Mercedes- AMG GT R

Not just harder and faster, but better where it really counts

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

THIS story started months ago, in a dimly lit, quiet room in AMGís Affalterbach HQ.

There, a silver cover gripped tightly in his hand, stood AMG boss Tobias Moers, a boyish grin spread across his broad face having just shown me his latest creation Ė the bright green, trackfocused GT R.

It was a strangely intimate and highly exclusive opportunity (Wheels was the first in the world to see the car), and one that couldnít be further away from what Iím experiencing now.

Iím in Portugal, at the rather daunting Portimao circuit, and the GT Rís gunslit windscreen is being peppered with small rubber bullets, shot from the back of another GT R just 10 metres ahead. Itís driven by AMG hot-shoe Bernd Schneider, and his wide, green rump kicks and bucks as we slipstream down the long straight, the trackís surface bumpy enough to have the traction control light blinking at 246km/h.

Itís a fast, visceral and furiously exciting experience, but thatís not unexpected. In the rapidly expanding AMG GT family, the R is the most track-focused and the most hardcore model available.

Itís also infused with the most technology, thanks to a bunch of AMG firsts including active aerodynamics (designed to suck the car onto the road at speed), four-wheel steering and a nine-stage traction control system, nicked from AMGís GT3 race car.

Power comes from the same dry-sumped 4.0-litre V8 as the GT S, though new turbochargers, more boost (up from 1.2bar to 1.35) and revised cylinder heads sees outputs jump by 55kW/50Nm to 430kW/700Nm.

Thereís also a lighter dual-mass flywheel and a redesigned active SPECS FIRSTDRIVES

exhaust system now partially made from titanium to save 6kg.

Even the seven-speed dualclutch gearbox has copped an overhaul, with a longer first, shorter seventh and quicker final drive to improve response and deliver faster, crisper shifts.

The 0-100km/h figure is a claimed 3.6sec but itís not the straight-line shove that dominates the experience. Itís the grip.

Track widths have grown front and rear, 7mm and 57mm respectively, and the suspension is heavily revised, the regular GTís set-up replaced with a more sophisticated, lightweight double-wishbone arrangement with adjustable coil-overs and three-stage adaptive dampers.

Thereís a larger contact patch than before, too, with lighter, forged alloy wheels shod with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber measuring 275/35R19 up front and 325/30R20 out back.

All this means that, unlike its GT S sibling, which can be spikey at times and demands respect, the GT R can be pushed hard with confidence. It telegraphs understeer and oversteer nicely, the optional, and huge, carbon brakes (402mm front and 360mm rear) are mighty, and thereís a greater sense of alacrity provided by the four-wheelsteering system, which is felt most on corner entry. Controlled by two electro-mechanical actuators, the system can alter the direction of the rear wheels by 1.5 degrees to improve low-speed agility and high-speed stability.

The steering is better as well, courtesy of a faster variable rack that, combined with the wider track, has enhanced turn-in response and front-axle feel. It still doesnít fizz in your hands, but itís clearer in its feedback than the GT S, and the weighting is nicer in all four driving modes (Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Race).

And then thereís the noise. I doubt thereís a better-sounding turbocharged V8 in existence.

Full-throttle upshifts are hammered home with a deep V8 crack and, while the gearbox isnít as fast or as intuitive as Porscheís PDK unit, downshifts deliver a wet gurgle that sounds as though the engine is gargling chainsaws on the overrun. Itís brilliant.

The only real gripes fall to the interior ergonomics. While the start button and Dynamic Select dial fall easily to hand on the centre console, the other functions, and especially the gear lever, are finicky to reach.

Where the GT R surprises most, though, isnít on the track, but on bumpy Portuguese roads. Given its performance bent, and the brutal, brittle ride of the GT S, I was expecting the GT R to be bonejarringly firm, yet this is the bestriding GT to date. Even in Sport+, which was previously reserved only for the smoothest surfaces, the GT R has a compliance lacking in its lesser siblings. It allows you to exploit all of that extra grunt and grip without the worry of being bounced off line, and is the key to the GT Rís appeal.

As fast, entertaining and exciting as it is on a circuit, the GT Rís greatest achievement is how it performs in the real world. It has a polish, a sense of confidence and a multi-faceted level of ability lacking in any member of the GT family. It is, quite simply, the most complete AMG yet.


One good turn...

The most notable interior change for GT R is found in the centre of the dash, where a bright yellow knob protrudes. It operates the nine-stage traction-control system, which is only activated when the driver turns ESP off completely. Then, a ring of lights surrounds the dial indicating the severity of the electronic assistance. Turning the dial all the way to the left turns the system off, with Level Six delivering the best blend of slip and electronic help, according to AMG boss Tobias Moers.

Grip; speed; balance; approachable limits; ride; awesome sound Cabin ergonomics and space; rear visibility PLUS & MINUS

Active aero includes electricoperated flaps in the front bar that close on corner entry to improve downforce and open on corner exit to increase cooling. Carbonfibre flaps also lower under the front splitter above 80km/h to create a Venturi effect and suck the car into the road. 01 SUCK IT GT R is 15kg lighter than GT S, which doesnít sound that impressive until you remember the extra weight of four-wheel steering and active aero. Weight saving includes carbon panels, roof and torque tube, and a lithium-ion battery. 02 SAVE IT Three exhaust pipes, and less sound-deadening, enhance the V8 soundtrack. In Comfort, only the central exhaust is engaged. Activate Sport+ or Race and noise is channelled through the wider pipes. 03 HEAR IT

OR TRY THESE...

Porsche 911 GT3 RS $387,300

A sharper tool than the GT R with greater poise and tactility. Doesnít have the brutal mid-range of the twin-turbo AMG, though, and is more expensive. Oh, and good luck buying one; theyíre all sold.

Audi R8 V10 $354,616

A more grown-up, polished package with one of the best (and last) naturally aspirated supercar engines around. Clever use of carbonfibre in the construction gives brilliant stiffness, and mid-mounted engine worth bonus supercar points.

Gorgeous interior, too.