Mercedes-amg’s new GT Road­ster hits a sweet-spot on the spec sheet, but can it see off the howl­ing Audi R8 Spy­der V10?


Two brash drop­heads, two big power out­puts, two ways of go­ing about it. Which is bet­ter?

IF OP­PO­SITES RE­ALLY DO AT­TRACT, then see­ing the AMG GT Road­ster and Audi R8 Spy­der V10 go head to head along a great piece of road is a bit like watch­ing King Kong and Alien get it on. And the re­sults, as you can imag­ine, are noth­ing if not spec­tac­u­lar.

The AMG is a tra­di­tional front-en­gined bruiser with a never-end­ing bon­net that just about man­ages to con­tain its twin-turbo V8 and quintessen­tially rear-drive chas­sis. The R8, on the other hand, is far more del­i­cate in its ap­pear­ance, and ini­tially more ex­otic in its per­son­al­ity in that it is very ob­vi­ously mid- rather than rear-en­gined. And when you fire up its nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V10 en­gine for the first time, the sound that bursts forth is al­to­gether more so­phis­ti­cated in tenor be­side the pave­ment-shud­der­ing rum­ble that erupts from the AMG V8.

And yet… these two open-top sports cars that could even be de­scribed as su­per­cars, and which look so very dif­fer­ent to one an­other, ac­tu­ally de­liver quite sim­i­lar re­sults on pa­per. The AMG costs £110,160, has 469bhp and can hit 62mph from rest in four sec­onds flat be­fore max­ing out at 188mph. The R8 costs a touch more, at £132,020, but it also boasts a bit more poke – 533bhp – and thanks in part to its four-wheel-drive sys­tem can also hit 62mph al­most half a sec­ond quicker, in 3.6sec, on its way to a 197mph top speed.

So although there are small dif­fer­ences in their out­puts and in their re­sult­ing po­ten­tial, the AMG GT and R8 Spy­der are surely aimed at much the same kind of cus­tomer, even though they go about court­ing them in in­trigu­ingly dif­fer­ent ways.

Let’s fo­cus on the Mercedes first, be­cause be­ing the newer of the pair it’s the rea­son we’re here in the first place. It may be the en­try-level GT Road­ster (we sam­pled the 549bhp GT C in evo 235), but it’s still a bit of a beast, and not merely be­cause it fea­tures yet an­other in­car­na­tion of AMG’S ubiq­ui­tous 4-litre twin-turbo V8 en­gine. In the flesh it looks like a prop­erly thun­der­ous piece of ma­chin­ery, a bit like a Mako Shark Corvette but re­designed for the 21st cen­tury. As such, its pro­por­tions would be com­i­cal were they not also so per­fectly bal­anced from front to rear, and from side to side, al­beit in an old-school, chest-thump­ing kind of way.

How­ever, be­neath its mus­cu­lar-look­ing, mostly alu­minium skin, the GT is very much at the cut­ting edge. Its chas­sis and suspension are dig­i­tally con­trolled, car­bon-ce­ramic brakes are avail­able as an op­tion, and the steer­ing, con­tro­ver­sially per­haps, is hy­drauli­cally as­sisted but also speed-de­pen­dent in its weight­ing.

As ever with con­tem­po­rary AMGS, the Road­ster also fea­tures a multi-ad­justable drive pro­gram that al­lows you to play al­most end­lessly with the maps for the throt­tle, gear­box, ex­haust, dampers, steer­ing and so on. So even though it has just one elec­tri­cally pow­ered can­vas hood that low­ers or raises grace­fully into or out of the rear body­work in around 15 sec­onds, in re­al­ity the Road­ster can be many dif­fer­ent cars, depend­ing on the road, the driver, their mood and the oc­ca­sion.

For a strict two-seater con­vert­ible it’s a fairly prac­ti­cal car, too. Its boot is pretty de­cent in size given that there’s all the elec­tric-roof gub­bins to ac­com­mo­date, the cabin is well spec­i­fied, and the whole she­bang feels ex­tremely well built, with a gen­uine sense of qual­ity to all its but­tons and con­trols. The range of ad­just­ment on the ex­cel­lent (op­tional) sports seats means al­most any shape of driver can get com­fort­able be­hind the wheel too, which, as we’ll dis­cover, isn’t the case in the R8.

