The 510-horse­power Mercedes-amg GT S is the new king of lux­ury sports cars.

The 2016 Mercedes- AMG GT S puts a bull’s- eye on the back of the Porsche 911. But does the speed­ster hit its mark?

It be­gins at a San Fran­cisco stop­light, when a sun-kissed brunette rolls up next to the 2016 Mercedes-amg GT S I’m driv­ing. “Oh, my God. That car is so beau­ti­ful. What is that?”

Not five min­utes into our drive, the car passes its first test: Women dig it.

Mercedes’ ab­surdly pho­to­genic, long-nosed new­comer gets A’s in other crit­i­cal sports-car ex­ams, too—from ac­cel­er­a­tion to clock-tick­ing laps at Mazda Race­way La­guna Seca. But the shift-and-brake world is only con­cerned with one ques­tion: Is this Ger­man fresh­man re­ally in the same league as the clas­sic Porsche 911?

In truth, it’s a trick ques­tion. As only the sec­ond car fully de­signed by AMG, Mercedes’ per­for­mance divi­sion, this up­start can’t sim­ply wax away five decades of Porsche glory. Still, that hasn’t stopped Mercedes from paint­ing a bull’s-eye on the 911. The first salvo was the GT S’s de­part­ing pre­de­ces­sor, the 583-horse­power, roughly $220,000 SLS AMG, a le­git­i­mate, sur­pris­ingly hard-core su­per­car. Con­sider the GT S a mildly scaled­down, more earth­bound and af­ford­able ver­sion. It shares the ba­sic alu­minum space frame but loses the bravura gull-wing doors and surf­board-length hood.

Still, the GT S is one sleek sports car, with a three-pointed star on its sug­ges­tive snout, sprawl­ing hips, and a roof that evokes clas­sic SLS of the ’50s and ’60s. Viewed from the rear, it re­calls an ’80s Porsche 928—risky busi­ness, but it works.

The GT S we’re hus­tling down High­way 1 to Mon­terey starts at about $132,000. It goes on sale in April. Next spring, a roughly $112,000, 462-horse­power GT will grace the pave­ment.

Both share a front-mounted, 4.0-liter bi-turbo V-8, with the GT S boosted to 510 horse­power. That power cour­ses through a snappy dual-clutch, seven-speed trans­mis­sion. Ev­ery el­e­ment of the car’s per­son­al­ity—steer­ing, throt­tle, sus­pen­sion, trans­mis­sion, the throaty ex­haust— can be ad­justed for any type of pave­ment as­sault.

Shov­ing that V-8 en­tirely be­hind the front axle does won­ders for bal­ance, but it forces a bulging, space-steal­ing cen­ter con­sole in­side. The dash­board is lav­ish: stitched leather, frosted with bull’s-eye vents and a tablet-like screen. But the shifter sits awk­wardly near your right el­bow, sur­rounded by a hec­tic ar­ray of di­als. Footwells are tight, there’s no back­seat, and a gun-slit wind­shield nar­rows the view. The ef­fect is like be­ing zipped into a zen­tai suit and booted onto the run­way.

Yet if the cock­pit re­calls a de­signer bar­rel, then the per­for­mance is a dare­devil ride over Ni­a­gara—or the Corkscrew, the half-blind plunge at La­guna Seca. Steer­ing is spot-on and lively, han­dling lim­its are high, and op­tional car­bon ce­ramic brakes halt from epic speeds with no fade.

On pub­lic roads, the Mercedes casts the same per­for­mance spell, the cul­mi­na­tion of AMG’S wiz­ardly en­gi­neer­ing and grow­ing con­fi­dence in its pow­ers. Cours­ing down Sky­line Boule­vard on the spine of the Santa Cruz moun­tains, the car sling­shots from corner to corner with howl­ing ar­ro­gance.

So here’s your an­swer: Twenty years ago, no one could have imag­ined that con­ser­va­tive Mercedes would ever de­liver such a race-bred two-seater. But the AMG GT S, even with a few mi­nor mis­steps, proves this: The com­pany might not di­rectly outdo Porsche, but it knows how to build a bull­dog ca­pa­ble of sink­ing its teeth into the hindquar­ters of the 911 and never let­ting go.

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