Sharpened in every area, and gunning for Porsche
A dozen years ago AMG was a pretty straightforward kind of in-house tuning company. It took bits designed elsewhere in the Mercedes-Benz empire and tuned them up to make AMG-badged cars quicker and more capable than those on which they were based. But in 2006 AMG was allowed to do its own bespoke engine and just four years later its own bespoke car – the SLS, and then another, this AMG GT. Now we hear it’s working with the F1 engine team in Brixworth to install an entire F1 powertrain in a road-legal car and rumours persist of another new model positioned above even the AMG GT to help celebrate AMG’s half-centenary this year. In the meantime sales of AMG-badged cars have tripled in the last three years. In short and putting it mildly, AMG is on a roll.
And just to prove that AMG now feels there are no noses it cannot tweak, no ground too sacred for it to stomp all over, it has developed an ‘R’ version of the AMG GT and it’s aimed directly at the GT3 series of 911s produced by Porsche’s fabled Motorsport division.
Do not mistake this for one of those minor mid-life updates focused more on changing cheap panels that don’t incur heavy additional tooling costs, rather than a genuine attempt to increase driving pleasure. The AMG GT R is the realest of deals and you won’t be far beyond the pitlane exit to know it.
Indeed if I were only able to describe it to you in one way, I’d say it’s what happens when AMG AMGs an AMG. If you see what I mean.
No area of its endeavours has been left untouched. Probably the least interesting fact is that there is, of course, more power. A lot more power as it happens. Thanks to bigger turbos and a remap, an additional 75bhp has been coaxed from the 4-litre twin-turbo V8, pushing its output up to 577bhp though this remains shy of the 603bhp the same engine already produces in the E63 AMG saloon. More thought has gone into the chassis, which benefits not only from the usual changes to spring, damper and roll bar rates, but coilover suspension units, a wider track and an additional three sections of rubber on the rear tyres.
But this is merely the start. The GT R is the first Mercedes to feature a four-wheel steering system like those already seen from Porsche and Ferrari. It turns the rear wheels in opposite directions to those at the front at low speed effectively to shorten the wheelbase and enhance agility, and in the same direction thereafter to promote stability.
But big tyres, four-wheel steering and beefed up suspension all add weight, so AMG counters that with materials like carbon fibre for the front wings, roof, rear spoiler and under-car bracing, magnesium for the front cross-member and titanium for the exhausts. AMG has dropped the final drive ratio and stacked its seven gears more closely together, too. It also comes with an invisible deployable front spoiler to increase downforce at high speeds, a proper double element rear diffuser and that carbon, adjustable rear wing. So if you’re wondering how Mercedes can justify the extra £30,000 over the AMG GT S, in these myriad modifications lies at least some of the answer.
Another part is provided by just how stupendously quick this car actually is. Of course a 577bhp supercar is going to feel fast, but I’d already taken that into account when I drove one for the very first time at the Portimão race track in the Algarve. And even by the standards of what you might reasonably expect of such a car, the GT R is bewilderingly rapid. Because these days 577bhp is no longer an apocalyptic amount of power and while the GT R is light, it is not 911 GT3 RS light. Yet around Portimão it near enough set my trousers on fire.
Actually I’d been quite concerned about it, having driven the slower GT S at a damp Snetterton and cared for it not at all, but once you’ve become acclimatised to just how much speed the GT R can carry, the next thing you notice is that it’s a lot less frightening than its softer sister. Like the GT S, the GT R still as a front end that bites hard into each low- or medium-speed corner, but the additional rubber at the back and suspension changes have brought far more composure. The tail is now properly tied down, offering sensational traction for a rear-drive, front-engine car and when it moves, it does so quite progressively. At higher speed there’s not only more grip from the chassis and an additional 150kg of downforce, the aero-balance is now tuned to offer mild understeer in quick curves, a stabilising trait welcomed by cowards like me. Its composure over Portimão’s devilish crests and its phenomenal braking system made it easy to see why it is now the fastest two-wheel-drive production car ever timed at the Nürburgring.
But there are flaws here, too. A car that is easier to drive is not necessarily easy to drive. While the GT R eventually put my fears to rest, I never felt as at home with it on track as I did in cars with significantly more power like the McLaren 675LT and Ferrari 488GTB.
On the road its boundless enthusiasm can even become a trifle annoying. The ride is quite bouncy on less than smooth surfaces and I imagine the engine’s rumbling thunder might grate after a few hours on the motorway, however delightful it is on the track. It’s far better than a track-day special that offers nothing other than purgatory on the way to and from the circuit, but if you envisage a Grand Touring role for your AMG GT, can I recommend one of the more affordable, less hard-core models? This is a pure sports car, and in the most traditional sense of the term.
But it’s still a car I liked very much. In fact I liked what it represents almost as much as the car itself. This is Mercedes pitching a tent on the front lawn of Europe’s most fabled supercar manufacturers and sinking the pegs into fast-drying concrete. It takes confidence for a company like Mercedes to abandon core competences such as quietness and comfort in pursuit of its aims; and one thing AMG does not lack at present is confidence.
Which is why I expect AMG to go further still with the GT and, in time, turn it into a car that makes even the GT R look a little anaemic. AMG’s Black Series sub-brand has been dormant for a while, waiting for the next appropriate opportunity; and while the GT R is the most focused production road car Mercedes has ever made, it’s not hard to see how it could be made to be more hard-core still. The power is available, the aero could be enhanced and the interior stripped of much of its equipment. For now though, welcome the new GT R, not just the quickest AMG GT by far, but more importantly and by a considerable margin, the best too.