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Mercedes-AMG GT R

Autocar logo Autocar 2017-05-19

Mercedes-AMG GT R

Mercedes-AMG GT R
© Autocar

Intro

“Never before has Mercedes-AMG packed so much motorsport technology into a production vehicle.”

Quite a claim, for all sorts of reasons – and it’s to be found in the opening paragraph of the press material for the subject of this road test: the Mercedes-AMG GT R.

Let’s take a moment to pick that sentence apart. Mercedes-AMG could reasonably claim motorsport involvement and success unknown to most car makers or factory performance tuners.Since 2012 it has been a key part of the Mercedes Formula 1 effort, it has had more success in German DTM touring car racing than any other team and since 2010 it has been selling customer racing cars.

When it comes to selling track-ready, six-figure sports cars in this new GT R’s mould, of course, Affalterbach is up against some rival manufacturers with even greater racing pedigrees: Ferrari, Porsche, McLaren, Audi. The big boys. And yet we can safely assume that AMG, too, has a whole heap of motorsport expertise and technology ready to call upon.

The GT R meanwhile, by becoming the recipient of that know-how, is being given quite a billing here.It’s being put on a pedestal above anything we’ve been treated to over the past decade carrying AMG Black Series badging, of which, between the legendary CLK 63, the 670bhp SL 65 and the SLS Black Series, there have been some doozies.

This, dear reader, ought to be a very special car, then, and one for which mile after tortuous development mile at the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit may actually have been usefully applied.

AMG high-ups have been talking in excited terms about the GT R – their long-awaited swipe at the evergreen Porsche 911 GT3 – for a while now, with CEO Tobias Moers chief among those with a wicked glint in his eye.

It’s one more sign of the rapidly growing maturity and stature of his company, of course, and of the breadth of its capabilities, that he considers now to be the time to take that shot. 

Design

We could go on for many times the normal length of this section explaining exactly how Mercedes-AMG has tweaked and transformed the ‘ordinary’ GT super-sports car to turn it into the GT R.

Its efforts vary from the predictable to the ground-breaking and include some deliciously purposeful modifications to the car’s engine, transmission, chassis and suspension.

The headline news is that the GT R is 15kg lighter than the standard GT S (although that is an advantage you can double if you select AMG’s carbon-ceramic brake option), yet it has a wider body than the GT S and also a reinforced chassis that is significantly more rigid.

The R also benefits from key technologies, many of which have never been seen on any AMG before, that each increase grip, performance and handling dynamism.

Carbonfibre wings extend the car’s width by 46mm at the front, while matching sheet metal extensions add 57mm over the rear wheels – both in order to cover significantly wider axle tracks.

Carbonfibre is also used for the roof panel, in various places under the body and bonnet to brace the superstructure and also for the car’s ‘torque tube’ propshaft.

Suspension is via adjustable coilovers and adaptive dampers. A thicker anti-roll bar than the standard GT gets features at the rear, where ‘uniball’ mountings are also adopted in place of normal bushings for enhanced handling precision and control feedback. Forged aluminium is used for the car’s wishbones, hub carriers and steering knuckles, all to reduce unsprung mass.

The 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine from the GT S gets new compressors, wastegates and exhaust ports, as well as an altered compression ratio and a tweaked ECU, to produce 577bhp and 516lb ft.

The engine drives the car’s rear wheels (through that lighter, stiffer propshaft) via a transaxle gearbox with a shorter final drive, a longer first gear and a shorter seventh gear than those used by the GT S.

Active aerodynamic features include an underbody aerofoil that automatically extends 40mm downwards at high speeds, creating a ‘ground-effect’ venturi under the front of the car and reducing front axle lift by 40kg at 155mph. It retracts again at low speeds to guard against kerb and speed bump damage.

The GT R is also the first Mercedes-AMG to feature active rear-axle steering. The system, which is similar to the one used by Porsche and BMW, applies up to 1.5deg of toe angle working against the direction of the front wheels at low speeds and with them at higher speeds.

Interior

A lighter AMG GT this might be but don’t expect the GT R to have a stripped-out interior like a GT-badged Porsche.

Inside, the R is very much like the other GTs in the line-up when it comes to retaining comfort and equipment.

