2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S First Drive
High-Stakes Hammer: Mercedes-AMG Picks a Fight With Rival Porsche's 911.
Don't let the name "GT" fool you. Sure, AMG's latest in-house creation has cruise control, sound deadening, and a hatchback that'll easily swallow weekend luggage, but "grand touring" is not this car's mission. Rather, it's designed to knock Porsche's iconic 911 off its sports-car throne while fending off Audi's R8, Jag's F-Type, and high-end Corvettes. A daunting task, but one made slightly easier by basing the GT on the recently retired architecture of the mighty SLS AMG.
Yes, the aluminum space-frame architecture underpinning the new Mercedes-AMG GT and GT S is essentially a shortened, lightened, de-gullwinged, reskinned SLS, upgraded with an ultra-light magnesium upper radiator support in front. (The whole body weighs just 509 pounds.) The striking design is very son-of-SLS from the front, rather 911-esque from behind. Several of us remarked that with a slantier nose this could've been a 2016 Porsche 928.
Motivation comes from a brand-new, direct-injected, "hot-vee" twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 that's kind of like two detuned CLA45 four-bangers sharing a crankshaft. Output is 456 hp/443 lb-ft in the GT (at 7.5 lb/hp this one parries with the 911 GTS) and 503 hp/479 lb-ft in the S model (6.8 lb/hp aligns it with the 911 GT3). Each variant routes the twist aft through a carbon-fiber driveshaft to a seven-speed twin-clutch transaxle. A torque tube joins the engine and trans, and the whole powertrain attaches to the car via just four big mounts: two in front and two in back with magnetorheological fluid damping on the GT S with AMG Dynamic Plus package.
The chassis setup is SLS familiar, with forged aluminum control arms all around (aided by toe-control links in back) and standard Sachs variable damping on the GT S. Braking is via big 14.2-inch vented, perforated discs all around on GT, 15.4/14.2-inch steelies on the GT S, and 15.8-inch front/14.2-inch rear carbon-ceramic discs optional on either. (Why reinvent the SLS rotor?)
Enough jabbering -- let's strap in and assess AMG's 911-slaying prospects. My drive in the GT S (base GTs arrive for 2017) starts out in town with the Dynamic Select knob in Comfort, and I'm struck by how frequently the auto start-stop system engages. On Highway 1 I sample the Sport and Sport+ modes, which ride too harshly for touring but feature superior throttle and shift schedules. Fortunately, separate buttons let you override the preset damping, exhaust sound, and stability control settings of any one Dynamic mode. If you wish to program a setup to the Individual setting you can do that too.
Up in the twisty hills on Highway 9, the full Sport+ setup works best, and the hydraulic-assist steering effort builds naturally with cornering forces, though it doesn't enunciate micro changes in grip the way a lighter-nosed 911 or R8 can. Relative to those cars, this one feels gigantic. There's so much hood to look over, and it's so wide, it seems like the lane-departure warning is constantly buzzing.
Then there's that sound. I'd leave the exhaust in bad-boy mode all the time. The bark AMG coaxes out of this turbo-stifled engine is amazing, without synthetic or piped-in enhancement. It's no SLS howl, but it's equally intoxicating, and more aggressive Dynamic settings add overrun pops and braaaps.
Our afternoon lead-follow lapping sessions at MRLS are in aero-enhanced Edition 1 models with CCM brakes and the MR engine mounts. Confidence builds quickly, as my inner ear (and self-preservation instinct) acclimate to the tenacious grip of these 265/35R19 front/295/30R20 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Switching from Sport+ to Race mode quickens all the responses and relaxes the stability control, allowing modest drift angles. The torque delivery is absolutely linear, with no surges to break traction, even in the most aggressive throttle-response mode. Carps: From my eye-point, the driver's side mirror blocks my view of several apexes, and in the corkscrew that carrier-deck hood could completely conceal a Miata -- 2035 Monterey Historics GT S pilots be forewarned.
In Session Two I'm running full throttle up to the first braking cone in more corners, then trusting the brakes to provide safe cornering speeds. Turn-in is remarkably swift, thanks to packaging the powertrain inside the wheelbase, and to those MR mounts. Turn the wheel and the rear mounts firm up ahead of the fronts. The slight engine motion this permits fools the nose into thinking it's lighter, so it turns in quicker.
My third session, following directly behind DTM champ Bernd Schneider, has me sweating trying to keep up. My best efforts provoke a couple time-wasting (but never pants-soiling) slides -- and lots of schoolboy grinning. I'm told these laps were in the 1:41 range -- that's Randy Pobst/Audi R8 quick.
For my grand finale, I strap in next to Herr Schneider with no hacks in tow to see what this baby can really do. He's flat on the gas over the front-straight crest and through Turn 1, lifting just before the Number 3 braking marker, widening his path through 2. The next several turns use a lot more of the apex striping than I did, and we enter the corkscrew at least 20 mph faster, causing the right-side wheels to leave the ground for a split second. (The aero aids are definitely working at this speed.) Carrying so much speed down the corkscrew makes for a more zigzaggy line through 9 as the tires struggle mightily to apportion braking and cornering gs. As we cool the car down, Schneider praises its astonishing mid-corner grip and estimates he's running laps in the 1:35 range -- that's Randy Pobst's SLS Black Series time.
How does it stack up against the 911? It's way bigger and more brutish, as befits AMG's Hammer heritage. It's equally confidence-inspiring, and smart money says it will generate better numbers than its corresponding 911 variants (the $110,000 GT versus 911 GTS, the $130,000 GT S versus 911 GT3). Convertible and Black Series versions will extend the 911 overlap -- perhaps with the latter boasting Turbo S-trumping power that more closely approximates two CLA45 engines. I'd personally choose the rarer AMG over a 911, but only a fool would bet against any newcomer outselling the 911.
|2016 MERCEDES-AMG GT/GT S|
|BASE PRICE||$110,000-$130,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||4.0L/456-hp/443-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8; 4.0L/503-hp/479-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3400-3450 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||179.0 x 76.3 x 50.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.6-3.8 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||April 2015 (GT S), early 2016 (GT)|