“The trac­ton con­trol’s in­ter­ven­tion is so soft that at times it feels like an au­ton­o­mous drift but­ton”

Top Gear (UK) - - AMG GT R VS RIVALS -

con­frms as much even sooner. The steer­ing is heavy and the di­rec­tion changes are so, so crisp. It feels quite difer­ent to the stan­dard car, and so it should be­cause a quick check of the spec sheet af­ter­wards shows that, just like the RS, it has rear steer­ing.

The car feels taut and fat. Turn-in is ab­so­lutely su­perb (the front tyre is a 275/35) and then the grip just builds down the side of the car. It will un­der­steer if you’re lazy with the throt­tle, but the torque de­liv­ery is so vi­o­lent and the difer­en­tial so tight that at pretty much any point you can move the slip an­gle to the rear axle. Or just do a skid.

But here’s the sur­pris­ing bit. Un­til now, all very fast AMGs, even the ones sup­pos­edly op­ti­mised for track use, have been trac­tion­lim­ited thugs. Hugely en­joy­able, yes, but lack­ing the breadth of abil­ity to pound out ac­cu­rate laps. The GT R com­pletely changes that. It’s efec­tively front-mid-en­gined, and the new spring/damper com­bi­na­tion work­ing with the sticky tyres have given it the kind of trac­tion the ba­sic S model can’t even dream of. And this is the key to that car’s char­ac­ter: post-apex you fnd your­self is­su­ing small cor­rec­tive steer­ing in­puts as the rear just moves around and hunts for trac­tion. It’s not scary – it’s ac­tu­ally beau­ti­fully con­trolled.

And you can lean on that fancy new trac­tion­con­trol sys­tem. Slacken it away from max­i­mum as­sis­tance and it al­lows a fair de­gree of con­trolled slip – the in­ter­ven­tion is so soft it does at times feel like an au­ton­o­mous drift but­ton.

The ce­ramic brakes are im­mense, but you don’t con­cen­trate on them be­cause the mo­tor flls your senses. With the DNA tog­gle in Race mode, the ex­haust faps are open and the thing blares and screams on any throt­tle open­ing, then snaps and bangs on the over­run. It’s an im­mense pow­er­train be­cause the gearshift is so damn good both up and down the ’box. The GT R is the best AMG I’ve driven on track by a fac­tor of 10.

The M4 GTS, sadly, comes nowhere close to match­ing it. I’ve never fully un­der­stood why this track-ad­dict M4 fell so far short of ex­pec­ta­tions – ac­tu­ally that’s not the case. It didn’t feel 68bhp faster than the stan­dard car, trac­tion was poor, grip not that im­pres­sive and it just wasn’t that ex­cit­ing to drive. I just don’t un­der­stand how BMW thought this was worth an ex­tra £64,075 over the stan­dard M4. And be­fore I’m ac­cused of bash­ing all tur­bocharged M cars, I’m one of the few gen­uine E80 M3/M4 ad­vo­cates out there.

The GTS pushes a claimed 493bhp, but at 1510kg, while lighter than the AMG, it feels much heav­ier. Be­ing based on a phys­i­cally big­ger ma­chine than the other two doesn’t help, nor does the higher seat­ing po­si­tion. There’s an aloof­ness to the con­trols af­ter the AMG, ev­ery­thing is light and lack­ing in a sense of con­nec­tion. And it sim­ply can’t work the same sticky Miche­lins the way the Mercedes can. Once they’re fully up to tem­per­a­ture you can chase the throt­tle com­ing out of turns, but be­fore that point this is one of the most tail-happy cars I’ve driven in years. I should love that, but the fact is the GTS is a very spiky char­ac­ter. I don’t al­ways trust it, even in the dry. In the wet I would nor­mally choose to wear some kind of adult nappy be­fore buck­ling up.

The trac­tion con­trol isn’t as so­phis­ti­cated as the GT R’s, so you really need to switch it of and grow a pair. The mo­tor is strong and in iso­la­tion I’d be telling you how im­pres­sive it is for a turbo unit in terms of re­sponse and high-rpm ap­petite, but it loses to the Mercedes in ev­ery sin­gle area. And the gear­box isn’t as quick ei­ther.

But what I fnd truly baf­ing about the BMW is that I ac­tu­ally pre­fer driv­ing a stan­dard M3 sa­loon to this ex­otic lim­ited-num­bers spe­cial. And that just shouldn’t be the case. I can’t really pass judge­ment on the looks, I sup­pose it’s down to the in­di­vid­ual. But if both the Porsche and the Mercedes carry about them a sense of real mo­tor­sport DNA, the BMW some­how seems a lit­tle, well, af­ter­mar­ket. Judge a man by the size of his spoiler, and all that.

The BMW poses no threat to the Porsche what­so­ever. Its 4.0 fat-six is the only at­mo­spheric mo­tor here and it screams most of the way to 9,000rpm. It is the light­est, has the most ag­gres­sive aero­dy­namic ap­pendages and those rear tyres ofer a 325 sec­tion to the road sur­face.

Tur­bocharg­ers may bring mas­sive mid-range shove, but the mo­ment you open up the Porsche and ping an 8,500rpm gearchange you know that how­ever hard Mercedes has tried with the GT R, it just can’t match the emo­tional ap­peal of this ma­chine. It is one of the great, un­sul­lied me­chan­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences.

The gear­box is the fastest, most race-like here. The soar­ing in­take noise that changes pitch sev­eral times as it climbs to­wards the red line is the best here, the steer­ing is also the best here – I think you might be get­ting some idea of how I feel about this car.

And it goes such a long way to fx­ing the prob­lems that have plagued fast track-go­ing 911s for decades. The clever com­bi­na­tion of lock­ing difer­en­tial, rear-wheel steer­ing and star­tlingly wide 265-sec­tion front tyres keep the un­der­steer to a min­i­mum. It doesn’t turn in quite as sharply as the Mercedes, but it can be bul­lied into an apex by trail-brak­ing in a way no other fast 911 can. Trac­tion is im­mense and the ac­cu­racy with which you can place the thing bor­ders on the tele­pathic.

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