This means War

Mercedes-Benz reckons the AMG GT is as good to drive as a Porsche 911. We’ll be the judge of that

WORDS DAMION SMY

This is the best front-engined, V8-powered, rear-drive performance car on sale today

HERE’S a film of water covering the broad intersection, no-one coming and a sharp left-hand turn to be made. The AMG GT – its sunshine yellow paint more the mood of its occupants than the brooding clouds above us – gurgles as I lift off the throttle, letting its 375kW twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 draw a respite breath, though I’m yet to apply any brake to properly slow its progress.

From the outside, its headlights must look like beady eyes, forward in the beast’s head with its long body, swooping roofline and fast, smooth tail as the GT swallows the turn. A sharp flick of the Alcantara-bound wheel, a stab of the throttle and, as the pedal hits the floor, I’m mentally bracing for a snap: a tail-wiggle as the 295-wide 20-inch rear tyres break free. But not this time. The GT is not a baby SLS. It’s not a menace. It knows what it’s doing, how to do it and wants you to as well. It’s not here to bite you.

This is the best front-engined, V8-powered, rear-drive performance car on rear-drive performance car on sale today. Full stop. The GT makes the Jaguar F-Type look like Britpop, the BMW M6 utterly benign and the SLS on which it’s based ill-mannered and bloated. Think Ladette to Lady, because AMG has gone from the uncouth SLS to the refined $290K GT S whose tyres we’re shredding today. It’s the first of two models AMG will launch, with a less potent 340kW version simply called GT to arrive six months after our 375kW GT S hits the streets.

AMG hopes it’s new baby will loom large in the mirror of one rival in particular: the ‘sports car’ benchmark, the Porsche 911. That’s what it is gunning for, and that’s what it will be measured against.

Porsche superiority is not a given, as there’s something truly special about this yellow beast – it’s bold yet not overly flamboyant like a Lamborghini or Ferrari – and when you’re in either of its two seats, there’s a sense of occasion the 911 simply can’t match.

The interior is executed more thoroughly than in the SLS. Every detail is textured, upholstered, designed and displayed for entertainment and style. Gone are the exposed screw-heads and rough edges of its older brother; it’s a more polished execution. It’s clear that the creators of this car – only the second model developed exclusively by AMG – have diligently studied the results of their first effort, the SLS. It’s better in almost every way.

It doesn’t take long at the wheel of the GT to realise it’s a serious player. Is it beautiful? Not to me, though beauty is subjective. Imposing? Certainly. Does it have presence? Abso-bloody-lutely. It has the neck-snapping magnetism of the SLS, even though the bonnet is shorter, the tail visually longer.

shorter, the tail visually longer.

“This is why I design cars,” says Mark Fetherston, the leather-jacket-clad, spiky-haired bloke who’s responsible for the GT’s exterior. He’s relaxed, his strong British accent cutting through the dominant German voices like a truth-telling pollie.

Fetherston, just 37, penned both the new GT and the SLS,

Tactical response

THE two turbos, fed by an indirect air-to-water intercooler, are identical monoscroll units mounted within the engine’s vee. The priority? “Response,” says engineer Thomas Ramsteiner. This is why both turbos are mounted the same distance from the exhaust valves. “They have exactly the same loss, as there’s a homogenic pressure of the turbo wheel.”

Boost pressure for the GT S is 1.1bar.

Heart and lungs

THE hand-built 3982cc twin-turbo V8 is the new heart of the AMG range, and the GT is the first model to receive it. Replacing the 6208cc naturally aspirated V8, it shares the same bore and stroke (83.0 x 92.0mm) as the 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder used the A45 AMG and its A-Class derivatives, but that’s all. The M178 has a dry sump, with a separate 12-litre oil reservoir, and weighs 209kg. It was benchmarked against its atmo predecessor, which may find its way into the GT3 version of the GT.

For the road, the 4.0-litre’s ‘hot vee’ turbo mounting allows the engine to be set lower and further back, and helps deliver fuel economy and emissions reductions. It’s somewhat future-proof, as it meets Euro 6 regulations that come into effect in 2015. Crucially, the GT also sounds brilliant thanks to its intricate exhaustflap set-up. “Sound is a brand for AMG,” says engineer Thomas Ramsteiner. “People are buying the car for the sound.”

BROTHERS IN ARMS

GT employs double wishbones at both the front and rear, and they’re made of aluminium, like the steering knuckles and hub carriers. GT S gets 390mm front brakes, with 402mm ceramics optional.

Adaptive dampers are standard on all GTs

creating his own full-sized Hot Wheels collection. “Do you like it?” he asks with a genuinely inquisitive tone, to which I reply a resounding “yes”.

The GT isn’t just about its looks, far from it. This is a genuine threat to, dare we join the chorus, the 911 in terms of punch, price and desirability. It wants to be better at driving down winding roads, not a pin-up for B-grade nouveau-riche celebrities. Gone, then, are the gullwing doors that hark back to the 1954 300SL; they’re too expensive. That gesture alone tells you that this car is a razor-sharp salvo towards all comers.

Then there’s the use of the SLS’s chassis. Sure, that has saved money, but this is not a simple top-hat restyle. The chassis ahead of that low, wide windscreen is new, housing the double-wishbone front suspension and 390mm aluminium brakes.

and 390mm aluminium brakes.

Same goes for the back; the rear suspension is new and locates a seven-speed transaxle for an overall 47/53 weight balance that gives the GT one very tractive tail.