Yes, there is more Alcantara – and very nice it is, too – and bucket seats with holes in the back to allow four-point harnesses to be threaded through them (as Mercedes-AMG will do on your behalf if you tick the Track Pack option).

But the R remains a very luxurious ‘Mercedes’ take on the whole hardcore sports car concept – and it’s none the worse for it.

The driving position is good, as is the passengers. The windscreen looms small while the nose of the car disappears into the yonder, but visibility is generally fine. You can sit genuinely low if you want to, although don’t need to. The steering wheel manually adjusts willingly and is backed by neat, glossy paddles that turn with the wheel.

There’s also a slathering of Alcantara on it, a minimal flattening out of round and a coloured tell-tale so you know when it’s pointing at noon.

On the tall, wide transmission tunnel you get the obligatory stubby AMG gear lever, surrounded by lots of controls that cover the various different drive modes and options – selectable all apiece in one rotary knob, or tweakable in detail by individually changing the exhaust note, damper stiffness and so on.

In the R there is one extra control: a curious round yellow dial in the kind of place a car maker might usually put the hazard light switch.

Here, though, it’s to adjust the multi-stage traction control, which becomes active once you’ve deactivated the stability control. Because it’s so small, when you twist it its settings are displayed on the large central screen, which is also home to Mercedes’ usual array of communications and entertainment – nothing is given up here for the pursuit of performance.

Ditto when it comes to practicality. A GT is less practical than a 911 owing to the packaging, but the tailgate opens onto a surprisingly big boot and area behind the rear seats.

Thankfully, the R doesn’t miss out on the multimedia set-up that a Mercedes-Benz usually gets. It always strikes us as odd that you can end up losing the audio and communications kit on cars that still weigh the best part of a tonne and three-quarters, just to save 20kg.

So the full complement of Mercedes navigation and sound systems is here and, although the audio has a lot of road and engine noise to overcome, it does a manful job.

There are multiple USB sockets and it’s simple enough to hook up a telephone to the Comand system, which is controlled not by touchscreen but by a rotary dial, above which sits a touch pad.

The pad is a relatively recent Mercedes invention aimed at increasing the way you can control the system, but you’ll find yourself hovering your wrist sometimes while turning the dial so you don’t inadvertently knock a button. Steering wheel buttons open up more menu options again.

Performance

Plenty about the GT R puts it in the A-league of sports car performance.

If an exhaust note that crackles with enthusiasm and promise as you thumb the starter doesn’t suggest it, then the first run of many down our test track’s twin straights, a little over a mile long and with banked corners at each end, confirms it.

Within the length of one of those mile straights, all cars will give you an in-gear run through second and third gears, with a stop after the first run and leaving a little space to spare at the end.

The AMG GT R will give you a run through second, then come to a stop, third, then come to a stop and then fourth, in which it’s doing 115mph at max revs, while stopping and leaving enough room to spare that you’d almost contemplate a couple of standing starts for the sake of it. In most cars you’ll run out of room before you run into the limiter in higher gears; in the GT R you can engage fifth below 30mph and not much later be hitting the limiter at the other side of 140mph.

How so fast? Because while peak power is made at 6250rpm (and the twin-turbo V8 appreciates being worked up to and beyond that point), the whole 516lb ft is not only 177lb ft more than you’ll find in the latest 911 GT3, but it’s also developed from 1900rpm rather than the 6000rpm that the Porsche requires.

Despite the hefty blowing that’s necessary in order to get an engine producing this much torque at such low revs, turbo lag is notable by being largely absent, with only a little pause at low revs while the ‘hot V’ engine inhales and gets going.

Refreshingly, the GT R’s gearchanges are much sharper than AMG shifts used to be, now allowing a downshift even if it puts you only a few hundred revs from the limiter.

And while changes aren’t as rapid as those in the latest 911, they are as good as those of, say, a Nissan GT-R. 

Ride and handling

We’re big fans of the regular AMG GT but there’s no doubt it’s a time and place car: you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time in order to enjoy it most, ideally somewhere smooth, wide and quiet.

The GT R is, in some ways, similar, because regardless of what you do with the chassis and engine, you’ll still be sitting behind the latter, with the front wheels quite a long way away.

But accept that the car will never be as narrow as a Porsche 911 and that you’ll never sit close enough to the fronts for it to feel as pointy as, say, a McLaren 570S, and you’ll not be disappointed by the way the GT R goes down the road.

There’s an underlying firmness to its suspension, no question, even if you pop the dampers in their softest setting.

But it’s far from having the harshness we feared it might when we first drove this car in Portugal on smooth roads. Even on gnarled asphalt that follows crests and lumps set down millennia ago, the GT doesn’t pitch you off line or corrupt its steering, although it does retain elements of that hot rod-ish character that suggests it wasn’t designed for the UK’s tighter B-roads.

With pretty reactive steering just off the straight-ahead, roads that require continual small adjustments aren’t its natural habitat. The car likes to be going straight for a while, and then turning a fair bit, rather than being guided or flowed, especially given the steering’s reluctance to straighten itself from bigger inputs; instead, you feel you have to unwind it yourself at lower speeds.

It’s no surprise, then, that the GT R much more easily finds its feet on a circuit. In that environment there’s still notable body movement even with the dampers fully firmed up, although that’s understandable given how much of the car’s development took place at the Nürburgring.

The German circuit demands some compliance, and the GT R’s honing there explains how it deals with country road lumps. But that movement is well controlled and its track-going pace is little short of astonishing.

It’s less engaging and involving than a 911 GT3 – its 2.0-turn steering is high on speed but low on feedback – but, and as the stopwatch confirms, there’s no denying this is a seriously fast car.

The GT R is a curious thing on a circuit. As it does on the road, if nothing else it sounds like you’re having a great time — and the car wants you to feel like you are, too.

It certainly feels very capable, but while it’s engaging, at no point does it make you feel hugely involved like, say, a Porsche 911 GT3 would. The GT R is throttle adjustable, though; there’s not much understeer and only as much oversteer as you want, although our test car’s standard iron brakes felt tired quite quickly.

So you’ve had a good time and you’re aware the performance was pretty good. And then you look down at the stopwatch and realise that the GT R is all but as fast around a track as a Ferrari 488 GTB. Which is, quite simply, utterly remarkable.

MPG and running costs

The £30k premium that Mercedes-AMG is charging for the GT R over a GT S makes it more expensive than the new Porsche 911 GT3 is and the last Porsche 911 GT3 RS was.

But, for a spaceframe super-sports car with fully adjustable suspension, track-biased tyres, dry sump engine lubrication and more, you’d still say the GT R looked very good value at less than £150k before options.

AMG’s quietly realistic pricing reflects the fact that the GT R will not be a limited series model, unlike last year’s Aston Martin Vantage GT8, for example.

Does that mean there will be significantly less clamour to own one and significantly more reason to worry about losing a significant lump of the car’s value over a typical ownership period, in a way you simply wouldn’t be concerned by with the aforementioned Porsche?

As these words were written it was too early to say – but our sources don’t suggest so. Prices for the regular AMG GT have held up well thus far; equally, there’s no evidence as yet that speculators will be making big profits on the GT R in a way that would suggest demand is massively outstripping supply.

Verdict

It remains a slightly unusual car, the AMG GT R.

Most cars, when they become track-focused specials, ramp down the weight and ramp up the interaction.

The thing about the GT R – and it’s quite a nice thing – is that the theatre and drama that comes with the regular car isn’t just present, it’s also amplified.

What’s unusual, then, is that the levels of engagement, while rising, don’t increase to the top-most tier of analogue involvement.

If you’re looking for the outright focus of, say, a Porsche 911 GT3, or the brutal feedback of a Nissan GT-R Nismo, you’ll not find it.

Yes, the GT R is harder than a regular GT, but the additional kicks come from the angrier looks, the lashings of Alcantara and the splendid noise.

Then you take it on a circuit and have quite a nice time but get the impression that the GT R is trying perhaps a bit too hard to make you look good and impress you with the sound and the go.

The stopwatch doesn’t lie, though, and it says the GT R is, in fact, the real deal. With that all in mind the AMG GT R takes fourth spot in our top five ahead of the Lamborghini Huracan LP 580-2 but lagging behind the McLaren 570S Track Pack, Ferrari 488 GTB and the formidable Porsche 911 GT3.

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