First Drive: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT Family

All semblance of professionalism, decorum, and grace is gone. Any grip I had on a calm, collected demeanour vanishes in a flurry of millisecond downshifts and backfire rattle, as we slow down for the exit. Or, as it’s called in German…

At 100 percent throttle the ascendant snarl is totally intoxicating – at zero percent throttle the machine-gun staccato from the exhaust is downright religious.

“Ausfahrt!” we cry and I cackle some more, throw the GT through the S-bend of the ramp and accelerate out onto the next bit of highway.

This could, and probably should, be a piece on the elegance of the $160,000-plus Mercedes-AMG GT family: a considered exposé of the gravitas and luxury entrenched in these echelons of poise and performance. But it can’t be.

Because the AMG GT is far and away the most visceral, scintillating vehicle in the Mercedes lineup. Thrilling proof that childish joy is still very much a part of the driving experience, even for those shopping in this rarefied air.

The GT’s gaping grill is not only a way to force mountainous volumes of air through to the 4.0L bi-turbo V8 – it’s an avatar for the crazed grin plastered on the face of the driver.

We accelerate up the road towards the next turn, engine soaring, road speaking to us through the wonderfully tactile steering – and we’re not even at the racetrack yet.

Mercedes has bought us to Paderborn to experience the entire AMG GT family – but it’s the GT R we’re really here for. And for that we have to get to the Bilster Berg Drive Resort – schnell.

The Cars

Luckily, all of these Mercedes-AMG GTs are powered by a 4.0L bi-turbo V8, in various states of tune ranging from 477 hp to 585. Torque is a commanding 465 lb-ft at 1,700 rpm in the base model, and a frightful 516 lb-ft at 1,900 at the top end.

An aluminum spaceframe that weighs only 231 kg sits over a long and wide drivetrain and suspension. The whole setup weighs as little as 1,540 kg as a base model GT, 1,555 kg as a GT R, up to 1,630 kg for a GT C Roadster. A seven-speed transaxle dual-clutch transmission sits at the back, that potent V8 at the front. They’re connected via a long carbon torque tube, through which the driveshaft spins in isolation, preventing torque twist.

Optional carbon-ceramic brakes mark each corner, as do rising-rate springs and independent double-wishbone suspension linkages.

The steering? That’s hydraulic. In a world where electric steering dominates for its weight-savings, packaging, and instant response, the top-of-the-line Mercedes-AMG gives us a rare treat. Steering you can actually feel.

So yeah: we can get to the Bilster Berg Drive Resort schnell.

A roadster variant is available, but you can only get the GT R as a coupe. And because I mentioned the GT R, now I am distracted and have to tell you about the GT R some more.

The Track Experience

When I tell you that I was in gleeful awe of the orchestral bi-turbo V8 out on public roads, I’m not understating. Which leaves me with nowhere to go but sheer delirium when I extract every decibel out of the engine on a track. At 100 percent throttle the ascendant snarl is totally intoxicating – at zero percent throttle the machine-gun staccato from the exhaust is downright religious.

A damp track means our first couple of sessions are marred by rain tires, and the constraints of Sport+ mode. There’s a more angry, more permissive Race mode – but that’s deemed too silly for these conditions. For now.

Bilster Berg is a rollercoaster of blind turns and massive elevation changes, one slow left-hand downhill turn the locals call “the mouse trap” leads to an impossibly steep rise over a blind right-hand corner. It’s here I discover the limits of the Sport+ mode: as I climb the hill, with just a little bit of steering lock as the ESP kicks in, causing the car to feel like it’s champing at the bit. The front wheels snatch at the road as ESP reins in their gentle drift across its surface.

A few sessions later, the track is dried, we’re on Michelin performance tires and in full race mode – and the effect is a dramatic improvement. The car still slides slightly as 516 lb-ft of torque fire it up the hill, but now there’s no ESP intervention. That hydraulically linked steering wheel is composed in my hand, vibrating just enough to let me know the tires aren’t 100 percent glued to the road, but allowing me to softly guide the long Mercedes nose toward the next apex.

Every little squirm and wiggle from the 10x19-inch front wheels finds its way into the suede against my palms. Simultaneously, the 12x20-inch Michelin Sport Cup tires speak to me through the AMG sport seat currently holding my oversized rear end in place.

Up over that crest is a short chute, then a chicane – the GT takes a lot of curb, and changes direction willingly, flicking first left, then right, the curbs passing under the wheel as water off a duck’s back. Back in the throttle again and the GT squats on its rear as we climb a small hump, hurtling towards 230 km/h. We drop into a small valley, letting the car use up all of its well-damped compression and then brake up the hill and over another crest – breathing off the brake lets the front relax without bouncing up – and the front wheels keep a consistent hold on the tarmac as we tip into a long left-hander. Momentum and g-forces build as I tuck the GT back into the second apex, squeezing on the throttle as I unwind the steering.