That’s what makes this such a solid and fulfilling car to drive. You’ll have to have confidence to own the GT, not because it’s testing you at every turn, every throttle input or grab of the brakes, but because you’ll be ogled like a supermodel as you walk up to it, gawkers wondering who the hell you are and why you are so special. Or special enough to drive a car that’s clearly made for its driver. It’s momentous from the second you slip into its seats, which feel welded to your body. You’re presented with a close-to-the-door wheel as the rudder for a serious fighter, the sculptured bonnet serving as the gunsight.

Hit start and temptation beckons. A spontaneous burst, a high-rev blip, and you could be in a classic V8 complete with carbies. The rumble is old-school and menacing, but the GT doesn’t rock like an old muscle car; it’s poised, ready to go, idling patiently. Yet its timbre has your impatient right foot raring to go.

We dive into heavy traffic in San Francisco, which isn’t ideal, but the GT doesn’t feel like a battery hen.

Instead, a la 911, it’s completely liveable and at home in these bustling surrounds. The ride in Comfort mode soaks up bumps, the throttle is responsive enough – 0-100km/h in 3.8sec ensures that – yet even in Sport+ it isn’t overly sensitive.

There’s no noticeable turbo lag, and it’s backed by swift changes from the seven-speed dual-clutch ’box. AMG has built a mini-SLS that can cope with real life.

This car will be fantasised about – not only by yours truly, but by anyone who gets to wring its neck – because once the GT breaks out of town and up into the hills, its prowess is immense.

Sport+ mode is the pick here, which opens up the exhaust flaps for more bravado, stiffens the adaptive dampers and sharpens the throttle and steering, and

The V8 rumble is old-school and menacing, and its timbre has your impatient right foot raring to go

Buying power

THE GT will be in Australian showrooms by mid-2015, about the same time as the next Benz to get the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, the C63. Pricing for each car is yet to be announced, but AMG says its European prices have pitched the GT between the Porsche 911 S and 911 Turbo. That means an ask of about $290K for the GT S. Mercedes-Benz Australia had yet to decide at the time of writing whether to bring in the less potent GT model.

If the base car gets the nod, the slightly slower GT – still with 340kW and a far from tardy 4.0sec 0-100km/h claim – won’t arrive here until early 2016. We Aussies like our performance cars wound up, well equipped and as fast as possible it seems, so while our economy appears solid, the entry-level car’s business case isn’t.

the new dry-sump, twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 (codenamed M178) responds with a wave of power. With 650Nm from 1750 to 4750rpm, it’s blindingly fast, yet not brutal in its delivery. With no fuss, we’re suddenly doing 240km/h. That’s testament to the GT S’s refinement, and its relatively low 1495kg – 55kg less than the lightest SLS, the brilliant Black Series.

There’s some wind noise around the frameless windows, but it’s sports-luxury to a tee. The ride, even in the sharper modes, is not intrusive and the steering is brilliant. It’s super responsive, so you can make small adjustments, dice with traffic with complete confidence, and slide it if you have the balls. For maximum attack, hit Race mode with its ESC threshold at its highest, and it still won’t boil your blood.

Bury the nose into a corner and the GT will obediently hone in on the next. It’s not like the SLS, where the front wheels seemed a postcode away from the driver’s seat, something that took a little while to get used to. Instead, the GT offers a more direct experience to match its immense roadholding. Even when the tail slides, it’s progressive, smooth and easy to catch, making you feel like a hero without staining your underpants. It’s no widow-maker, and is easier to drive at its limit than the SLS, yet is more involving than some other brilliant machinery, including Audi’s R8.

The GT is also impressively capable. Word is race ace Bernd Schneider has lapped Laguna Seca a full second faster than in the lauded SLS Black. That should strike fear into the other Stuttgart whitecoats at Porsche, ensuring plenty of pensive beard-stroking over AMG’s new weapon.

With surprisingly humility, though, AMG boss Tobias Moers says candidly, “We can’t compete with Porsche”.

He seems genuine in his appraisal of Affalterbach’s skillset, and his modesty is refreshing. It doesn’t seem like a well-scripted ploy to downplay the GT in case it can’t measure up to the 911.

I’m not having it. “Bullshit,” I snap back. “You have a 47-year history, some brilliant products and your brand is plastered all over those silver cars that have decimated Formula One.” He’s not convinced but perhaps this humility, this lack of arrogance, has the talented former engineer at his best.

AMG is not about to rest on its laurels and the GT S that’s dazzled us is merely the start. There will be a GT3 version for racing – that’s confirmed by Moers – possibly using the old atmo 6.2-litre (that’s not confirmed), and it’s almost certain that we will be blessed with a Black Series for the road.

The AMG GT is not perfect; no machine is. It can look odd from certain angles, it needs the optional ceramic brakes for the full experience, and it doesn’t have the bark of the SLS, despite its wondrous growl.

Yet, unlike other German makes, its engine hasn’t been sanitised to blandess, and has a genuinely involving character. There’s connection between the driver’s hands and feet with the steering, that V8 and the rear wheels that makes every moment sublime.

We can’t wait to get the AMG and a Porsche 911 on the same Aussie roads at the same time in June. The fireworks will fly.

Right now, though, the next rainsoaked intersection in the Laguna Hills has me wondering just how far the brilliant GT S can go, in every sense of the word.

It should strike utter fear into the other Stuttgart whitecoats at Porsche where there’ll be plenty of beard-stroking