Four doors, earth-turn­ing twist and a hunger for race­tracks de­fine Merc’s new Panam­era chal­lenger

THIS IS the most pow­er­ful AMG you can cur­rently buy – and it has four doors. It’s a per­for­mance-car con­cept that shouldn’t work be­cause of its weight, but it does. Exit the cat­e­gory-defin­ing CLS, en­ter the new Mercedes-AMG GT63 S 4-Door. Af­fal­ter­bach has a new four-door V8 ‘coupe’ to play with.

Let’s cover the ba­sics. It’s a re­fresh­ingly dif­fer­ent de­sign, yet it’s still com­plete with all the sig­na­ture AMG cues. There’s a stonk­ing 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 up front that belts out a mon­strous 470kW. It’s matched by a wa­ter­fall of torque and a hellish sound­track. What’s more, the 4MATIC+ driv­e­train can also de ac­ti­vate the front axle( like the E 63 S) for ex­pres­sively lurid slides.

If you’re think­ing this is a recipe for fun, then you’d be right. We drank the 66-litre tank dry and took the rear tyres al­most down to the can­vas, op­po­site-lock­ing our way through 25 hot laps of the Cir­cuit of the Amer­i­cas track in Austin. The GT63 S 4-Door is a heavy hit­ter in ev­ery sense of the ex­pres­sion. It beg­gars be­lief just how wide your smile can get in a two-tonne four-door coupe. The fact it will reach 100km/h from rest in just 3.2 sec( be sting the E 63 S by two tenths) and top out at 315 km/h just adds to the hi­lar­ity of it all. Who said AMG doesn’t have a sense of hu­mour...

Strangely, for such a men­tal­ist car, it doesn’t play in this berserk cat­e­gory alone. Audi will soon launch the new 450kW-plus RS7 and BMW is putting the fin­ish­ing touches on the equally po­tent M8 Gran Coupe. Porsche is ahead of the game and has al­ready in­tro­duced its Panam­era Turbo, a true les­son in de­fy­ing physics. In the past, Mercedes-AMG has chal­lenged th­ese con­tenders with the CLS63 AMG, but not any­more. In­stead, the team led by Tobias Mo­ers has cre­ated a new four-seat king of the fast lane.

The model line-up com­plies with the mar­que’s usual lev­els of se­duc­tion. The GT43, pow­ered by a 270kW 3.0-litre straight-six turbo, is clearly more about style over per­for­mance sub­stance. The next rung, the GT53, squeezes a much more en­ter­tain­ing 320kW out of the same en­gine – and is sup­ple­mented by an ex­tra 16kW and 250Nm via the EQ Boost Hy­brid sys­tem. Over­seas mar­kets get two ver­sions of the force-fed V8 to choose from, we re­ceive only the full-fat S. While the 430kW GT63 has al­ready got what it takes to twist the drive­shafts into a frenzy, the 470kW S vari­ant is the real, tar­mac-peel­ing, McCoy.

The GT43 is a cruiser and the GT53 ups the ante by a cou­ple of notches, but only the GT63 S comes close to be­ing as

ut­terly ad­dic­tive. Why does it have to be the S? Aside from the ex­tra poke and moun­tain-haul­ing grunt, there’s other high­per­for­mance en­hance­ments like the tauter air sus­pen­sion, quicker rear-wheel steer­ing and six re­mark­ably clever driv­ing pro­grams com­plete with the trade­mark Drift mode. While the two-door GT coupe comes with a bright yel­low thumb­wheel with vary­ing stages of trac­tion con­trol, the four-door sis­ter model is equipped with all-wheel drive as stan­dard. Hence the GT63 S needed the drama of a Drift mode – just like its com­peti­tor, the BMW M5.

Switch­ing off ESP opens the door to hell, but for max­i­mum heat and full-throt­tle fire one must re­move the elec­tronic safety net com­pletely. In­ter­est­ingly, there are five steps. Se­lect Race mode first, then go into Man­ual and switch off ESP com­pletely. A screen then pops up in­struct­ing you to si­mul­ta­ne­ously pull both shift pad­dles. The fi­nal move is to con­firm the set­ting. To do so, hit the right pad­dle one more time. At this point, an unhinged level of drift can be achieved. On the race­track, hard cor­ner­ing is a to­tally dif­fer­ent ball game now, pri­mar­ily be­cause you look at most apexes through the side win­dow. Af­ter only two laps, the tyre pres­sure sen­sors be­gin to beep for mercy, but af­ter a brief pit stop we’re back out again, burn­ing rub­ber with ab­so­lute ded­i­ca­tion.

The way this car be­haves and per­forms can be cat­e­gorised in two very dif­fer­ent dy­namic halves. In ad­di­tion to the fa­mil­iar ad­justable pa­ram­e­ters like ESP and damper/sus­pen­sion con­trol, the GT63 S comes with a fur­ther en­hance­ment known as AMG Dy­nam­ics. The fea­ture bun­dles the ac­tions of sta­bil­ity con­trol, 4MATIC+ torque dis­tri­bu­tion, rear-wheel steer­ing ac­tu­a­tion and lim­ited-slip diff cal­i­bra­tion in four fixed at­ti­tudes. They are la­belled Ba­sic, Advanced, Pro and Master. It all sounds con­fus­ing, but in re­al­ity it’s a treat.

Ev­ery mode has its own DNA, which be­comes more chal­leng­ing as you move up the lad­der to the no-holds-barred Master setup. Thank­fully, ev­ery­thing can be fully per­son­alised. While it isn’t pos­si­ble to ac­ti­vate ESP in Master, it is, for in­stance, worth try­ing ESP off in com­bi­na­tion with Ba­sic mode. That way you have the at­ti­tude, but none of the ex­ag­ger­a­tion. It works re­ally well on road and track. The stag­gered con­cept makes adapt­ing easy with­out com­pro­mis­ing con­fi­dence.

