The first time you attempt to let it off the leash, you’ll be shocked by the savage aggression of the Mercedes-AMG GT R.
Despite the presence of twin-turbochargers, the engine delivers power and torque with an instantaneous, one-to-one relationship to throttle pedal movements. And the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission slaps through shifts with the speed and rapid-fire ferocity of an automatic weapon. The chassis is firmly tied down, but even on an Australian back road, the body control is such that you’ve confidence to exploit what could be an otherwise overwhelming experience.
Apologies if that sounds like the conclusion to a road test, but the Mercedes-AMG GT R is brilliant and it takes only a few nanoseconds to work it out. Even after my first exploratory toe-dip into the GT R’s talent pool, it’s clear that this is an extraordinary car – supercar fast, scalpel sharp and genuinely exotic. It’s also not a Porsche 911 GT3, and that will appeal to many.
Even taking the $350K cost of entry into consideration, the AMG offers thrills and performance that mark it out as something of a bargain. For historical context, the wild child AMG SLS Black Series was $640,000.
While the Black Series’ 6.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 is rightly enshrined in the engine
hall of fame, the GT R’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 is one hell of a substitute. Its 430kW might be down 34kW to the Black Series’ power haus, but its 700Nm trumps the mightiest SLS by 65Nm. Beyond the peak torque figure, the GT R’s turbocharged V8 serves its torque on a table top from 1900-5500rpm, while the atmo Black Series builds to its peak at 5500rpm.
The GT R has recorded a Nurburgring lap time of 7:10.9 and, this time last year, blasted around Bathurst’s Mount Panorama in 2:16.5. The chassis talent that took the GT R to these heights is immediately obvious on any challenging sinew of tarmac. Every response is true and inputs are rewarded in real time, and with vivid and expressive communication. If I’m being hyper-critical, the AMG probably lacks the last few degrees of nuance compared to a GT3 RS, but it’s every bit as exciting and reactive as that other Stuttgart scalpel. And the engine punches with an intensity that even a 4.0-litre flat-six howling at 9000rpm has little hope of matching.
From just 2500rpm, the turbochargers have completely filled the lungs of the revvy and responsive V8, and the GT R hoovers up the road from corner exit until you’re diving into the heroic and feelsome brakes for the next bend. The internals of the turbos have been modified, engine mapping revised and boost pressure increased from 1.2bar to 1.35. AMG’s engineers have also altered the compression ratio, refined the exhaust port design, changed the way the boost pressure builds and fitted a new dual-mass flywheel that’s 0.7kg lighter than that fitted to the GT S – all with the aim of sharpening throttle response.
On paper, plenty of cars match the performance of the GT R, but on the road, it genuinely feels like it possesses speed from the class above. Perhaps the acceleration is exaggerated by the seating position over the rear axle. Stand on the throttle, and as the vast 325/30ZR20 Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres dig in and find total traction, the long bonnet feels like its making a dash for the horizon at a faster rate than your seat. The onslaught of noise and thrust combines to give the AMG a giddy, runaway-train quality.
For the last few hours, I’ve been happily exploring the GT R’s many talents on some of Victoria’s finest and quietest mountain passes. But all of this time, I’ve been sneaking glimpses at the incongruous yellow rotary dial jutting from the dash below the centre air-con vent. It controls the GT R’s nine-stage, motorsport-style traction control system and it is only engaged once you’ve selected Race mode and disabled the regular, three-stage stability control system.
I’m not one of those heroes who thinks that his driving talents outweigh the collective engineering nous of a company such as AMG, so rarely do I switch off stability control on the road. In fact, my grey matter is stretched to recall the last time I did it. But I’m also keen to try this system, as it’s a first for a road car and very similar to that used by the AMG GT3 race car that I’ve driven previously. So, with some trepidation, I engage DEFCON 4 on the drive modes (Race, sits above Comfort, Sport and Sport+) and hold down the forbidden ESC button until I’m on my own.
In the interest of science and nerves, I dial the nine-stage motorsport TC to its most-conservative setting (it defaults to position five when first engaged) and vow to work my way down the settings until the AMG scares me into switching back to the normal system. Until now, the GT R’s responses have been sharp but natural and the chassis feels in complete harmony across the two axles. Have the electronics been disguising a Mr Hyde quality?
Initially, the GT R feels no different. The grip across both axles is still in sync and you can confidently lean against the steering on turn-in and the back axle from the apex. AMG engineers suggest that, in longer corners, the GT R will easily generate over 1G of lateral acceleration, but this sounds mightily conservative. It doesn’t take many corners or transitions for your neck to register the g-loadings.
With confidence in the chassis still in place, I work through levels eight and seven, before having my first small spike of wheelspin and flurry of oversteer in level six. Another click on the yellow dial enlivens the chassis to the point where you must smooth steering and throttle inputs so not to upset the flow of the chassis and trigger the TC into stepping in and cutting the engine. Level four is also where bumps and throttle inputs combine to spike the rear axle into action, grip constantly ebbing and flowing.
Swallowing my last brave pill, I summon the courage to give the dial one more click. While you certainly need to stay on top of the car in this setting, it hasn’t revealed itself to be untameable. Turn in sharply (but fluidly) and the car will begin to take attitude before the apex. Squeeze in the power and revel in the linearity of the delivery as the torque tweaks the tail out a few degrees more and holds it there until the corner runs out or you decide to gather it up. In all honesty, the slides are shallow and require minimal amounts of opposite lock, but in a car as stiff as the GT R, and one that rides on ultra-grippy tyres, it doesn’t take much to feel heroic.
The GT R isn’t to be feared in this setting, but I also know that I’ve pushed hard and ridden my luck. It’s with some relief that I resume normal ESC operation. I later learn that Bernd Schneider (former F1 driver, five-time DTM champion and AMG GT3 racer), used position four to set fast times around Portugal’s challenging Portimao circuit on the car’s international launch last year.
Having kept it out of the shrubs, it’s time to reflect on the staggering achievement that this car represents. Beyond the obvious comparison to the SLS Black Series, the GT R stands genuine comparison to the company’s GT3 race car. Acknowledging that this will sound absurd, it feels like it shares more strands of DNA with the race car than it does with the lesser GT S and GT C models. In that way, it again reminds me of the 911 GT3 RS, which feels more like a Cup than a Carrera. For a car dedicated to driving, I can think of no bigger compliment.