Track blast in AMG's new sports car
San Francisco, California - There’s a strange sense of abandonment by Mercedes-AMG towards its first offspring, the SLS.
Not that this teutonic partnership isn’t proud of its original creation, which flew in gullwings and all, seemingly not that long ago in 2010. But at the launch of its second born held in the US last week, the okes from AMG all seemed to shrug off comparisons between their new model, the GT, and the now discontinued SLS.
The SLS was a sledgehammer of a sportscar. Despite its clever rear-mounted gearbox, lightweight carbonfibre torque-tube propshaft, and race-inspired coilover suspension setup, it’ll forever be remembered for its honking 6.2 V8, loooong wheelbase, and of course… “those” doors.
The new AMG GT is a sharper, lighter, higher-tech and more refined implement, which, I suspect is why the dudes at Affalterbach have subconsciously filed its predecessor into the history drawer. A fresh start, so to speak.
The new GT will inevitably be compared in size and profile to Jag’s equally phallic F-Type Coupé, which obviously means it’s much smaller than the SLS. Still, AMG’s big boss Tobias Moers rolled eyes at me when I mentioned the F-word. He believes, in performance terms, the AMG GT is closer matched to Porsche’s scalpel-like 911 – a modern benchmark in handling.
To prove the point we were taken to the Laguna Seca racetrack; a venue famed for its rhythmic flow and unforgiving undulations. If the GT had a fault, this place would expose it.
The Mercedes-AMG GT is laden with racing this and high-performance that, but first impressions are perhaps more of sophistication than screeching rubber. There’s a raw, exoticness associated with the SLS that’s notably absent in the GT and not only because of traditional side-hinged doors. The cabin seems much more upper class than its predecessor, trimmed immaculately with plush leathers, swanky suedes and perfectly polished finishes.
Seems almost inappropriate to hoon a larney lounge suite around a track. Think F16 fighter-jet cockpit finished in five-star luxury. There’s a wide centre tunnel, and along its breadth is a feast of buttons and knobs to control and customise drive setting all-sorts.
This is also where the engine’s start button is located, and when pushed a sharp bark from the pipes reassures that although the cabin may look Johnny Blue, the drivetrain’s all Jose Cuervo.
This all-new 4-litre twin-turbo V8 fires with much the same vocality as the bigger 5.5 in current 63 AMG models, but with maybe just a touch less baritone and bass. An optional, but must-have, active exhaust flap can also raise the raucousness at the push of a button.
Power stats are quoted at 375kW/650Nm for the range-topping GT “S” model, and give the two-seater coupé a 3.8-second 0-100km/h sprint ability and a top speed of 310km/h. A less powerful non-S version comes with 340kW/650Nm, and respective 4 second and 304km/h figures.
The new motor’s turbos are placed inside the engine’s V where shorter intake and exhaust plumbing make for better efficiency and quicker pedal response. And it works.
LET’S HIT THE TRACK
Full throttle down Laguna Seca’s pit straight revealed a very naturally-aspirated power delivery that’ll press you into the seatback with relentless force. None of the surging swoosh usually found in highly-tuned turbos.
A new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, again positioned at the back axle snaps through gears with sharp up and down kicks, but long ratios and a huge torque spread mean infrequent shifts.
This 4-litre revs with a hoarse howl up to a 7 000rpm redline, but I found it best to up-change early and make most use of its hefty midrange powerband – especially so out of corners where it’s quicker to build power slowly from low revs in order to keep the rear end in check. Put foot too soon and the tail will easily sweep into a smokey, but easily controllable slide.
Suspension is a racecar-like double wishbone setup at front and rear, and the power-steering system, though electronically assisted, is excellently weighted. An electronic locking diff comes standard in the GT S and the normal GT gets a mechanical limited-slip unit. Our test cars were also equipped with optional carbon ceramic discs which weren’t fussed with Laguna’s plentiful hard-braking zones.
Other go-fast goodies include a dry-sump lubrication system which allows the motor to be mounted low in the chassis, a Race Start launch control sequence, a mostly aluminium spaceframe body which weighs just 231kg on its own, a rear spoiler which raises at 120km/h, and a similar carbon torque tube driveshaft to what’s in the SLS.
The car took Laguna Seca in its stride, lapping long and hard behind a pace car driven at full tilt by five-time DTM champ Bernd Schneider. It proved its mettle as a super sportscar, but perhaps its best party trick is its ability to morph into a cool grand tourer comfortable for mega mileage at the twists of some dials. Adjustable AMG Ride Control shocks, preset Dynamic Select driving programmes and active engine mounts which soften and harden depending on setting, create multiple cars in one. This car can bludgeon, incise or pander. Your choice.
Expect the top GT S to arrive in SA around April next year. The normal GT should land soon after that. Local pricing isn’t yet confirmed, but in Europe it’s priced below Merc’s own SL63 AMG, which here costs just over R2-million.
Watch us lap Laguna Seca in the GT: