Mercedes-AMG GT C
Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster £143,245 WE SAY: THE MIGHTY GT GETS A CABRIO VERSION IN TWO SHADES OF ALARMING...
Even if it isn’t playing on the audio system, point the new AMG GT roadster down a sunsplashed Phoenix freeway and ‘Life’s Been Good’ is the sort of chrome-plated rock anthem that’s perma-rotating round your brain. If you have one of these, life isn’t merely good, it’s absolutely ruddy marvellous. Mercedes has waited until the GT v1.5 to unveil the convertible version, complete with dramatic new Panamericana-inspired 15-louvre grille, active air management and, on the GT C, active rear-wheel steering and electronically locking rear dif. In the right spec – Magno grey with the red soft-top, for example – this is a car that stalks the boulevards with magnifcently executed menace.
It’s an important point: how good the GT roadster is in objective terms is secondary to the sheer visual impact it makes. Still, with the promise of 400-plus miles across some of Arizona’s fnest blacktop, we naturally gravitate towards the GT C, the 557bhp iteration that sits above the GT S coupe and nuzzles close to the loony GT R in the family hierarchy and degree of weaponisation, despite having no roof and an ostensibly less racy remit. The cheaper vanilla GT roadster, with just 476bhp, is the one for the plastic surgeons and successful self-made estate agents, right? Hmm, we’ll see about that.
We also need to keep in mind what kind of playing feld the GT roadster fnds itself on. A highly competitive one. The top-fight GT C is £143,245, and frankly if you’re scoping out this sort of territory you’ve probably got that default other car as your daily user: the Range Rover. Still, let’s assume everyday usability matters.
Top of the bill here is the Audi R8 V10 Spyder, which costs £131,140 and doesn’t only go, stop and handle sublimely, but does it with an atmospheric engine. (This
is an increasingly important USP, to us at least.) The current car is a thrilling all-rounder, although weirdly the vastly cheaper TT has a better – and roomier – cabin. Then there’s the Bentley Continental GT convertible, which is close on power to the AMG GT C but costs more: £165,600. Or the Ferrari California T, at £155,230, an even more glamorous player unsullied by having a hot-hatch relative causing bother in the basement. You could lob in Jaguar’s F-Type, which in (£113,795) SVR form is good enough to punch above its weight and mix it in this company. Or, for the ultimate grudge match, there’s the £156,381 Porsche 911 Turbo S convertible. It’s not often you fnd yourself writing a paragraph that actually has you drooling.
There’s another reason why America suits the GT roadster. Following the SLS, the GT was only the second solo AMG outing, a ground-up, clean-sheet car done wholly in Afalterbach, where the emphasis, we suspect, is on the engine rather than chassis. Now, the GT coupe is a hard car not to love, but it’s an equally hard car to drive adroitly down a typical British B-road. Wide, intergalactically fast, but also liable to snif out camber changes and surface imperfections like an over-attentive airport drug dog. A bit of a hot rod, in other words.
If you thought the roadster might dial things back a bit, think again. We’re barely 10 seconds out of the hotel car park when it’s clear that this is a car that takes an equally hardline approach. Even just mooching up to the on-ramp for Highway 17, it jiggles, joggles, prods and pokes. The throttle has a hair trigger. It feels like every one of those 557 horses is champing at the bit. Given that the local plod is equally hyperactive, this is a car in which you need to exercise some self-restraint.
There can’t be many soft-tops out there as rigid as this. The GT coupe’s lightweight aluminum spaceframe also receives extra reinforcement to counter the efects of decapitation. New side skirts with chunkier walls and extra chambers are added, while the dashboard gains additional strut braces against the windscreen, and there’s another tower brace between the soft top and the fuel tank. A cross-member behind the seats boosts the rollover protection system. Up front, it uses magnesium in its structure to reduce weight ahead of the axle, enhancing turn-in. The roof mechanism is also trick: a magnesium/steel/aluminium structure supports a three-layer hood, available in black, red or beige, which opens or closes in 11 seconds at speeds up to 30mph.
The muscle-car hot-rod equation is amplifed by the driving position. There’s such an expanse of bonnet visible through the windscreen you could apply for planning
“It feels like every one of those 557 horses is champing at the bit”
permission – for a shopping mall. The cabin ambience is enlivened by nappa leather trim, an AMG Performance steering wheel, and a mighty Burmester surround sound system with a fully integrated sub-woofer. The rear axle isn’t directly beneath your bottom, but it’s close, and that sensation informs the driving experience. The GT C is also wider at the rear than the standard car (2007mm vs 1939mm), and uses bigger wheels and tyres (305/30 R20 vs 295/35 R19). Its rear apron has wider contours and extra vents for improved air fow, although both models feature a bootlid made of SMC (Sheet Moulding Compound) and carbon fbre with an integral spoiler, to help reduce weight (1,735kg vs 1,670kg).
If this points to a car with enormous dry weather traction and grip in all phases of a corner, well, you’d be right. Somewhere out of Prescott – a dead ringer for Hill Valley in Back to the Future – we fnd a fantastic loop that takes us so far above sea level there’s soon snow on the ground. Before that, we get to revel in an engine that truly is a force of nature, somehow squeezing out 557bhp and 502lb ft against a thunderously baritone exhaust note backdrop, while reconciling a 195mph top speed and 0–62mph time of 3.7secs with 259g/km CO and 24.7mpg.
The GT C uses AMG’s triple-mode Ride Control adaptive damping system (it’s a £1,495 option elsewhere), so you can fip between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus for progressively less compliant rebound and compression levels. The C model also adds a Race mode to the Dynamic Select dual-shift transmission menu, to go with C, S, S+ and Individual. First gear on the 7spd DCT – a rear transaxle job – has a higher ratio, while seventh and the fnal drive are lower for greater urgency. It also has bigger front brakes (390mm v 360mm, with ceramics as an option on both GT and GT C).
It’s while working through the myriad options and variables that I wonder how its rivals would handle this road. The AMG has fantastic turn-in, and the active rear axle reduces understeer and sharpens agility appreciably by pointing the wheels 1.5° in the opposite direction to the fronts up to 62mph. Even so, it still can’t help but feel nose-led compared with the mid-engined Audi. The Porsche Turbo isn’t the best 911 in terms of absolute feel, but its steering, AWD traction and braking are superhuman. And it ain’t slow, either. The Ferrari’s too soft, but even a soft Ferrari is still a Ferrari. The Bentley’s too heavy, the Jaguar a secret gem saddled with an inferior interior. The GT C roadster feels approachable at, say, six-tenths, but turns a bit sledgehammer the harder you go. An exotic sledgehammer, but still ultimately, it lacks fnesse.
Switching into the base GT roadster is a textbook case of less being more. Less money, for a start, although if you can run to £110,135 for a two-seater convertible, cash is probably not an issue. But it also rides more comfortably, and while it doesn’t warp of the line quite as famboyantly as the GT C, you can probably live with the three-tenths it gives away to 62mph. AMG sold close to 100,000 cars last year, and its customers aren’t generally backwards about coming forwards. In this case, though, life isn’t just good with 81bhp less, it’s actually better.
Roof-down, you can enjoy the view. Mostly of the enormous bonnet
OR TRY THIS Audi R8 V10 Spyder Mid-engined, nat-asp V10 engine, as usable as it is fast