Wheel spin knocks at the door, begging for a free rein but I’m neither brave nor skilled enough to go the full Bernd Schneider – a video we’ll see later shows him in the same corner, full sideways with smoke billowing from the back end. Showoff.

Bernd and Maro

Bernd Schneider and Maro Engel are our lead drivers on this track test. They manage the lead-follow to make sure none of us journalists get outside our limited talent levels and introduce our egos to the Armco. Bernd and Maro are both race winners from the Mercedes-Benz family, with 24hr of Nürburgring victories to their names and more.

These are real racing drivers, with real prowess, and as the video of Bernd’s casual drift in a $183,000 Mercedes-AMG GT R attests: there is no point in us trying to impress them. What we get from their experience is an instant acclimatisation to the lines on the track, and a rabbit to chase. That allows us to push quickly up to our own limits and capabilities to try and learn what we can about the cars.

What I learned was that I can giggle so hard I nearly wet my pants while driving, and that carbon-ceramic brakes bite with a ferocity that will finish that job for me if I’m not careful.

The Rest of the Family

Being overwhelmed by the GT R is easy to do, and that’s a shame for the others in this line-up. Because the whole crop is fundamentally underpinned by the same fantastic bones.

It’s really only the option and feature list that is focussed on each variant’s raison d’être. And it takes more work than you might expect to pick apart the right option from the bunch.

(That’s a lie, the correct option is the GT R. If you ever find yourself wondering which AMG GT you should buy, then first of all: congratulations. And second: It’s the GT R.)

AMG GT and GT Roadster

The base model, which hasn’t landed as a 2018 model for Canada yet is the GT, and GT Roadster. Those editions get standard Airscarf in Canada. Airscarf is Mercedes-Benz’s way of making sure you always feel like Olaf from Frozen, by enveloping you permanently in warm hugs. I’m notoriously soft when it comes to the cold weather, but I could drive an Airscarf-equipped roadster around in negative temperatures every day of the week.

In this trim, the V8 makes 476 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque.

They get 360 mm rotors with six-piston calipers up front, and single-piston 360 mm brakes in the back. Wrapped around those brakes are 9x19-inch front wheels and 11x19-inch rears. Out back, there’s a mechanical limited-slip differential.

You also still get Mercedes-AMG’s Dynamic Select drive program, allowing you to tailor the handling.

AMG GT S

The 522 hp and 494 lb-ft GT S gets AMG Ride Control Suspension with continuously acting adaptive damping, which can be tuned to Comfort, Sport, or Sport+ with a button on the console, or automatically set with one of the Dynamic Select drive presets. In this trim the options grow by one with the addition of Race mode.

Race Mode puts the adaptive dampers, transmission, and exhaust in Sport+ mode, and sets the throttle response to Race mode. All while also putting the ESP and traction control in a much more permissive mode that allows for less intervention and more slip angle.

Larger 390 mm front rotors are nestled behind the front wheels and the back tires grow to 11x20-inches. The mechanical limited-slip diff gives way to an electronically controlled unit in order to increase the capability of the traction control system.

Inside, GT S trims are clearly identified by an AMG Performance steering wheel that has microfibre grip areas and an AMG-logo-embossed centre armrest.

Outside, an AMG performance exhaust system with adjustable flaps can be controlled via the drive mode select knob or an individual button. The symphony produced by this system is worth the extra bump in MSRP any day.

AMG GT C and GT C Roadster

Another step up the trim line to GT C nets a bump to 550 hp/502 lb-ft and a leap in rear track from 1,651 mm to 1,695. That step up means the rear track on these models and up is wider than the 1,678 mm front. It’s not only a visual improvement in stance but also an improvement in bite on corner exit especially.

You also get rear-wheel steering. A limited number of GT Cs in Canada will come as an Edition 50 model, with a host of cosmetic enhancements to the interior and exterior that help differentiate it from “regular” GT C models.

AMG GT R

Which brings us back to the GT R. Engine output leaps to 577 hp and 516 lb-ft – and to help extract all that goodness and turn it into disappearing road, the first cog of the DCT is taller. Meanwhile the seventh gear is taller, which bumps top speed from 302 km/h in the base trim to an electronically limited 318 km/h.

On the centre stack, a large yellow dial allows you to tune the traction control through nine phases.

You can even turn it off, if you enjoy tire bills and wet pants.

Pricing: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT Family

2018 Mercedes-AMG GT Coupe: TBA (Delivery January 2018)
2018 Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster: TBA (Delivery January 2018)
2018 Mercedes-AMG GT S Coupe: TBA (Delivery January 2018)
2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C Coupe: $163,000 (Delivery from October)
2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster: $178,000 (Delivery from October)
2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R Coupe: $183,000 (Delivery from October)

The joy of Ausfahrts