MOTORING: Mercedes-AMG GT S 2018 Review
The appeal of the Mercedes-AMG GT S is in its bravado.
In a field of ‘grand tourer’ competitors bursting at the seams with options – some promising prestige and brand cachet, some luxury and safety, others outright poise – the AMG is a sledgehammer in fancy velvet wrapping.
It’s almost as though the brief for folks at Affalterbach was along the lines of: ‘Clinical has been done, luxury has been done; let’s produce the fastest-looking, most menacing competitor to the segment, complete with a dirty great big V8 engine under the bonnet’.
A brawling boulevardier if there ever was one.
The GT’s brute formula isn’t without precedent. Like the gullwing-doored SLS AMG which set the foundations in 2010 – and shares the same underpinnings – the GT employs a front-mounted V8 and is rear-driven. Its engine features a dry sump and a transaxle seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is located at the rear.
In terms of model range, the GT S is the middle ground offering within the six-variant GT lineup and it moves the legacy forward appreciably from the SLS. Updated for 2018, it gets the same ‘Panamericana’ grille from the flagship GT R, active cooling vents, and more power than the entry version GT – though not quite the same level of dynamic detail as the freshly-conceived GT C which sits above it.
Power from the GT S’ 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 – the same as used in the C63, GLC63 and E63, to name a few – has been ratcheted to 384kW and 670Nm in this application (up 9kW and 20Nm from its original 2015 predecessor), affording a zero to 100km/h time of 3.8 seconds. There is no manual transmission available, though the combination of the engine and seven-speed is hardly uninvolving.
There are interior enhancements to freshen the appearance of the car’s dashboard centre fascia without re-writing the rule books. And the AMG promotes Mercedes’ cause for safety, boasting automated emergency braking and the latest safety acronyms.
The price? A cool $298,711 plus on-road costs.
Low slung and sporty
Time for a look inside the cockpit. Limber up before gently lugging your caboose over the high-set door sill and into the GT S’ low-slung bucket seat…followed by your feet (hopefully heading in the direction of the pedals).
Before settling in, ensure you’ve given the driver’s door an extra bit of muscle as you pull it shut; our vehicle, with 3000km on the odometer, requires numerous second attempts.
At this point, even before the engine has started, your street cred has skyrocketed. Sitting aft of the enormously long bonnet, your veneer will be complete with some rockstar sunglasses.
Instrumentation is first-rate, particularly when compared with some of the AMG’s competitors. Think lashings of Alcantara, neat brushed metal highlights, crisp instruments and dials, and concise digital readouts both atop the dashboard centre and in the instrument cluster. The layout of eight key dials in the shape of a V ahead of the gear selector, mimicking the engine layout, is a particularly nice touch – even if it forces said selector too far back in the cockpit.
Those familiar with the new E-Class and S-Class will note an ever-so-slight last-generation feel to the GT’s ‘Starship Command’ cabin. Of particular note is the layout of the infotainment menus, which lack intuition and feel fussy. There’s no Apple CarPlay, either.
Your correspondent’s relatively compact 175cm frame never feels claustrophobic in the GT’s cockpit, though we suspect taller folk may feel slightly cramped. A 350-litre cargo area is directly over the shoulder, separated only by a visible strut and a hidden retractable blind. In all, you’d fit a couple of decent overnight bags in the boot – suitable for a weekend getaway.
Prod the GT S’ start-stop button, though, and the aforementioned minor foibles are soon forgotten.
Mercedes-AMG made its name by shoehorning cranky, impressive engines into passenger cars, so it makes sense the GT S is headlined by a stonking V8.
The soundtrack is a mix of gravelly American iron and rampant supercar drama, with a slightly digitised overlay. Think a deep burble at idle, bassy middling revs and a riotous medley of mechanical machismo as it marches confidently towards the circa 8000rpm cutout.
All of this sound conveys an engine which is brutally fast at any revs, resoundingly enjoyable and yet user-friendly, at times consuming a respectable 10.0L/100km in casual open road cruising.
In low speed conveyance the GT S happily ambles along, gently cycling through its seven-speed transmission in the same way an A-Class hatch would – even ‘coasting’ in light throttle applications. A slight grabbing sensation upon setting off – perhaps a necessary evil given the power on tap – is the only high-strung tendency.
Then, you flick the car to Sport, Sport+ or Race mode, and the engine, gearbox and surrounding calibrations take on added purpose. In any of these settings you can’t help but be in awe at the throttle immediacy, a hallmark of Mercedes placing the two swollen turbochargers inside the cylinder bank.
When operating in the more aggressive settings, the seemingly casual seven-speed dual-clutch channels more urgency to bring rapid-fire, intuitive shifts which accentuate the engine’s fearsome pace.
By comparison the ride and hydraulic steering, which is fast, accurate and actually a little light, induce mixed feelings.
In anything other than Comfort mode, the GT S’ adaptive dampers can be punishing on B-grade surfaces. There’s a stiffness to the rear, specifically, which many drivers would find intolerable over long distances. Road noise is another ever-present nemesis.
Even so, when pushed it is obvious the GT subscribes to the ‘grand tourer’ brief (rather than all-out race car). Front end grip is mega, though the continued lack of rear roll stiffness means it is prone to some squirrelling as it shifts weight to the outside Michelins and grips through longer apexes.
Despite a more centralised seating position than the pendulum-like SLS, the GT S isn’t as easy to place through the corners as, say, Porsche’s 911, which boasts an uncanny knack for driver intimacy and road position. Getting it right in the AMG requires a small reset from the hands of the driver. There’s no rushing into a corner and planning the rest later; rather, the trick is to seemingly string the needle, using the engine’s surfeit of power and torque to blast out the other side. A brief, progressive wag of the tail is facilitated before the stability control suite benignly steps into action.
In this rolling acceleration situation, the twin-turbo V8 is marvellously tractable and flexible. It will happily short shift, summoning its peak 670Nm from between 1800rpm and 5000rpm.
The clincher with the GT S is how it makes you feel. The bravado, the attitude. Just the vibe of the thing, really.
Clearly the AMG is not all-out clinical like the brilliant 911. But on Australian roads it will turn exponentially more heads than the Porker and naturally induce an evil grin from your face – irrespective of whether you’re driving fast or slow.
2017 Mercedes-AMG GT S pricing and specifications:
Price: $298,711 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel: 9.5L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 221g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP