The treats of San Francisco
California dreaming comes true as our man puts the supercharged AMG GT S through its paces
FIREWORKS, thunder and a dose of Nascar. That’s what the new AMG GT-S sounds like when its exhaust snaps, crackles and pops.
It might look like Mercedes-Benz’s answer to the Porsche 911 but there is no mistaking what powers this machine, or where the noise is coming from. Event starting it gives you goosebumps.
The long bonnet seems to stretch forever but most of the real estate underneath is taken up by the company’s newest engine: a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 that will also power the coming AMG C63 sedan. Conveniently, the driver is sandwiched between two of the most glorious sounds in the automotive business: the roar of the engine and the bark of the exhaust. It’s surround sound for car buffs.
It completes the 0 to 100km/h dash in just 3.8 seconds.
Which is why I feel more alive than usual. Not just because the AMG GT-S is delighting the senses but because, quite frankly, it’s scaring the wits out of me.
We’re on the twisty and perilous Laguna Seca racetrack on the California coast, a twohour drive south of San Francisco.
And rain is on the way. I much prefer it when the thunder is coming from the exhaust rather than the clouds.
We get one clean session
before it starts. Then we can’t be exactly sure how much grip will be available on each corner.
A wiggle here and there in the wet will raise the heart rate even further and get the sweat trickling down from under the helmet.
Amid the rain and the apprehension, something amazing happens. The GT S makes the driver look much better driver than he really is.
So advanced is the stability control — it has five settings — that, providing you’re not flagrantly defying physics, it will save you time after time, dabbing the brakes on each corner as required to keep car and pilot on the blacktop.
Overdo it and you will still crash. If you’re not a complete lunatic you can post lap times to fool the best of them.
Then the adrenalin rush is over and it’s time to hit the open road — not just any road but Highway One. Much of California’s Pacific Coast Highway and the many arteries that feed it are as smooth as a racetrack; some corners are even banked like a competition circuit but I behave ourselves.
At first, the steering in the GT S feels too sharp, too responsive, but it takes all of 10 minutes to get accustomed to it.
To cruise along more discreetly and with a little more comfort, I simply turn the drive mode dial to comfort and the throttle is less aggressive, the suspension a little softer and the steering a little gentler.
Switch up to Sport Plus and it’s as if I’ve got an attack dog on a short lead. A tap on the accelerator and it feels as if it wants to lift the front wheels.
The F1-style carbon ceramic brakes, meanwhile, work with breathtaking efficiency.
Pricing is yet to be confirmed but it’s expected to cost from $270,000 plus on-roads (about $300K drive-away) when it goes on sale in Australia in the middle of next year.
That’s $200,000 less than the SLS Gullwing, with which it shares DNA, and smack in the middle of Porsche 911 territory ($208,000-$466,000). The difference, however, is that the Benz will deliver a much bigger bang for the same bucks.
The AMG GT S may look like the successor to the SLS Gullwing but only about 15 per cent of the structure, the floor and bulkheads, is common. More than 90 per cent of the body and core structure is lightweight aluminium. The result is a near-perfect weight distribution, which makes it more neutral and easier to drive.
AMG wants to be considered in the same company as Ferrari and Porsche so it designed the GT S to look like the cars it will go after.
The cabin feels like that of a race car — plus leather seats, airconditioning, top-end audio with navigation and power adjustable sports seats to find the optimum position.
Vision all around is surprisingly good, even though the rear window is quite small ... not that many cars or drivers will stay in the rear-view mirror of this beast.
Well taken care of: six airbags (two in the front, two in the seats and two “curtain” airbags in the roof) plus stability control and brakes, respectively among the smartest and biggest in the business.
Only the brave should apply.