In cer­tain AMG sedans (like the E63 S which fin­ished sec­ond at PCOTY 2018), the Com­fort set­ting for the dampers has been in­fa­mous for an overt lack of com­pli­ance. The new lift­back takes no pris­on­ers in Sport Plus and Race, ei­ther. How­ever, there is enough travel and shock ab­sorber mercy in Sport, which is im­pres­sive. Still, the ul­ti­mate verdict will come on truly un­set­tling Aussie back roads in the sec­ond half of 2019.

With the Master mind­set logged in, body move­ments are kept hand­ily in check. Cor­ner­ing is en­cour­ag­ingly flat and any way­ward­ness is kept to an ab­so­lute min­i­mum. As al­ways, tyre tem­per­a­tures can spoil the fun, but even on hot rub­ber, the


high-speed, fourth-gear esses – COTA’s big­gest chal­lenge – are wide enough to let you play with the line. You can tweak the en­try speed and con­nect to the fol­low­ing right-han­der with­out los­ing too much mo­men­tum. Add to this the clamped-down road­hold­ing, the cor­ner­ing grip and the ro­bust man­ners at the limit and you get a good idea of how speed and con­trol join forces in this quite re­mark­able sports coupe.

De­spite all the sta­bil­ity-en­hanc­ing trick­eries, the 295-sec­tion tyres don’t take a lot of per­sua­sion to paint the tar­mac with vivid black lines through ev­ery sec­ond- and third-gear turn. Both aero kits, the stan­dard one with the ac­tive rear wing and the ground-ef­fects op­tion with the eye catch­ing fixed spoiler, pro­duce neg­a­tive lift all the way to V-max and help the GT63 S stayed glued to the ground.

The MCT is a gear­box with vary­ing per­son­al­i­ties. When in Race, it re­ally kicks butt and hangs on tena­ciously to ev­ery ad­di­tional rev­o­lu­tion it can coax out of the en­gine. Full-throt­tle up­shifts keep stretch­ing the friend­ship with the rev lim­iter and down­shifts trig­ger an acous­tic event like lit­tle else. How­ever, the ini­tial change from first to sec­ond can be a tad jerky.

Although the steer­ing does ad­just ac­cord­ingly to the se­lected drive mode, the bal­ance is a touch too light as you wind on more lock. When pushed, the AMG GT63 S han­dles be­yond ex­pec­ta­tions. It’s the mod­u­lar­ity of mo­tion that builds con­fi­dence, the way the chas­sis and steer­ing in­ter­act with the torque flow and the broad scope of at­ti­tudes that range from mild slides to smoke-filled drifts. When the big Merc turns in and the stubby rear end swings around, you can leave it ridicu­lously late be­fore feed­ing in large amounts of oomph and wind­ing on op­po­site lock.

How­ever, through­out our time be­hind the wheel a rather large ele­phant con­stantly re­mains in the room. A hand­i­cap this be­he­moth on steroids can’t quite ever es­cape – its weight. The GT63 S rolls onto the scales at a not so Lite ’n’ Easy 2045kg. Still, shift­ing that mass is ef­fort­less. Hence the hero, M5-beat­ing 0-100km/h time is ut­terly be­liev­able. Con­grat­u­la­tions must go to AMG for be­witch­ing the laws of physics.

In­ter­est­ingly, on the inside, this four-seat coupe of­fers enough rear head and legroom – even for tall adults. How­ever, en­try and exit are com­pro­mised by the bulging sill, bulky front seats and that slop­ing roof line. The 461-litre boot is both wide and flat, but can be ex­tended to wagon-sta­tus with the rear seats folded. There are some fid­dly er­gonomic cabin flaws, too, as the new touch­pad and touch-sen­si­tive con­trols on the new steer­ing wheel are both hit and miss. The new A-Class does the for­mer much bet­ter. With so many but­tons and gad­gets you can sit in the park­ing lot for an hour be­fore even tak­ing off. Although it does take style el­e­ments from the AMG GT and the S-Class, so it is an at­trac­tive de­sign.

Ul­ti­mately the new straight-six tur­bos (one with a hint of elec­tri­fi­ca­tion) will al­most cer­tainly do the lion’s share of GT 4-Door busi­ness. They’re com­pelling cars for sure with an advanced con­cept (thanks to the 48V elec­tric sys­tem) and em­ploy a great all-round na­ture that will garner mass ap­peal. But they don’t even come close to the out­landishly fast and wholly awe­some GT63 S. It’s a beast we’d never tire of tam­ing.

BE­LOW What’s in a name? Ap­par­ently MercedesAMG was hes­i­tant to use some­thing like GT-4 as it could be con­fused with rac­ing

OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM In­cred­i­ble drift an­gles are per­mit­ted, all the while smok­ing the rears and cre­at­ing one hell of a sound

ABOVE Op­tional car­bon­ce­ramic brakes ar­rest the enor­mous pace – es­sen­tial on track and re­as­sur­ing ev­ery­where else

OP­PO­SITE TOP Dash is dom­i­nated by 12.3-inch screens for in­stru­ment clus­ter and in­fo­tain­ment, while new-gen AMG steer­ing wheel also fea­tures

OP­PO­SITE The long, AMG-GTstyle bon­net, op­tional 21-inch al­loys, swoop­ing sil­hou­ette and quad ex­hausts moulded into the rear dif­fuser add to the GT63 S’s mon­grel

ABOVE LEFT For im­proved ef­fi­ciency, both twin-scroll tur­bos are lo­cated be­tween the cylin­der banks for a ‘hot vee’ ar­range­ment

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