No mat­ter how good the AMG is to sit in or just look at, it is its en­gine and seven-speed dual-clutch gear­box that de­fine it. So too, to a lesser ex­tent, does its chas­sis. In this re­spect it’s a re­fresh­ingly sim­ple car to get your head around; it has that long bon­net, that V8 en­gine in its nose, a nicely sorted rear-wheel-drive chas­sis and lots of torque to play with. So stick the key in the ig­ni­tion (well, press the starter but­ton, if we’re be­ing pedan­tic), drop the roof and let’s go (Daddy-o…).

Ex­cept the AMG Road­ster turns out to be a wee bit more so­phis­ti­cated than that on the move, even though it does feel like a good old-fash­ioned hot-rod at heart most of the time, es­pe­cially be­side the the­o­ret­i­cally more in­ci­sive mid-en­gined Audi.

We may al­ready know most of what there is to know about the un­de­ni­ably fine R8 Spy­der. Its chas­sis is a mix of alu­minium and car­bon com­pos­ite, and its en­gine is the same 5.2-litre nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V10 that has been mak­ing us gig­gle for aeons now in the mid­dle of R8s – and Gal­lar­dos and Hu­racáns – al­beit heav­ily re­vised in this in­stance to pro­duce 533bhp at 7800rpm and 398lb ft at 6500rpm. ( You can now also get a Plus ver­sion of the Spy­der V10, with the same 603bhp as the Plus coupe.)

But no mat­ter how well you might think you know the Audi R8, and no mat­ter how fa­mil­iar you may be with its bril­liant V10 en­gine and seven-speed dual-clutch gear­box, it al­ways takes your breath away the first time you go back to it, and then nail it, all the way to the 8500rpm lim­iter. And when there’s no roof above your head, and maybe some kind of a bridge or, bet­ter still, a tun­nel in­volved, the raw thrill it can de­liver is that much more pal­pa­ble, that much more dra­matic.

And even with ‘just’ 533bhp to play with and a touch more weight to carry around than the coupe R8, the Spy­der never feels any­thing other than bloody quick, es­pe­cially over the last 3500rpm, where its en­ergy lev­els reach some­thing of a frenzy. This alone sep­a­rates, and in­deed el­e­vates, the R8 above and be­yond any­thing the AMG can pro­duce sub­jec­tively by way of a re­ply, no mat­ter how im­pres­sive the Road­ster’s ab­sence of lag or pure straight-line thrust might seem in iso­la­tion.

The sim­ple truth is that the AMG is a hugely rapid car, with huge torque avail­able at as­ton­ish­ingly low revs – 465lb ft from 1700rpm – seem­ingly in any gear, and seem­ingly from any speed. And in the mid-range it re­ally does fly, with mon­strous throt­tle re­sponse and im­mense trac­tion – to a point where even if you turn ev­ery­thing off and go with­out trac­tion con­trol, it still sinks its big (but again op­tional) 295-sec­tion 20in rear Con­ti­nen­tals deep into the road, squats a touch and then just goes, with­out wheel­spin (in the dry) from sec­ond gear on­wards. At the same time it also de­liv­ers a quite de­li­cious V8 sound­track to ac­com­pany your ev­ery move, with crowd-pleas­ing crack­les and bangs on the overrun dur­ing down­shifts and a deep-chested roar un­der load.

But it isn’t as quick as the R8. Nei­ther is it any­thing like as spine-tingly won­der­ful to lis­ten to at full chat. So be­fore you go any­where near try­ing to work out which one steers the sweet­est, rides the best, turns in the sharpest, han­dles the most crisply and so on, the R8’s scream­ing V10 en­gine and its frankly in­cred­i­ble du­al­clutch gear­box – which is so quick and so smooth it feels al­most like a CVT – pro­vide it with an edge the AMG is al­ways go­ing to strug­gle to re­cover from.

But re­cover it does, oc­ca­sion­ally in ar­eas that you ab­so­lutely would not ex­pect. Like, for in­stance, its driv­ing po­si­tion, which is just about per­fect so long as you like to sit nice and low and snug be­hind the wheel. In the R8 there’s barely enough legroom even for a rel­a­tive short-arse such as me at five foot ten, so for any­one of six foot or more the Spy­der’s cabin will surely be a nogo zone, which is highly un­usual for a company that other­wise gets its in­te­ri­ors pretty much per­fect.

