I’ve driven many AMGs the past few years, but none have gotten me as excited as the new 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT. Even the bodacious SLS AMG – now officially my second favourite AMG – no longer has the same appeal.
With a $149,900 entry ticket, the uprated GT S coupe is a stout performer right o the lot. A 503-horsepower 4.0-litre twin-turbo AMG V8, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic drivetrain and lightweight aluminum spaceframe help it scurry from 0-100 km/h in 3.8 seconds, en route to an electronically-limited max speed of 310 km/h. The base GT model gets a 456-horsepower version of this engine that’s good for four-second 0-100s.
At 1,645 kilograms, the GT S is 50 kilograms lighter than the SLS AMG Final Edition. And despite the latter’s power advantage – 583 hp and 479 lb-ft from a naturally-aspirated 6.2L V8 – its 0-100 km/h time is only marginally quicker (3.7 seconds).
Although it’s not considered a new or updated version of the more exotic SLS, the GT S can be considered its spiritual successor. Both are two-seaters with a front-mid engine/rear-wheel-drive layout, but the GT S is 92- and 500-mm shorter in length and wheelbase than the SLS, respectively. Overall width is identical, but since the GT S has shed the gullwing doors, its centre of gravity is actually lower than the quarter-million dollar SLS AMG coupe.
The SLS is hard to ignore thanks to its exotic look and feel, monstrous performance and intimidating presence, but its aircraft carrier front end and pinched rear end makes it a bit of a handful on the track, and somewhat boat-like in everyday traffic. The GT S is neither.
If I were to compare them to MMA fighters, the former is akin to Kimbo Slice while the GT S is a veritable Jean Claude Van Damme. On a good day, Slice can knock you into next year with one big, fat punch, but Van Damme will take you to school anytime, anywhere, and come out on top nine times out of 10.
To give Canadian automotive media a taste of its new flagship’s thrilling performance and sporty-sophisticated design, Mercedes-Benz Canada managed to procure a half dozen GT S models for a day of lapping at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) under the guidance of the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy.
Five of the cars come outfitted with small differences in interior options, including the exclusive package and various leather and trim options that peak at $165,750. The sixth car is equipped with the AMG Track Package, which for $3,300 adds a DINAMICA performance steering wheel, active engine mounts, ultra high-performance tires, performance suspension, unique instrument cluster and special steering and engine tuning in “Race” mode.
Driving dynamics is what really sets the GT S apart from the SLS, so it is extremely unfortunate our track day was accompanied by unrelenting cold, spring showers. The track never had a chance to dry out, and the tires never really had a chance to get up to temp either. It’s probably a good thing none of the mules wore the $13,750 optional carbon ceramic stoppers as they never would have gotten hot enough to be effective either.
The standard AMG brake kit – vented, slotted and perforated compound discs measuring 390 mm in the front with six-piston calipers, and 360 mm diameter discs with single-piston rear calipers – didn’t get a thorough thrashing on this day either, but is more than adequate for the street and light track use.
The Pirelli tires were up to the sloppy wet task and, although the speeds on a cold, wet Grand Prix road course are remarkably slower than when warm and dry, they provide enough traction to get a decent impression of this car’s performance.
Running with the drivetrain set to sport and shocks set to comfort helped smoothen the transition from corner 5B to 5C – the slowest and most slippery part of the track – before gingerly getting on the throttle for the long back straight.
The low-profile sports seats, driving position and ergonomics are great, and the chassis is responsive, predictable and easy to manage. Steering is direct and linear with excellent feedback through the high-speed turns. Its 47/53 weight distribution and aerodynamics provide enough downforce to make it feel planted in corners two, four and eight. There is already very little body roll, but the dynamic engine mounts that come with the track package resist chassis twisting and front end flex even more.
The AMG Speedshift dual-clutch transmission is magnificent, and blasts through gear changes lickety-split whether the paddle shifters are firing or not. It can upshift at wide open throttle, boasts an automatic double-declutching function when downshifting, and the race start function can be engaged by pulling both paddles simultaneously. Paired with the electronic AMG rear axle differential lock that adjusts within milliseconds to maximize traction and stability, the GT S will make beautiful music given the right conductor.
The cockpit is focused on the driver, the sculptural centre console boasting a series of buttons on the left (from bottom to top) for the AMG ride control suspension system (default, firm and firmer), multi-stage electronic stability and transmission modes. The corresponding AMG Dynamic Select transmission controller calls up predefined ECU programs for the drive system, transmission and steering – Comfort (C), Sport (S), Sport Plus (S+), Race plus an individual configuration mode (I*). Buttons on the right toggle the different exhaust, Eco start/stop and transmission (manual or auto) modes.
Cutting to the chase, sitting in and driving the GT S is a rare and scrumptious treat, but I’ve come away from the whole affair with a bona fide case of blue balls on account of the weather. Yes, I’m blaming it all on the rain. In the absence of any (even casual) lap times, however, I put it to the Driving Academy’s Head Instructor, Danny Kok, who’s had plenty of time in the SLS, and will no doubt enjoy the same with the GT S this year and beyond.
“The GT is certainly easier to drive,” he says. “The weather did not really cooperate to give us proper tire temps for a true evaluation [during the first outing].”
Fortunately, the Driving Academy was able to return to CTMP just ahead of our press time, and Danny graciously stood in as our Stig for the day, data logger and all. He had been clocking mid-to high- 1:33-second lap times in the SLS at CTMP last year, and was quite optimistic the GT S would be roughly five seconds quicker around the 3.957-km circuit.
“We are quicker (at CTMP),” he confirms, having now managed to get a baseline lap time for the GT S. “My first timed laps – just two of them – were two seconds faster than the SLS at a 1:31.5.
“I thought it would have been quicker yet, but there were a few damp spots in turns eight and 10,” he reveals. “The big difference is in all the fast stuff, and there is still room for improvement as I get more laps in the car, but first indications are excellent!”
Indeed it is, and our high regard for the new flagship GT S coupe has only been furthered by this news. I’m confident Danny can knock off a couple more seconds, too.
As it were, the GT S is nimble, quick and predictable in the rain, and undoubtedly better when it’s dry. Nevertheless, it must be said that although the GT S is a relative bargain compared to its forebear, does it fare as well against the likes of Aston Martin, Audi, Chevrolet, Ferrari or Porsche? We wish we knew the answer, and vow to try and find out. Whatever the result, this AMG is the best one with two doors.