QUICK SILVER ARM FOR AMG'S SEDUCTIVE SUPER-COUPE? O FIND OUT

IS THIRD TIME A CH WE HEAD TO THE HILLS T

WORDS NATHAN PONCHARD PHOTOS MARK BRAMLEY

E’VE heard the statistics before, yet they still make us proud. Per capita, Australia is the world’s most voracious consumer of AMG vehicles. We’re also the world’s biggest internet pirates, which says something about our lust for instant gratification and our rebellious colonial past, not to mention our disdain for distance.

past, not to mention our disdain for distance.

Remember that? The tyranny of being stuck on the other side of the globe?

Sports car buyers with coin don’t like waiting, which is why this long day’s journey into night is a secret-squirrel adventure, starting at dawn on a weekend. We're driving the new AMG GT S three months before its official Australian launch, which also means three months before the 150 Aussies (so far) who have outlaid $300K to buy one.

The glamorous life begins at 5.45am on Sunday, picking up colleagues in the ultra-boosted splendour of a white Porsche Cayenne Turbo S wearing black 21-inch alloys, like a wealthy mum grabbing her offspring from ballet. I’ve certainly been lumped offspring from ballet. I’ve certainly been lumped with worse ‘camera’ cars.

Just about no one on staff knows what we’re up to. Even the impatient Mercedes dealers don’t know there’s already one on the road, air-freighted from Germany, so this is a stealth mission set to fire from the nation’s capital. Neutral territory.

Our rendezvous is in the back blocks of Summernats heartland, where horse stables rest alongside a burnout strip; 45 minutes late, a silver AMG GT S arrives on the back of a flat-bed truck, naked and exposed, yet arresting to behold. Smaller and better proportioned than the SLS it unofficially replaces, the GT’s magnificent derriere stands out like Scarlett Johansson bending to pour champagne. Proud as the GT’s nose is, its seductive rear haunches steal the show.

The sheetmetal parade continues as we search in vain for a park in recently hipstered Braddon. Block after block, the GT S circles what was once smash-repair shops and warehouses, now bursting with exposedbrick cafes and industrial furniture. The unmistakeable rumble of the AMG’s twin-turbo V8 through its quad exhausts pricks people’s ears first, then the theatre of the GT’s enormous sequential indicators and its neverseen- before styling that holds their gaze. A Porsche 911 is a beautiful and iconic sports car, but the AMG GT has rock star mystique.

The silver Mercedes coupe might be a head-turner on a sunny day in Braddon but it doesn’t provide vision like its cross-town rival. Navigating the ACT’s favourite piece of road architecture isn’t easy. The GT’s low-set driving position might be spot-on for a sports car – finally on a right-hand-drive Mercedes, achieving perfectly aligned pedals, seat and steering wheel – but its door-mounted mirrors are obstructive and can hide a whole car in the tight roundabouts littered through Canberra’s suburbs.

It’s not the most dignified car to climb out of, either, due to the rising door aperture. And the GT’s rather over-styled dashboard is a bit too Hollywood for my

A PORSCHE CAN' T MATCH THE AMG'S ROCK-STAR MYSTIQUE

MERCEDES has been a little behind the curve against the dizzying array of configuration options that Porsche has perfected, but the lengthy AMG GT S options list demonstrates that Affalterbach is catching on fast.

The GT S is already well stuffed as standard, but there's ample scope for personalisation. Four exterior trim packages are offered – Night ($1500), Silver Chrome ($1800), Carbon Fibre ($8500) and Edition 1 ($19,900) – and there are seven alloy wheel designs without a duff one among them.

Going all-in on carbonfibre interior decor adds just over $11,000, and carbon-ceramic brakes and spor ts tyres also reside on the options list. The retina-searing AMG Solarbeam paint of our comparo car will also give your wallet a $13,500 leathering.

While it's easy to spec a $350K GT S without getting too excited, perspective is key. It's still $16K shy of a stock 911 Turbo.

PLAYING DRESS-UPS

BRUTAL V8 WITH

MERCEDES-AMG's official combined fuel consumption figure for the GT S is 9.4L/100km – 12.2 urban, 7.8 highway – but our average over 700km was a still-respectable 13.0L/100km. All while meeting next year's Euro 6 emissions compliance.

In comparison, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S support vehicle managed 15.1L/100km – not bad for a big SUV loaded w ith gear.

Given the AMG's 75-litre tank capacity, that’s a range of 577km using our hard-driven fuel average, or almost 80 0km if you calculate the official figure.

In theory, the GT S could comfortably get from Melbourne to A delaide on a single tank.

A CONSCIENCE

THE AMG'S NATURAL GAIT IS WELL INTO THREE FIGURES

liking, with more air vents than necessary, and eight knobs and buttons sprouting from the centre console like fungal organisms. About the only thing that didn’t get supersized is the GT’s gear selector, which is a tiny stump mounted awkwardly far back.

Out on the Snowy Mountains Highway, however, the AMG GT’s minor irritations fade into the background.

With the adaptive dampers set to Comfort, it inhales the landscape. By the time we approach Talbingo – the last relatively flat piece of lower NSW before the sinuous climb up into the Kosciusko National Park – the sunlight has started to be engulfed by nightfall, so it’s kangaroo central and we’re paranoid about clobbering one in the only road-going AMG GT S in the country.

The adaptive high-beams aren’t helping. Brilliant when blazing, they’re frustratingly averse to Armco and shiny road furniture on Aussie backroads. On a pitchblack road with no lighting, we just manage to avoid a big grey squatting in our lane with its back to us. As we crawl around it, the ’roo with ’tude glances over its shoulder as if to say, “What are you lookin’ at?”