The R8’s fuel con­sump­tion is also hor­ren­dous rel­a­tive to the AMG’S. In 700 miles of test­ing on var­i­ous types of road, driven at var­i­ous speeds, it av­er­ages just 17.9mpg com­pared with 22.1mpg for the Mercedes. What’s more, it’s a much nois­ier car to travel in on a mo­tor­way with the roof up, with more tyre and wind noise and, for some ex­tra­or­di­nary rea­son, no cruise-con­trol fit­ted as

stan­dard (un­like the AMG) de­spite cost­ing £20k more.

These are small things that add up to a sur­pris­ingly sig­nif­i­cant to­tal in terms of how use­able these cars are, day-in day-out. And they are, let’s be clear, both de­signed to be used prop­erly; these are not toys to be brought out on sunny days only, so we’re talk­ing here about things that mat­ter, al­beit more to some than oth­ers.

What mat­ters most, though, is not the prac­ti­cal stuff, or the fact that the AMG would prob­a­bly fit more eas­ily into most peo­ple’s lives than the R8. What mat­ters is that when you let rip in these cars, it’s the R8 that goes deep­est, hits hard­est, and sat­is­fies on a level that the AMG can never quite match.

The fact that the R8 also has the sweeter steer­ing of the two, a fair bit less shud­der over less-than-per­fect sur­faces and, amaz­ingly, the bet­ter ride qual­ity when both cars are in their most com­fort-ori­en­tated modes is al­most a bonus in the end. But it all means the R8 sim­ply goes down the road bet­ter than the AMG when you just climb in and start driv­ing. That said, nei­ther has steer­ing that’s any­thing to write home about. The R8’s feels a touch more nat­u­ral than the AMG’S over­all per­haps, but both steer­ing sys­tems suf­fer from be­ing too light, a bit too ner­vous in their ini­tial re­sponse, and de­liv­er­ing lit­tle in the way of feel through the rim.

But it’s what hap­pens when you dial their re­spec­tive drive pro­grams to the max (other­wise known as Dy­namic in the R8 or Sport+ in the AMG) and start chang­ing gears man­u­ally via the pad­dles that you get the sharpest con­trast of all be­tween these two. The AMG grows horns au­rally when you do so, true, but to be hon­est its ride and han­dling – and to a lesser ex­tent its steer­ing – go ever so slightly to pieces on UK roads.

Yes, you get more roll con­trol and, yes, the gearchanges get quicker and sharper, as does the throt­tle re­sponse from the V8. But the ride be­comes so harsh – with­out a cor­re­spond­ing step up in ei­ther turn-in crisp­ness or over­all han­dling agility – that it’s not long be­fore you reach for the dial to tone it all back down again, cer­tainly as far as the chas­sis and steer­ing re­sponses are con­cerned. And the most dis­ap­point­ing thing of all is that at no point dur­ing the but­ton-twid­dling process does the AMG ever re­ally find a sweet spot.

The R8, by con­trast, will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand quite per­fectly stiff to at­ten­tion in Dy­namic mode. And it’ll do so on most de­cent UK B-roads driven at speed, de­spite also suf­fer­ing from a touch of shake on the worst of them. Its steer­ing is good enough but its chas­sis re­sponses, its ex­tra agility, its body con­trol and, most of all, its en­gine and gear­box com­bine to pro­vide one of those rare driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences that can leave you os­cil­lat­ing slightly through a com­bi­na­tion of ex­cite­ment, mild fear and pure dis­be­lief.

It is, in the end, eas­ily the more ex­cit­ing of the pair to drive hard, to sim­ply go for a blast in, just for the heck of it. And the fact that it looks more ex­otic, sounds more dra­matic and is, ul­ti­mately, a fair bit quicker than the AMG is cream on the top. That driv­ing po­si­tion, though; they re­ally need to sort that next time around…


Clock­wise from

above left: 4-litre V8 sits way back in the AMG’S chas­sis; Merc’s car­bon­ce­ramic brakes a £5995 op­tion; R8’s mid-en­gined lay­out ap­par­ent from its cab-for­ward sil­hou­ette; R8’s solid in­te­rior un­done by a poor driv­ing po­si­tion; cast-iron ‘wave’ discs for the Audi

Above: two very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to the high-end drop­top. Right: R8’s star rat­ing takes a hit due to its driv­ing po­si­tion be­ing re­stric­tive for many driv­ers

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