Blistering Benz makes the earth move
This track-focused silver-starred newcomer can be a wildcat or a forgiving pussycat and it’s all your choice, says DAVE MOORE.
Mercedes-Benz has launched its most convincing attack yet on the Porsche 911, going for the top-slot models with a fully-honed sports coupe that arrives on the market in all singing and dancingAMGform this month, with a less powerful version due later in the year, to deal with lower echelon versions of the Zuffenhausen flyer.
The Mercedes-AMG GT S is spawned from the stunning but gimmicky SLS and uses some magnesium and aluminium componentry from that car, which used gullwing doors despite having no need of them, unlike that first 300SL that couldn’t use any other type of door so wide were its sills. The GT S is 92mm shorter than the much more expensive SLS, about the same width and some 27mm taller. It rides on a 50mm shorter wheelbase, and on tracks narrower by 2mmat the front and 1mmat the rear. at 2630mm.
Eschewing the fancy doors, which, truth be known could be a real pain in the backside in tight multi-level carparks, the new GT S provides rather less of everything when compared with its predecessors. It has less weight, a lot of it tossed overboard with those doors, a smaller and yet just as powerful and musical engine, with a mighty new seven-speed automatic gearbox and it comes up with a two golfbag boot - try that with the SLS - and a chassis so beautifully honed that it can be a plush-riding pussycat one minute and a corner-consuming beast the next.
It’s not that previous 911-targetted Benz offerings have been unwieldy in any way. Far from it, in fact some have been joyously engaging drives, it’s just that this new baby is that much closer to that Porsche-shaped bullseye, an archetypal turn-key supercar.
While the deliciously simple (did someone say Porsche-like) shape is a solar gold double-take that you can’t take your eyes off, with no fripperies save for a naff but necessary rear spoiler on the top Edition 1 versions, the new power unit is the real star of the show. It’s an all-new twin-turbocharged direct-injected four-litre V8, up to 2.5-litres smaller than some previousAMGofferings.
The engine’s blowers are tucked neatly into the valley between the cylinders which makes the engine more compact, and enhances the whole car’s weight distribution and polar inertia - essential if a carmaker wants the best general and on the limit handling characteristics.
The design also ensures superquick responses from the turbochargers and low exhaust gas emissions thanks to optimum air flow for the close-coupled catalytic converters. Dry sump lubrication also ensures good oil supply even with high lateral forces and allows the engine to be installed lower in the chassis, further improving the GT S’ centre of gravity.
The new power unit which is designated M178 at AMG’s Affalterbach pplant, makes 375kW at a heady and sonorous 6000 to 6500rpm, while the maximum torque value of 650Nm is available in a great broad wedge of effort all the way from 1750 and 4750rpm. While its factory-posted 3.7-second zero to 100kmh is more or less what you’d expect from a 150kg car with that kind of power and torque available, the EU-rated 9.4L/100km and 219g/km CO2 is probably not, being better than you get from a most six-cylinder Aussie sedans. With slightly less turbocharger pressure, the same V8 power unit provides the standard GT with 335kW at 6000rpm and 600Nm of torque between 1600rpm and 5000rpm.
Although the GT S is right in the thick of Porsche 911 budgets - with good reason - and asks a lot less than someAMGproducts, the model is sure to be the one time Benz tuning arm, now important performance sub-brand’s poster child.
With other appointments in Australia after I’d driven it, Mercedes-AMG were confident enough in the car’s basic soundness that they allowed me full-rein in one of just two right hand drive GT S models in the southern hemisphere car at the Norwell track’s tight-but-terrific chicanery in Queensland. After some training and instruction laps that is, and after having signed my life away and absolving the organisers of any responsibility should the unthinkable occur.
Thankfully, the car is a brilliantly balanced and responsive unit, with a flex-free, hewn from solid chassis that is unperturbed by my amateurish sawing at the wheel, not expecting the car and its performance to be quite as accessible as they are. That said, once you get your confidence and some smoothness into your interaction with the car, it starts to pile on velocities that mean you arrive at once pie-in-thesky braking points with a real need to slow down, as my instructor’s staccato ’brake - brake - brake,’ request makes well known.
At first it’s a simple: steer, accelerate, brake exercise with the long golden nose of the car hoovering-in the pockmarks on the less than perfect track surface. Then as you get used to the enormous levels of grip - even over those bumps - it’s a case of working the engine much more into the equation allowing it to have has much to do with the steering process as the wheel in front of you. A delightfully linear throttle action allows me to gently move the tail and change the turn-in reaction with some aplomb, though I was warned not to be too cocky. Moi, a sixty-five yearold, cocky? Well yes, actually. There would be few who could exploit theAMGGT S’s powerhouse and chassis without considerably more training than I, but that wouldn’t be to say that it wasn’t enjoyable, as the well-sorted steering obeyed its driver’s input without much more than a hint of understeer and even that was banished with just a blip of throttle and a tiny wristturn of counter-steer.
Underneath the GT S’s gorgeous lines is a forgiving race-bred spaceframe, double-wishbone chassis.