I have a problem. I've never managed to keep the throttle floored the entire stretch of Laguna Seca's front straight in anything over 500 horsepower. It's practically my home track, but as soon as I start climbing that crest, self-preservation kicks in and I lift. Every. Damn. Time. That changed in the Mercedes-AMG GT.
[Full Disclosure: Mercedes (er, AMG, er, Mercedes-AMG) wanted me to drive the GT so badly they put me up at not one, but two hotels, let me blow through not one, but two tanks of fuel, and then forced not one, but two orders of venison down my throat. AMG killed Bambi's mom and I was a willing accomplice. Apologies to your childhood.]
There's a certain confidence that comes from caning a new car around your home track. It's not just familiar, it's comforting. You know the turn-in points, what to aim for, when you can push your luck, and where that one bit of curbing runs a little too short. So two laps in with the GT, I'm already feeling good. But something feels different.
There's a sense of confidence going through turn 2 that I haven't felt before in something this solid or this powerful. More importantly, the high-speed, sphincter-puckering blast through the Rainey curve feels – for the first time – almost easy. There's trust in the GT. It feels right on track; the most right I've experienced in a Merc since caning the C63 Black here a few years back.
This is not what I was expecting.
Mercedes makes perfectly good GT cars. AMG makes completely nutty barn-burners. But the GT is different. It's not a gullwinged supercar or some over-endowed sedan with more power than prowess. It's a proper sports car in the most traditional sense. Which brings up The Comparison. Let's dispatch with that right now.
There is no such thing as a 911 competitor. They don't exist and never will. The driving dynamics of a rear-engine, rear-drive coupe are sacrosanct to Porsche, and until some product planner loses their mind, has compromising photos of every employee on a coke- and sex-fueled bender at a Christmas party, and starts building a 911 clone, the comparison isn't just lazy, it's misleading.
So what else is the GT aiming at? AMG lists the 911, but also the R8. And again, there's no comparison. Front engine versus mid-engine. The Corvette doesn't play ball on account of the GT's luxury, so the closest I can come up with is the Jaguar F-Type R. It's in the same ballpark on price, powertrain, and performance, but it's a bit silly. Even Travis, the nutter of bunch, can't take it seriously. And the AMG GT is very serious.
This all puts the AMG GT into a strange position. It's one of the only "proper" sports cars adhering to the age-old formula of front-engine (front/mid, really) and rear-drive. And in this day and age, that makes it special.
It's also a damn sharp car, snagging all the right design cues from the SLS and modern Mercs, and packaging them into something that's actually usable. There's an honest-to-God trunk, only slightly compromised by a strut beam spanning the space behind the slightly hard, incredibly supportive seats.
But the interior is what struck me the most. It's impeccably outfitted, not just the quality of the materials, but the overall design. It somehow manages to be both encompassing and airy, with the (optional) glass roof lightening up the somber surfaces and driver-focused controls. The alcantara-covered, flat-bottom steering wheel is the perfect diameter, framing clear gauges and fitted with right-sized paddles. The center console is festooned with buttons on each side – a bit awkward to see and reach, but would become second nature after a few day's worth of driving (oh, and it looks like a V8). The only ergonomic complaint is the shifter, which is so far back on the tunnel that I'm doing my best T-Rex impersonation when pulling into drive.
Among the scads of circular controls is the engine start button, which breathes life into the brand-new, hand-built, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8. It's basically a pair of the CLA45 AMG's 2.0-liter engines shoved together (same bore and stroke), with two of turbos nestled into the V to reduce lag and let the engine sit lower in the body. In the S version (the only model on hand for testing) the turbo'd eight puts out 503 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which delivers a plateau of twist from 1,750-5,000 RPM. That grunt is routed to the rear wheels through a carbon fiber driveshaft to the rear-mounted 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox and locking differential. Add it all up, along with a body that's 93-percent aluminum, and you've got a 47:53 front-to-rear weight balance on a 3,400(ish)-pound car, and a 0-60 time in the neighborhood of 3.6 seconds. Sports cars stuff, indeed.
Out on the road, it's clear that the GT isn't, well, a GT. Sure, you could Grand Tour it up and down the California coast, but it's more raucous than its SL sibling and far more focused. Even in Comfort mode, divots and pockmarks in the road are sent directly through the staggered (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sports, into the double wishbones as they pass through the chassis and into your hands and ass. But it's not jarring, it's just connected, maybe a little over-focused and, again, very serious.
The AMG Ride Control adapts the suspension, steering, throttle, and traction control through one of four settings: Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus, along with Race, available on the GT S model. Comfort is king on the highway and even through some of the twisties, providing ample feedback and an unwavering sense of control. But flicking over to Sport tightens everything up, and pressing the exhaust button makes every lift and downshift a snorting, snarling, piss-off-anyone-within-earshot affair. Yes, it is glorious.
The urge to unleash the engine out of every corner, on every straight, and down every passing lane was too hard to refuse, even for a responsible adult of unwavering moral character. With the transmission set to auto mode, matting the throttle pops down two or three gears in milliseconds, thrusting the GT to extra-legal speeds with an odd combination of violence and composure. The paddle shifters are there if you want them, but the gearbox and its supercomputer overlord handle gear selection with urgent precision, and there were only a few low-speed corners where it hesitated to drop down a gear as quickly as my right foot wanted.
Back to the track and I'm helmeted and shoved into one of the launch edition cars, with carbon ceramic brakes, a wing, and a few other baubles. These cars also feature the Dynamic Plus package with drivetrain damping – engine and transmission mounts that change stiffness based on everything from throttle input to lateral acceleration.
The first couple laps are the normal orientation stuff, a mid-pace lead-follow to get acquainted. But by the third lap there's no question that what AMG left out in road manners it made up for in track antics. Power is prodigious – as expected – but the amount of communication from the chassis and the steering is leaps and bounds ahead of anything I've ever experienced with a star on the hood. Then again, this is an AMG project, and if it wasn't for the Mercedes Mothership, the motorsports divisions' crest should've been stamped on the GT's tip and tail.
As the speeds increase, so does the confidence. Even with the traction control fully on, it never slaps me and wags its finger. It's just a quick power cut and an easy hand shoving me back in line. On my second set, I get stuck behind a slower driver, flick the controller over to Race mode and the traction control starts feeding out the rope. Slow corner slides take just a quick stab of the throttle and corner 11 becomes my new favorite playground, with more than quarter-turn of opposite lock bleeding away as the GT's ass shimmies into shape for the straight. And that was all the assurance I needed.
There's enough space between me and my slow-moving colleague to lay down the throttle and see if I can finally hold it down the straight, up the hill, under the bridge, and have faith there's still a track beyond that blind crest. I keep it pinned, and for the first time in something other than a Miata or some clapped out Evo, I only lift when it's time to brake for the double apex. My gut isn't in knots. My stomach isn't forced into my throat. It's the kind of trust I've never experienced in anything remotely resembling the AMG GT. Well, except for a 997 Carrera S, but really, there's no comparison, because this is as traditional a sports car as you can get and that, well, that's a 911.