The awe and the roar
Even in calm mode, the GT R is capable of ferocious acceleration — then you turn the dial up to 11
GERMANY’S GT R will leave you wide-eyed with awe. It bellows, barks and cackles like some scary-fierce wild animal. And it corners like one too, changing direction with the urgent agility of a big cat pursuing prey.
As Japan’s GT-R, made by Nissan, is nicknamed Godzilla, the new model from MercedesAMG deserves something equally apt and memorable. King Kong might fit the bill.
It’s already king of Germany’s fabled Nurburgring, recently setting a lap record for a street-legal car at the track.
In the hands of a German car magazine, the two-seater got around the daunting 23km Nordschleife (north loop) in just 7 minutes, 10.9 seconds.
Mercedes-AMG used a lesser-known venue to present the GT R officially to the world. The Algarve International Circuit, near Portimao in the south of Portugal, is less than 5km long. It may be much shorter than the Nurburgring, but it is also warmer and drier at this time of year.
The GT R is in effect Mercedes-AMG’s existing GT S with the dial turned up to 11.
“We squeezed out everything that was possible,” says company chairman Tobias Moers. “Engine, transmission, suspension, aerodynamics, lightweight construction; no performance-relevant component was untouched.”
Larger turbos were fitted. The dry-sump twin-turbo 4.0litre V8 gained uprated cylinder heads and its electronics were remapped, upping power by 55kW to 430kW.
Carbon-fibre instead of aluminium was used to make the tube joining the frontmounted V8 to the rearmounted seven-speed doubleclutch transmission. Gear ratios were changed for swifter acceleration and the hot-shop developed a titanium muffler with triple exhausts, two of
which are normally blocked by flap valves.
Front and rear tracks were made wider, and bodywork reshaped to suit. Computer controlled electric rear-axle steering was added. Carbonfibre replaced metal for front guards, roof, rear spoiler and strengthening braces, among other parts.
Even if some of the technology added weight, the kilo-shaving materials bring a 15kg overall reduction.
Active aero devices enhance downforce at the front end, which has a toothy-looking grille intended to evoke the Mercedes-Benz SL300 Panamericana endurance racers of the early 1950s.
It’s a potent package of changes that lifts the GT, which went on sale last year, to superstar status.
The engine has the power to unstick the rear tyres at almost any time. Including when accelerating flat-out down the Portimao straight at above 200km/h.
It’s not every day you see the traction warning light flashing in the dash at speeds like this.
But the GT R is a manageable car, not a manic handful. The brilliance of its electronics actually makes it easy to safely explore its limits.
Driven in its Sport Plus or Race modes, both of which open the muffler flaps for fullvolume tailpipe drama, it is brilliant to drive. Stability when braking hard is outstanding, as is the way it turns instantly and accurately into fast curves.
The steering is quick, and telegraphs clearly when the front tyres begin to slip a little.
On slower corners, you can slide the rear out with ease, safe in the knowledge the car’s electronic safety net won’t let things get too out of hand.
It’s an intense experience to drive the GT R on a racetrack, and you climb out of it feeling as if you’ve just drunk a shot of straight adrenalin.
Yet there’s another side to the Mercedes-AMG. Twirl the drive-mode dial to Comfort or Sport modes, and you have a car that’s quieter and calmer, but still capable of ferocious acceleration at any time.
These modes shut the flaps of the outer tailpipes, so exhaust gas emerges only from the central outlet. The steering becomes lighter, the gearchanges smoother (even at wide-open throttle) and the shock absorbers less firm.
Here’s a car you could live with every day of the week. The ride is relatively comfortable and noise levels acceptable. There are annoyances, such as the too-far-back placement of the gear selector, not-so-great outward vision and paltry luggage space — but the Mercedes-AMG’s other-side brilliance is a powerful antidote to such concerns.
The GT R will arrive in Australia in June or July.
“It’s likely to be (about) $360,000 but we’re still working on the final numbers and specification,” says Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman Jerry Stamoulis.
This is about $60,000 more than the GT S on sale now, but the R comes with so much extra awe this seems almost reasonable value.