PADERBORN, Germany – When your enemies are called the Audi R8, the BMW M8, the Jaguar F-TYPE and the Porsche 911, and you want to compete with these performance stalwarts, you know the task at hand is a colossal one.
The basic recipe for success inevitably includes generous portions of horsepower and torque, lightweight materials, luxurious interior trimmings and a distinct, yet timeless design. The 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT has all those ingredients.
Until the breathtaking Mercedes-AMG Project ONE hits the road next year, the GT is the brand’s performance flagship. However, the Project ONE—nicknamed the Hypercar—will carry a $3.3M price tag, so it’s way out of reach. The accessible supercar from Mercedes, and the true ambassador of the AMG performance division, is the GT.
It’s been around for a couple of years now, replacing the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, which was the first car developed by AMG from A to Z. The GT brings its level of performance to a lower price point—yet still expensive enough to guarantee relative exclusivity. This year, all versions receive Mercedes’ new Panamericana-style front fascia, which is reserved for the top-shelf AMG variants.
Six versions, one engine
There are now six versions of the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT, or eight if we include the racetrack-only GT3 and GT4 variants. The GT Coupe can be chosen in one of four trim levels, while there are two versions of the GT Roadster. All six feature the same engine, but with incremental increases in output.
That engine is a front-mounted 4.0-litre V8, with two turbochargers nestled on top and dry-sump technology. The latter ditches the traditional oil pan in favour of a lubrication system that never leaves the engine starving for oil, even when the car is being flogged around a track. Every GT features a rear-wheel drivetrain and a dual-clutch, seven-speed automated transmission mounted at the rear, connected to the engine by a carbon-fibre driveshaft wrapped in a rigid torque tube.
Oh, and the engine’s roar is intoxicating, especially when the drive control selector is set to Sport, Sport+ or RACE. During gear changes and when we lift our foot from the throttle, the exhaust system spits and hisses, making the GT sound downright mean. A sports car not only has to be fast, but the complete sensorial experience must be included, too. AMG usually doesn’t disappoint in this regard.
Here come the performance numbers. The entry-level GT serves up 476 metric horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque, blasts from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.0 seconds and reaches a top speed of 304 km/h—make that 302 for the GT Roadster. The GT S boasts 522 hp and 494 lb.-ft., gets to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds and can reach a velocity of 310 km/h.
Up next is the GT C with 557 hp and 502 lb.-ft., able to cream the 0-100 dash in 3.7 seconds and top out at 317 km/h—316 for the GT C Roadster. Finally, the mighty GT R, the track beast, is the most potent of the group with 585 hp and 516 lb.-ft., and can hit 100 km/h in 3.6 seconds on its way to a 318 km/h top speed.
No GT is a slouch. To the point where we’re left wondering why Mercedes-AMG went to the trouble of developing four variants instead of three. Or even two. The differences are not limited to engine power, and the Porsche 911 offers eight output levels, so why not?
Compared to the GT and GT S, the GT C’s rear end is wider by 57 millimetres, allowing the installation of meatier tires to enhance grip and stability. The GT R is wider both front and rear to make way for the largest gumballs of the GT lineup. All but the base GT gets an AMG RIDE CONTROL adaptive suspension, although each and every GT’s dampers offer three firmness settings. In addition, four-wheel steering is standard on the GT C and GT R, optional on the GT S.
During the event, we drove the GT R exclusively on the Bilster Berg raceway’s circuit, a fabulous and challenging course, and the rest of the GT variants on the roads around Bad Driburg, near Paderborn.
The GT R showed its skill around the track, with both aggressiveness and poise. The transmission rows through its gears extremely quickly, and the traction control system offers nine levels of intervention, so the driver can fine-tune the car to his or her preferred settings. That means both experienced and casual pilots can enjoy the GT R to the limits of their skills. Alas, intermittent rain during the day made the drive more challenging, and accelerating out of corners was tricky, but when the rear end broke loose, it was pretty easy to straighten out. In the GT R, you can feel a lot of what’s going on underneath, and that’s reassuring.
A road warrior
Yours truly was more interested on how the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT handled on the open road, since that’s where the vast majority of owners will use the car anyhow. Frankly, the base GT performed admirably, despite not benefitting from the other variants’ active damping system. The horsepower deficit compared to the GT S and GT C can only be felt if we’re driving like we stole it.
And thanks to the adjustable firmness of the suspension, the car is surprisingly comfortable around town, although Germany’s roads are way smoother than the ones in Canada. This is, after all, a Grand Touring machine, not a pure, punishing sports car.
The GT’s cockpit is roomy enough to feel at ease, although outward visibility is hampered somewhat by the front pillars that rise up close to our heads. The centre console isn’t too intrusive, but the gearshift lever is too far back for comfort, as the COMAND interface and cupholders take up most of the space. While we’re on the subject of the infotainment system, it’s a modern piece of technology, but navigating through its menus is always a time-consuming, if not distracting, process.
As for the Roadster, it feels just as solid as the coupe, thanks to strengthening of the chassis. The power-folding top rises or folds down in 11 seconds, and in typical German fashion, it can be operated while the car is rolling at speeds of less than 50 km/h. The AIRSCARF neck-heating system is a must if we want to enjoy top-down driving in spring and fall. Oh, and the fabric top doesn’t spoil the car’s look.
The 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT is not as lightning-fast as a Porsche 911 Turbo or an Audi R8 V10 plus, which could be explained by the lack of an all-wheel drivetrain. It’s the only thing missing in the AMG that would make it a four-season car—if we’re actually planning to drive it during the winter, obviously. For the rest, the GT has the power, the sound, the luxury accoutrements and the looks to seduce the $100K-to-$200K sports-car buyer.
Come to think of it, the GT’s biggest problem is the existence of the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S, which costs roughly half the price. For sure, the experience and the exclusivity really aren’t the same, but the C 63 has the same engine and the same spine-tingling soundtrack, and those may be enough for some AMG enthusiasts.
Three variants of the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT are now arriving in Canada, and the other three will follow in the beginning of 2018. Before freight and delivery charges, pricing is set at $163,000 for the GT C Coupe, $178,000 for the GT C Roadster and $183,000 for the GT R. When they hit dealerships in a few months, we expect the GT Coupe to check in at about $135K, while the GT Roadster and GT S Coupe would cost about $150K.
The Project ONE may be the pinnacle of the company’s performance and technology know-how, but the GT represents AMG’s idea of the car we can actually aspire to own one day if we work hard enough. As we said earlier, it’s the brand’s ambassador. Or should it be called the ambadassador?