Mercedes-AMG GT S India review, test drive
5th Nov 2015 11:42 am
Mercedes-AMG’s second in-house-developed sportscar is here, and in true AMG fashion, it’s loud, charismatic and a riot to drive.
What is it?
It is a fabulous looking car, and that’s something you – and countless bystanders with their jaws dropped to the ground – will notice before the Mercedes-AMG GT S has even turned a wheel. The visual drama its predecessor, the SLS AMG, managed to convey with its gull-wing doors and imposing face, the GT delivers with good, classic proportions and some striking details too. Take a second to let the shape sink in. It casts a similar silhouette to the old SLS, but you’ll notice it’s a little bit smaller, and a whole lot less aggressive. I love the way the fenders rise above the bonnet – it actually helps you see the edges of that immense bonnet from the driver’s seat, in fact. There are, of course, the requisite AMG bulges on the hood, as well as the angry vents just before the windscreen, and at the nose, you have a huge three-pointed-star grille, flanked by large curvaceous air intakes and really intricate headlamps. The sides look muscular, starting with the ‘gill’ vent and bulging out gently towards the rear, where you’re greeted by a voluptuous round rump, made to seem wider still by the horizontal LED tail-lamps and a huge diffuser. And finally, it’s given an aggressive stance by its set of black, centre-locked wheels, 19 inches at the front and 20s at the rear, which go really well with the AMG Solarbeam Yellow Metallic paint.
As I mentioned before, this is the follow-up to the SLS AMG, but it’s not a direct replacement for it. It’s smaller in size, uses a smaller, less powerful engine, and is positioned lower down the sportscar food chain. To put it in perspective, while the SLS was a competitor for all-out supercars, the AMG GT is a rival for more everyday sportscars. That means it’s open to a wider customer base, but that also means it has some seriously capable competition to face up to. It will need to be much more than just a pretty face then.
What’s it like on the inside?
The good news is that it has a cabin that stands up to the ‘GT’ part of its name. Pull open one of the doors – conventionally hinged, not gull-wing like the SLS – and you’ll step into one of the nicest looking cabins around. Soft leather, cool metal, lacquered carbon fibre and patches of Alcantara are what greet you, and all of it is put together as fastidiously as in an S-class. The SLS cabin was well built too, but honestly, it looked like any other Mercedes interior. The AMG GT is different; the visual link to the S-class remains, but it’s a design all of its own. The dash looks wide and is dominated by the four central AC vents. They taper down into a centre console that houses two rows of rather crucial buttons like damper control, ESP, manual mode and of course, the engine start button. And this is where you notice some ergonomic flaws in the cabin. For instance, it’s all too easy for your elbow to hit one of these buttons while steering aggressively; I once unknowingly turned the dampers to Sport mode. Then there’s the gear selector, which is a tiny lever placed so far back, it’s almost between the seats – not a problem once you’re moving, but a pain when doing a three-point turn. Less important controls like the hazard lights and seat heating are placed on the roof above the rear-view mirror.
Slip into the driver’s seat, grip the chunky, Alcantara-lined wheel and look out over that long bonnet, and it feels properly racy. The seats themselves are firm, snug and similar to the ones you get in other AMGs, but unusually, they don’t offer bolster or thigh support adjustment to get you that perfect sporty driving position; the ones in the CLA 45 do. This is, of course, a two-seater and behind you is a huge hump beneath which sits the gearbox and rear suspension. Beyond that is a decently sized hatchback boot, but it is fully exposed, save for a retractable parcel shelf, and this lets a bit of noise – good or bad – echo around the cabin. Rear visibility is not great thanks to thick pillars, but that is a small price to pay for the wonderfully executed styling.
What’s it like to drive?
Let’s stick with the good noise for a moment. Push the starter and the V8 roars to life like a sleeping lion poked with a stick. Mercedes will only have the more powerful AMG GT ‘S’ version in India, so the motor in question is a 503bhp 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8; the same one introduced in the C 63 S. The difference here is that it is dry sumped and uses a transaxle gearbox that sits between the rear wheels for better balance. The gearbox is AMG’s Speedshift, seven-speed dual-clutch unit, and it does a good job of putting the GT’s 66.28kgm through the 295-section rear tyres to the road, when you’re going flat out. It’s quick to shift and provides just the right amount of ‘kick’ each time you do. When you’re not going flat out, however, it can be a little jerky, especially when parking or if you ask for a sudden change of pace at low speeds. In fact, the motor itself is super responsive for something turbocharged, but it’s only let-down by a little hesitation from the gearbox.
There are five driving modes – Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Race and Individual, the last of course being the customisable one. These alter engine and gearbox responses, suspension firmness, and even engine volume, with Race mode locking the gearbox to manual shifts only. It also has launch control, and we managed to fire the AMG GT S to 100kph in just 3.82sec! Apart from the electronics, however, what makes this engine so responsive is that its turbos are placed inside the V of the cylinder banks, so the forced air has a shorter route from the turbos to the combustion chamber. As with all V8 AMGs, the driving experience is dominated by an incredible sound from the engine – a sonorous growl that borders on the addictive. Don’t be put off by the downsizing, this sounds like a proper AMG should. Acceleration all the way to the 7,000rpm redline feels properly strong, to the point that you daren’t depress the throttle all the way unless you have a long, empty stretch of road in front of you. Floor it too quickly, even with the ESC on in Sport mode, and the rear wheels will break traction momentarily. It’s one hell of a thrill, but you’d better be alert. Get yourself to the safe confines of a race track and turn the ESC off, however, and the GT S will happily slide around corners all day long.
That’s not to say it’s uncontrollable though; far from it. The AMG GT S has a lot of poise and if you want to tackle a series of corners, it will reward your effort with very good balance. And if you’re measured with the throttle, there’s a lot of grip too. The steering is super quick and very sharp, enabling you to flick that long nose into corners surprisingly easily. It does, however, tend to weigh up a little inconsistently, sometimes feeling too light under heavy loads, even in Sport+ mode. The ride is firm in any of the modes, and you feel every bit of the road through your seat and the steering wheel. Now you could forgive a car with such a huge amount of performance for riding this way, but the fact is that some of its rivals do ride better. Still, when you’re in the moment and really going for it, the slight firmness only adds to the sensation of raw performance.
Should I buy one?
Simply put, the Mercedes-AMG GT S is the full AMG package in its purest distilled form, and then some. It’s got the raw power delivery, it’s got the luxury, it’s got the slightly frisky rear end and, of course, it’s got the incredible V8 soundtrack. But then it also brings a sense of balance, sharpness and mature handling that’s right up there with the best in this class of 500bhp-plus sportscars. And finally, there’s the fact that it is one of the best looking cars money can buy. The few flaws pale in comparison when you look at the bigger picture – this is a car that will thrill owners, casual or enthusiast, on various levels. At an expected price of Rs 2.25 crore (ex-showroom), it will go right up against the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo S and Jaguar F-type R coupé when it’s launched later this month. The SLS was a tough act to follow, but the AMG GT S seems to have more than done it.