sales success of the SLS paved the way for more models conceived and developed entirely by the firm’s Affalterbach-based division, such as the AMG GT.

What is it?
Well, it is NOT a successor to the SLS; a fact that Mercedes spokespersons are very keen to underline, although comparisons between the newcomer and now-discontinued SLS are inevitable. Whereas the modern Gullwing was a supercar that rivalled products at the “Ferrari end” of the product spectrum, the GT (or GT S, as featured here) competes in the sportscar segment and rivals the Porsche’s 911, Aston Martin’s Vantage and Jaguar F-Type Coupe R. Much as the SLS did, the GT heralds Mercedes’s first foray into a new segment.

The international launch model line-up kicks off with the more potent GT S (375 kW/650 N.m) model with a slightly less powerful GT version (340 kW/600 N.m) to follow soon. AMG boss Tobias Moers has already stated that there is more to come from the GT range, so expect at least a hardcore Black Series variant in the not-too-distant future.

Kurvier than a Kardashian
If these images don’t make it abundantly clear, then take my word for it, the GT oozes presence. The design features an evolution of the bluff nose first seen on the current SL. The broad stance and long nose of the SLS have been retained, as have the bonnet- and fender vents.

But the most talked about aspect of this car’s appearance will undoubtedly be: that a**. It is curvier than a Kardashian’s derrière (I don’t know the sisters’ names but if you choose something starting with a K you can’t be too far off).

The pronounced rump won’t be universally liked and I have to admit that it appears more flattering from some angles than others. The view from directly behind the AMG GT is a good one because it highlights the car’s strong haunches and pronounced curviness.

I suppose – as can be said of any good design – that this exterior is anything but simple and therefore it doesn’t leave onlookers with a sense of ambivalence. Instead it challenges you to take long look and decide on which side of the love/hate divide you fall.

Cockpit stylings
Inside, I was expecting the AMG GT to be very similar to the SLS and was pleasantly surprised to see a heavily revised interior. The cabin feels far more airy and spacious even though the transmission tunnel seems wider.

Speaking of which, most of the crucial controls are sited here, including all the buttons and dials to tailor the drivetrain response, or free up a few decibels from the motor – but more about that later… A few, less critical buttons have been relocated to the roof, near the reading lights, as if to mimic aircraft controls.

The wide stance of the body means that occupants don’t sit particularly close together and adopting regular (sideways opening) doors frees up some headroom. And, not that it ever matters to my 1,68-metre frame, there seems to be lots of extra legroom, too.

Under the (long) hood
Under that alloy bonnet lies an all-new, twin-turbocharged V8 engine. In a first for Mercedes the turbochargers are housed within the V of the block. There are obvious benefits in terms of packaging by adopting this layout in conjunction with dry sump lubrication – the entire unit can be mounted further back and 55 mm lower.

However, more crucial than the engine location is the reduction in turbo lag that this arrangement brings. Senior powertrain engineering manager Dr Jorg Gindele stated that throttle response in this engine is 20 per cent quicker than the current 5,5-litre, twin-turbo V8 (as currently used in “63” AMG models), which is hardly “tardy” in its responses.

With a 10,5:1 compression ratio and variable valve timing there is no lack of low down torque before the blowers start to puff a full 1,2 bar of boost into the inlets. Maximum twist force of 650 N.m is produced at just 1 750 r/min.

Power is fed to a transaxle via a carbon-fibre propshaft, which weighs a scant 3,8 kg. The transaxle houses a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, a recalibrated version of the unit used in the SLS, and an electronically actuated limited slip differential. Speaking of the gearbox, powertrain engineers have aimed to reduce the lag between selecting gears via the steering wheel-mounted paddles and the shifts taking place, a common criticism of the SLS.

A phlegmy, gargling beast
Considering the use of forced induction and the rearrangement of the exhaust manifolds the aural output could have lost some of its tone, but thankfully Mercedes was eager to maintain the signature AMG V8 soundtrack and the motor has lost nothing in this regard.

The barrel-chested nature of other AMG V8s has been maintained perfectly. At low revs the noise is just a bit phlegmy. As engine speed rises the note clears up to a hard, Nascar-like edge. A familiar brraaaapp signals a swapping of gears and there are lots of pops and crackles on a trailing throttle. All in all it’s an entertaining aspect of the GT S’s repertoire.

And if you aren’t keen on waking the neighbours every time you arrive home late, there is a button to help quieten matters.

Behind the wheel
To underline the touring aspect of the GT name we spent many miles traversing the slow motorway that heads south from San Francisco along the Pacific coast line. On Highway 1 the AMG GT S was happy to pootle along as slow as 25 mph (40 km/h) in some areas without feeling edgy, in fact, without that elongated bonnet and a bit of road noise (produced by the low profile, bespoke Michelin rubber) permeating the cabin you’d be hard-pressed to tell that you were in a sportscar with serious performance potential.

To help dispel any fears that the AMG GT could be mistaken for a looker devoid of significant dynamic credentials we soon turned off the motorway into the hills of Monterey – where we were presented with the world-famous Laguna Seca Raceway.

Track time
Not only does this 3,6-kilometre circuit possess the legendary Corkscrew downhill left-right sequence, but the variety of corners, cambers and undulating nature make it ideal to test several aspects of a car.

This nine-turn ribbon of tar features a range of bends that could show up a car’s dynamic flaws pretty quickly, but the GT S didn’t hesitate in the least while it attacked the track. Performance and dynamic ability is easily accessible to all levels of driving skill (as ably demonstrated by some of my international peers) without being overly intimidating.

With so much power on demand this car could be a handful but the wide stance, precise steering and a keenness to turn makes it far more forgiving and engaging to pilot than many may suspect. The quick turn-in/resistance to understeer was one of the more pleasant surprises for me during the racetrack exercise. And in typical AMG fashion, you can steer with the rear axle by just adding a dollop more power; always a cool trick.

Summary
Forget the SL and other AMG-fettled coupé models in the Mercedes family – those are hot versions of cooking variety cars. The AMG GT heralds the brand’s first foray into a new segment: that of the sportscar, replete with established players and their loyal buyers.

My initial impression of the GT S leads me to believe that the Three-Pointed Star has come out with all guns blazing and brought to market a product that is user-friendly and quick enough to provide the thrills people expect of machinery in this class.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the sales success of the SLS is eclipsed by that of the GT range in a much shorter timeframe, which will then pave the way for another AMG-built model…

Fast facts

Model: Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S
Price: Predicative pricing here
Engine: 4,0-litre, twin-turbochargedV8
Power: 375 kW @ 6 250 r/min
Torque: 650 N.m @ 1 750 – 4 750 r/min
0-100 km/h: 3,8 seconds
Top Speed: 310 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 9,4 L/100 km (claimed)
CO2: 219 g/km

*Manufacturer claimed figures