Some cars are just special. They have an X factor that other cars do not possess. There are a couple different ways you can tell. One is to just look at 'em. Do you feel tingly? Short of breath? Excited because you're standing next to a lump of metal, plastic, and paint? If so, the car in question is special. Another way is to drive said car near a crowded area. Are you seeing a bunch of thumbs up? Are camera phones flying out of pockets? Do you see scores of young men hyperventilating? Those are also good indications that the car is special. Other ways to tell involve driving it hard, with aggression, purpose, and not too much poise on some of the finest roads known to man. Are you still grinning like an idiot three days later? If yes, well, special. Is the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S a special car? I'll save you the suspense. Double hell yes it is!
Starting with just looking at it. German cars are not pretty. German cars are generally engineered very well and can be quite fast and fun to drive, but the overwhelming majority of them desperately look like they want to be a train or a fist. Once in a blue moon a German car is sorta neat-looking — BMW M1 for instance — but pretty? The way a Ferrari or a Jaguar or a Corvette can be pretty? No way. They are industrial, purposeful, heavily muscled. But light, lithe, and lissome? Absolutely not. It's quite safe for me to say, then, that the Mercedes-AMG GT S is the prettiest German car since the BMW 507. No, the GT isn't the most original design of all time, nor does it have to be. Yes, I can describe it as the offspring of a Porsche 928 and a Jaguar E-Type. But pretty doesn't have to be original. Pretty only has to be pretty. Hats off to Gorden Wagener, head honcho of Mercedes design, for pulling off an all-timer.The AMG's interior is also a thing of beauty. Saddle-looking leather and big, polished aluminum bits, and while I'm normally not a fan of carbon-fiber interior trim, at least here such things feel authentic. Starting with the W222 S-Class, Mercedes interior design has been peaking on a very high plateau. The GT continues that lovely trend. There's also space. The AMG GT rides on a cut down SLS "Gullwing" chassis. Cut down as in length, not width. As such, the cabin feels airy and light, not confining or cramped. You have room to work. That's a very good and important characteristic, because you will want to drive the tires off this thing's wheels. Best to do so in some modicum of comfort, no? Speaking of that, the slim but well-padded seats are wonderful, even on 1,500-mile road trips. Ask me how I know.
Our technical director, Frank Markus, covered the mechanical and electronic aspects of the GT S exhaustively in his First Drive review. I just want to highlight a few key pieces of information to get us through this First Test. The new 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 (code: M178) produces 503 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque in S guise. The standard GT makes a bit less: 456 hp and 443 lb-ft. Curiously, the exact same engine in the C63 AMG S also makes 503 hp, but 516 lb-ft of twisting force. The engine's output is routed through a carbon-fiber torque tube to the same seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle that came in the SLS. Only it's been reprogrammed for faster shifts. AWD is not an option, and never will be.The engine, torque-tube, and transaxle are connected to the car, and this connection is via magnetic fluid-filled mounts should you opt for the must-have AMG Dynamic Plus package. That last bit is key. While the doors that "open like this" were the ultimate valet trick on the now-defunct Gullwing, the SLS didn't handle very well. Mainly due to the fact that the rear end was all too eager to snap into limit oversteer. I can think of at least three times that our testing director, Kim Reynolds, muttered something to the effect of, "How did this thing ever leave the factory?" while trying to scramble across the wide sill after finishing up a figure-eight lap. To address that, when cornering in an AMG Dynamic Plus-equipped GT S, the transaxle mounts seize up first, and are followed 30 milliseconds later by the engine mounts, negating the pendulum effect of the powertrain's mass. The results are simply brilliant.
Here are the test numbers, starting with the figure eight: 23.2 seconds. That is a blisteringly quick time —not quite elite, but firmly among some of the best performance cars we've ever tested. A Lamborghini Huracan accomplishes the same feat in 23.0 seconds, while a Ferrari 458 Italia takes 23.6. The AMG GT S' main rival, the Porsche Turbo S, does so in 22.9 seconds. Please keep in mind that all three exotics make more power than the AMG. In the case of the Lambo, 100 hp more. But here — I think — is the most important benchmark: The SLS AMG needed 24.1 seconds to whip around the figure eight. Apples to apples, the SLS made 563 hp and an equal amount (479 lb-ft) of torque. It weighed roughly the same, too — 3,765 pounds for the SLS, 3,691 for the GT S. Dropping nearly a second off the figure eight is a massive improvement. I'm largely crediting the magnetic mountsOther numbers. Zero to 60 mph occurs in 3.5 seconds, and the quarter mile is knocked out in 11.6 seconds at 124.2 mph. All-wheel-drive cars have a huge straight-line advantage compared to RWD vehicles, and as such the 911 Turbo S eats the AMG alive (2.7 seconds to 60 mph, 11.0 seconds at 124.6 mph in the quarter). But if you look at other huge horsepower RWD competitors, the AMG competes rather well. The 550-hp Jaguar F-Type R Coupe: 3.6 seconds to 60 mph, 11.8 at 122.3 in the quarter mile. The 650-hp Corvette Z06: 3.2 seconds to 60 mph, 11.3 seconds at 126.2 mph. The old SLS with the aforementioned 563 hp: 3.6 seconds to 60 mph, 11.7 seconds at 124.3 mph in the quarter mile. You get the big picture. The AMG's very quick. When it comes to stopping, the large carbon-ceramic discs hauled the GT S from 60 mph to not moving in 100 feet even. A great number, though again, not elite. The Turbo S does the same in 98 feet.
But you don't buy the AMG GT S for the numbers. You buy it because it eats up a road like nobody's business. Case in point: I found myself on a particularly deserted California byway north of Yosemite called Route 49. A dream of a road, constantly undulating, rising, falling, and devoid of dreaded other cars. On the wide center stack there's the usual AMG performance rotary dial for Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus, with an added selection: Race mode. I can't recommend Race mode highly enough. I suppose it turns the throttle, transmission, adjustable dampers, and driving nannies into their most gritty selves, but the overall effect is to transform a big cruiser of a luxury coupe into an angry missile. Once again, vote Race mode.
On the power, crack the wheel, feel a welcome bit of lean, brush the brakes, go for more power, slide the rear, countersteer, more power, more power, and smile, smile, smile! The steering is revelatory. Direct, connected, linear, with plenty of feedback and perfectly weighted. The chassis is poised and balanced, while the engine — despite having two sound-sapping turbochargers — is like an angry scream. I drove hard, I braked deep, I marveled at the grip from the staggered (265/35R19 front, 295/30R20 rear) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, all the while laughing to myself at what an inspired beast of a sports car this AMG is. Then I slowed down, because unlike the GT S, I'm only human.
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