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Fly by night: Mercedes-AMG GT R in Mumbai

14th Jul 2018 7:00 am

If you don’t have a race track at your disposal, just what are you supposed to do with a super-sportscar? We roar into the dead of night, in the hopes of finding out.

“NononononoNONONO!” is the loudest sound coming out of this car right now, and that’s really saying something. What’s brought on this embarrassingly high-pitched squeal of panic from the driver’s seat? Missed apex? Braked too late? Overwhelmed by oversteer? No, it’s some moron on a motorcycle who’s swung in front of me at the very last second. That’s right, it’s 9.15am on a Monday morning and I’m taking Mercedes-AMG’s most hardcore, track-focused sportscar to the limits (of my sanity) on the toughest road course of them all – my morning commute. Heck, this Rs 2.3 crore, Green Hell Magno-coloured AMG GT R (no hyphen, thank you) would probably feel more at home in a jungle; at least then it would blend in with its surroundings.

Not here in the urban jungle. Here it sticks out, both visually and literally. It’s long and impossibly wide, and did I mention the colour? In fact, the only reason one might miss it is because it’s so low to the ground; it makes a Maruti Brezza look like a Humvee. And I do imagine that from up there, the average absent-minded SUV driver might not see it altogether from his ‘commanding driving position’. We’re constantly swamped by careless motorists and their phone cameras as we crawl along, the proximity sensors making my blood pressure soar with their frenetic beeping. It may be known as the Beast of the Green Hell, but today, it’s the Prey of Elphinstone Bridge.

Mercedes-AMG GT R front action JJ flyover

Under the cover of darkness

In truth, however, we foresaw this long before the Green Goblin even turned up. You see, innumerable very boring people constantly ask us the same, double-barrelled question over and over again – ‘What’s the point of owning a supercar in India? Where are you even going to drive it?’ And our answer is always the same. It’s not about where. It’s about when.

10pm? 11pm? Midnight? Nonsense; this our beloved Maximum City, right? To truly get the most out of Mumbai – and a car like this – you have to wait until at least 3am, and then too, as I crawl down the cobbled path that leads out of the Autocar office, there’s still plenty of life around. A group of taxi drivers taking nobody nowhere, a couple of street dogs fighting over scraps, and the odd worker drone zombie-walking his way back home after a long shift at the office. And they’re all frozen in their tracks as I rumble past.

Mercedes-AMG GT R traction control
It looks almost cute for a dial that selects how little traction you want.

And rumble I do, because the condition of Mumbai’s roads, as ever, is in a state of flux. I could swear that pothole wasn’t there a week ago, and these godforsaken paver slabs just never stay in place, do they? What also isn’t helping is that the city is currently being terraformed. In the hopes of eventually decongesting our roads, they’re building a metro network underground, so, for the foreseeable future, the city’s streets have been reduced to a single-lane slalom of barricades, diversions and unexpected new paths – potentially fun in a small hatchback, less so in a wide-bodied supercar.

Speaking of the car, the mentalists at AMG weren’t messing around when they removed the ‘S’ at the end of the GT’s nameplate and replaced it with an ‘R’. This thing is hard with a capital F! The steering is heavy, the suspension – even in Comfort – is bone-crunchingly stiff, and the seats are firm. Then there’s the fact that 50 percent of the car is bonnet, that you’re sat pretty much on the rear axle, and that all you can see through the back window is that enormous spoiler. What was I thinking? This is agonising! 

Mercedes-AMG GT R suspension
Three suspension settings: Firm, Hard and ‘Speed Dial Chiropractor’.

The only way is up

Then it hits me. I can’t be down here milling about amongst Mumbai’s nocturnal denizens – not if I want to enjoy this car even in the slightest, at least. And though congestion is an absolute nightmare, it has at least resulted in one positive thing – more flyovers and bridges to lighten the load. It’s no hard and fast guarantee, but elevated roads in our country are generally better built than the stuff at ground level. I may be oversimplifying it, but they’re more complicated to build, so they tend to be more professionally done, I suppose.

Either way, the point is, we have quite a few of these strewn across the city now, and a lot of them are quite excellently paved, so the Beast of the Green Hell and I are going to try and hit as many of them as we can. If you were planning on getting some sleep tonight, we’re sorry.

Mercedes-AMG GT R suspension
The cabin is deliberately available in only dark colours so as to not distract you from the drive.

It doesn’t take long to get to the first one – JJ Flyover – which is famously closed to two-wheelers, but still manages to have at least two of them zipping across at any given time. It winds its way over the bustle of Mohammed Ali Road – and that means actual sweeping corners. That once-heavy steering now feels madly alive; it’s so quick and sharp that the GT R’s massive nose just swings into action at the merest suggestion.

It’s a quick and noisy blast past the station formerly known as Victoria Terminus, past Metro cinema and toward Princess Street, where the Marine Lines flyover takes its famous right-hand turn onto Marine Drive. A bright red Ford Mustang weaves in alongside, gives us a toot of appreciation and burbles off into the distance. He wants me to give chase, but tonight isn’t about him.

A nakabandhi means the scant traffic gets bunched up and I try to keep the tailpipes hushed so as to not make a scene, but who am I kidding? The cops love it too. A quick loop back takes us to the longest of our bridges – the Eastern Freeway, via Byculla’s rather charming little S Bridge. It’s a little out of the way, but come on; you wouldn’t? It’s not all fun and games though, as the road to get there is littered with ‘Truck Stops’ – the name I’ve given to the very largest speed breakers in the city.

Mercedes-AMG GT R engine
This car is 50 percent engine. And it sounds like one decibel per horsepower.

A beast for the senses

Up atop the Freeway, however, Comfort mode be damned; I click the dial down to Sport+. The surface is so smooth and flat, the hard ride and stiff seats don’t bother me anymore. I can count the catseyes on the road through the seat of my pants and I don’t care! 585 horses this thing has, and they’re all out for a nice gallop in the brisk night air. Breathing hard and heavy through that Panamericana grille is the twin-turbo 4.0 V8. Yes, it was loud in the C 63 and in the AMG GT S, but Eastern Mumbai is not ready for the R. Luckily, it’s mostly oil refineries and stockyards that will hear what sounds like a battery of assault rifles firing out through that massive carbon rear valence on the overrun.

There’s a tunnel at the end of the lights, so of course, I wind the windows down for the full cacophony. It bangs and bounces off the walls and right back into the car; it’s violent but beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I make a U-turn at the end and whack the throttle wide open all the way back to SoBo.

Mercedes-AMG GT R Eastern Freeway tunnel

Next thing you know, we’re surrounded by old mills and new high-rises as we take the twin bridges of Tulsi Pipe Road in Lower Parel. My ears have now grown desensitised to the massive warble from the titanium exhausts as it ricochets around the open boot area. I’ve also grown quite comfortable with this once-intimidating car. I know not to pile on too much lock until I’ve cleared the apex of a corner; this isn’t the BIC. I know that, despite the 325-section rear tyres, too much throttle on a smooth concrete surface will cause the rear to go off on its own separate journey, ESC notwithstanding. And tempting as that shiny yellow knob and its colourful ring of lights are, after one brief attempt at having a play around, I’m not going anywhere near that race-derived, nine-stage traction control knob again.

Zoom out

If I venture any further, those pesky people will soon come back out for their morning walks and ruin everything, so maybe it’s time to wrap things up for tonight. It’s been a good run. I’m not going to lie, though; I’m a little worse for wear. My lower back has taken a pummelling, my arms are tired from all the low-speed steering manoeuvres, and my perspective has been warped slightly from watching that long bonnet constantly rocketing forward through a narrow windscreen.

Mercedes-AMG GT R rear diffuser
If Darth Vader was an aerodynamicist, he’d make this.

Usually, when a modern carmaker releases a more powerful, more ‘focused’ version of one of its modern sportscars, we’d tell you how sharp it is to drive and then marvel at how usable it can be every day. And so, if you had the money, we’d urge you to choose it, because the range-topping version is better in every way.

Not this one. Thrilling as it is in the most primeval of ways, we recommend you only choose the R if you have ready access to a lot of really good roads – or better yet, a race track. They’ve pulled out all the stops to make this as hardcore as possible, even if that’s come at the cost of comfort and ease of use. The good news is, for about Rs 15 lakh less, you can still by an AMG GT S, which has the looks and the drama, is still great to drive but, crucially, a whole lot more forgiving.

Mercedes-AMG GT R rear tyre
Even 325-section Pilot Sports are no match for 700Nm.

Of course, I wasn’t going to do a drive around Mumbai by night and not do a blast down the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, was I? It’s become an iconic part of the city, this bridge, and with its eight lanes, bright lights and looming suspension cables, it’s a joy to drive down. It also gives you a splendid view of the Mumbai skyline, specifically the part where new high-rises are cropping up by the dozen. Big, massive, expensive buildings that need big, massive bank accounts to occupy them – the same kind of bank accounts that could put an AMG GT R in the multi-storey car park. We’re clearly ready for cars like this; it’s about time the roads were, too.

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