The Phantom Menace [COTY2015] : Mercedes-AMG GT S Drive [review]
Although a demo-car was available early on, I took my time getting into AMG's 911-rival, the GT S, simply because the C 63 S is already such a tough candidate to beat – we feel there's something wickedly salacious about a nondescript sedan (or wagon) that is endowed with supercar-baiting firepower! Ultimately, the GT S lured us to the Dark Side with its operatic flair and the stupendous pace of its biturbo V8.
Strictly speaking, the GT isn't intended to replace the theatrical gullwing'd SLS, but just to be sure, we drove the two back-to-back – we have to confess though, we never, ever need a reason to take out and drive a SLS, particularly this late model Alubeam Silver example!
One thing's very clear, the SLS is still a cracker of a Sith Lord exotic (even better with the later spec's adaptive suspension) that is single-minded in focus, with a rousing naturally-aspirated V8 that displaces more than six-litres to back up its looks.
Like the SLS, there's a storming dry-sump V8 under the GT S's bonnet, albeit turbocharged for the GT S. There's definitely no replacement for displacement, but the M178 at the heart of the GT S is quite a rambunctious character that comes close in ferocity to its bigger hearted stablemates. Compared to the beautiful, bay-filling 6.2-litre V8 in the SLS, the biturbo 4.0-litre in the GT S is positively compact, but AMG has engineered it to be this way.
The turbos are arranged in a 'hot inside V' configuration (just like on the C 63 S's M177), and are mounted within the engine's 'V', as opposed to the conventional setup outside of the cylinder banks. Apart from achieving a compact size, this also improves optimum weight balance between front and rear axles.
A motorsports-inspired dry-sump setup does away with the oil pan and lets the engine sit 55mm lower – the lowered centre of gravity benefits the car's dynamics. Weight is ever the enemy to performance and the construction of the GT S features an intelligent material mix: It is built around an aluminium spaceframe; chassis, greenhouse (pillars and roof) and body are light alloy, the boot lid is steel and the front deck is magnesium. In fact, over 90 per cent of the spaceframe is made of aluminium components.
Put aside all thoughts of soulless force-fed performance machines you may have had the displeasure of sampling so far, because AMG has used its Jedi mind-tricks to channel only the good-stuff so that we'll never come away from the car thinking 'meh'...
Whoever said the GT S is too highly-strung to be driven daily couldn't have spent much meaningful time with it, since we found it to be as hard (or as easy) to drive as we wanted it to be.
The array of buttons lets the driver customise its drive and chassis settings, and to sound the part of a sportscar, we left the sports exhaust on the entire time... shame on us, we know.
Broadly speaking, the GT S combines the F-Type's potential for tail-out hoonigan antics with some of the 911's technical precision, all to the accompaniment of the engine's ear-tingling aural explosion under full throttle. Even without fancy gullwing doors, we discover that there's plenty of drama involved with the GT S, even if it's a strict two-seater.
Despite the 'small' cc V8, the GT S isn't lacking in potency (after all, it's what you do with it that matters!), especially with the turbos boosting at 1.2-bar, and there's that same brutish power delivery we all know and love about large naturally-aspirated V8s.
The steering is light, but direct and reasonably communicative without being too darty, and the chassis provides ample feel from rubber to bum. It truly straddles both sides of the Force admirably: set the AMG Dynamic Select to 'Comfort' and the car will run rings around your daily-drudge errands in start-stop traffic with nary a complaint and sip fuel frugally in the process.
Once the red-mist descends, twiddle the knob to Sport+ or Race to unleash the full fury of the Dark Side – the GT S immediately takes on a harder, bite-your-head-off personality, yet wet or dry, the handling never threatens to overwhelm the chassis like some high-powered rear-drive cars.
There's an elegant comfort in the cabin with good support from the diamond-quilt seats, but it's not overly plush so you'' never question the GT S's 'sportscar' credentials.
Naturally, there will always be the brand snobs who would rather buy an entry- or mid-tier model in (what they feel to be) a "proper" sportscar brand's repertoire than a top-shelf Merc, but as with many brands' fledgling forays into such rarefied segments (Lexus' LFA magnum opus for instance), there's so much on the line that the cars tend to be over-engineered, even if only to flash the middle finger to the detractors.
(Did you say 'Lexus LFA'? Click HERE to read our review)
The term 'AMG' is quite loosely bandied about these days, especially with the introduction of the 'baby' AMGs and 450 AMG models, but the important thing you need to know is: like the SLS, the GT is purpose-built by AMG – it's not some fired-up derivative of a regular model.
If the SLS is the Emperor, the GT S plays a convincing Vader from the original trilogy, as opposed to Kylo Ren from TFA, so it's never trying to be anything it's not or fumbling around in search of an identity – the Force is certainly strong in this one...
PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals
Mercedes-AMG GT S
Engine: 3982cc, V8, biturbo
Transmission: 7spd AMG SPEEDSHIFT dual-clutch
Top speed: 310km/h
Fuel consumption: 9.4l/100km