Thankfully, he’s a rarity on the 145km thrash to Cooma. Even in the dark, with neurotic auto high-beam, it’s a magnificent road that’s handled effortlessly by AMG’s new supermodel.

The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8’s hot-rod demeanour is as mad and bad inside the GT’s compact cabin as any AMG bent-eight has ever been. What it doesn’t quite nail is the crackle and exhaust blare of the old 6.2, especially that of the dry-sumped SLS, though if you had to choose between arousing the driver and stirring bystanders, you’d pick yourself every time. And even though it doesn’t rev into the sevens like its atmo predecessor, I’m pretty sure owners will be grinning as it races to its 6500rpm upshift point.

Outside, that warm grin turns to a shiver. Cooma in winter after dark is never balmy, and on this Sunday roast night the mercury sits below five. Yet there’s still one barmy soul braving the cold outside The Alpine Hotel in shorts and a T-shirt, having a smoke.

By dawn, the temperature is into negative figures.

The GT sits idling to de-ice its windscreens as I lift its tailgate and dump my bag into its useful 350-litre boot. Then I notice that its exhaust note is oscillating between the left and right outlets like a pulsing metronome, no doubt thrilling other motel guests.

Slinking away as quietly as possible, we head to the only Cooma cafe open at 7am and it’s a real find.

Kettle & Seed makes a cracking coffee and draws plenty of locals to its toasty retro chic, including two highway patrol Commodores that park either side of the icy AMG. We see it as a blessing, grab a few takeaways and make haste as quickly as possible without seeming suspicious.

Retracing our tracks on the Snowy Mountains Highway, this time in daylight, the AMG’s natural gait is well into three figures. With 53 percent of its weight over the rear transaxle, its high-speed balance is sublime, and its Michelin Pilot Super Sports (265/35ZR19s at the front and fat 295/30ZR20s on the rear) have masses of grip despite the zero-degree ambient temp.

This AMG GT S is stock, all $295,000 of it, yet what we get from the Affalterbach factory is fairly high spec. It took the Aussie Benz crew a while to fight for just one engine variant – the 375kW/650Nm S version,

not the lesser-powered 340kW/600Nm example – and they’ve loaded it with dynamic kit to complement its claimed 3.8sec-to-100km/h performance.

The GT S boasts AMG Ride Control sports suspension with adaptive damping, and the Australian spec goes one better, including an AMG Dynamic Plus package.

This adds dynamic engine and transmission mounts, an even firmer suspension tune, increased negative camber at the front, a specific steering calibration, and a Race mode in the ‘Dynamic Select’ rotary knob that tweaks the maximum power and torque characteristics.

Instead of peaking at 6250rpm, 375kW is smeared across 6000-6500rpm, while 650Nm still comes on strong at 1750rpm, but keeps pumping for a little longer until 5000rpm.

You also score a plush microfibre-clad steering wheel, which is nice. But my favourite item is the button with a dual-exhaust symbol on it, which opens flaps in the GT S’s sports exhaust system for full aural delight.

Arriving at a quiet side road we've closed for photography, I mash the AMG’s right pedal and it’s instantly on it. The engine’s gurgly, menacing idle quickly transforms into rapid-fire upshifts and an endless surge of V8 greatness that refuses to let up until I back off at 200km/h. AMG’s top-speed claim Mercedes-AMG GT S 3982cc V8 (90°), dohc, 32v, twin-turbo 375kW @ 6000-6500rpm 650Nm @ 1750-5000rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1570kg 3.8sec (claimed) 13.0L/100km (test average) $295,000 Now Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale

is 310 and I wouldn’t dispute it, though I reckon the last 30km/h would be an effort, as is often the case.

Back on the highway with its multitude of surface, elevation and direction changes, I whack the centre console’s dial thingy into Sport. While the Comfort setting is surprisingly effective at turning this hot-rod into a grand tourer, Sport – and its closely related Sport+ setting, which injects extra animal into the seven-speed dual-clutch’s shift calibration – deliver a stiff ride on Aussie country roads that’s arguably a step too far for any real distance. Race, is mega-stiff and just about unusable on the road.

There’s also an Individual mode which allows a blend of drivetrain, ESC and damper settings, but doesn’t separate the steering from the mix. And here lies the AMG GT S’s one big flaw.

With the steering in Comfort, you can feel the ratio varying through its 2.2 turns from lock to lock, and sense some distance between you and the front wheels. Selecting Sport gives the whole set-up a shot of adrenalin and instantly connects the dots, feeding a consistently weighted and seamless flow of information to the AMG’s wheel rim, though the firmer damping produces some tramlining from the front end. Comfort damping with Sport steering is the sweetest.

On the Link Road’s mega-smooth, yellow-lined corners beyond the snow line, however, none of that matters. Singing in Sport+, the AMG strings corners together with impressive fluency and has so much rear-end purchase it takes familiarity to trust that this twin-turbo, rear-drive V8 will stick. Yet it does.

Eschewing the oversteer addiction of its forebears, you can tell the AMG GT has been designed to challenge a 911. While its more traditional balance may not match the involvement of Porsche’s rear-engined icon, the GT’s rear weight bias and superb corner-exit traction and thrust are the stuff of which a Stuttgart sports car is made.

On the road, you have to be pushing seriously hard, or being deliberately provocative, to step the AMG’s tail out, and because the corner speeds involved are well beyond what other AMG V8s can manage. Same too for the absolute limits of its abilities, but exploring both those realms in-depth is best left to a racetrack.

Which is exactly what we've got in store for the AMG GT S, and it all starts on the next page. Waiting at the race track is the AMG's biggest rival, a sports coupe 50 years in the making: the Porsche 911.

And not just any old 911... @PonchDeluxe

THE ENGINE'S MENACING IDLE TRANSFORMS INTO AN ENDLESS SURGE OF V8 GREATNESS