We get up close and personal with Mercedes-AMG's most brutal supercar: the (C190) AMG GTR
On the afternoon of the 24th of July 1971, a large red Mercedes-Benz rolled onto the paddock of the legendary Spa Francorchamps race circuit. People laughed at this ungainly beast of a thing, which looked like someone, had hacked through a luxury limousine to create somewhat of a racecar. People sneered and laughed, but, 24 hours later, they laughed no more!
Starting from fifth on the grid, this particular 300 SEL AMG affectionally known as the “Rote Sau” or “Red Pig”, was the brainchild of two Mercedes-Benz engineers – Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhardt Melcher, who thought it a good idea to shoehorn a 6.8-litre V8 engine into the relatively large (W109) S-Class chassis and go racing.
Competing against a field of nimbler and smaller vehicles – such as the BMW 2000 CS and Alfa Romeo GTAm – the AMG 300 SEL was naturally disadvantaged by its weight and size. However, with 420 hp and 600 Nm of torque, it was also monstrously fast in a straight line and impeccably reliable – which led to it winning first in its class and second overall. In fact, had it not been for the Red Pig’s appetite for tyres and fuel, and hence pit stops, it arguably could have finished first overall.
Despite the legend of the Red Pig and all the fame and success it undoubtedly inspired for Mercedes-Benz and AMG in motorsport subsequently, it stood for something even greater – it stood for dissidence, it stood for the passion of competition, and it stood for superior performance through sheer force of will.
Unlike BMW’s “M” division which is a subsidiary of the company itself – which gives them easier coordination with regards to motorsports programs – AMG’s roots began with it being a relative outsider, taking factory Mercedes-Benz vehicles and reverse engineering them to do something they were not intended to.
In January 2005 Daimler Chrysler acquired 100 percent of AMG shares to establish Mercedes-AMG GmBH. With greater resources, AMG has gone on to diversify its model range and drivetrain offerings. With the (C190) GT range, AMG quite possibly had the freest hand in designing and developing a bespoke supercar.
Now, with the facelifted GTR, AMG might have just gone on to create one of the purest distillations of that fabled genre of automobiles – a racecar for the road.
First launched in 2014, the GT series (consisting of the C190 coupe and R190 cabriolet) is just the second model lineup to be fully developed by AMG after the SLS AMG. First introduced in 2014 the GT series consisted of the (456 hp) GT and (503 hp) GTS, the raucous GTR variant joined the line-up in 2016 with 577 bhp.
The facelifted model featured here introduces subtle aesthetic updates - updated front and rear headlights, an updated interior, and updated drive functions.
On the inside, major improvements include a new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (shared with AMG GT 4-Door) and a larger 10.25-inch centrally mounted infotainment display. The highly revised centre console now comes with superb looking TFT "buttons" for the various function and mode controllers. The redesigned steering wheel (now standard across the GT range) is wrapped in Dinamica Microfibre. The AMG bucket seats, in addition, are trimmed in Nappa leather and Dinamica microfiber.
The locally sold AMG GTR comes supplied with the AMG exterior carbon-fibre package II, ceramic composite braking system and finally AMG Performance exhaust system. Another impressive aspect of the Malaysian-spec GTR is that it comes with the AMG Track Package – which is standard of the AMG GTR Pro – featuring the roll-over protection cage system just aft of the seats, a Schroth Racing four-point harness system, and a 2kg fire extinguisher.
In terms of competitors, the AMG GTR has to contend against other track-focussed rivals such as the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and McLaren 570 S.
Stand six-feet away from the AMG GTR, and it won’t matter if you’re six or sixty years old – your first impressions: “WOW...”.
Standing low and wide, the GTR is a fusion of sexy proportions and purposeful detail. The large air dams at the front seemingly complex and huge to suck in every cubic inch of air to cool the engine, flanked by redesigned headlights that now feature a three-chamber design for the headlight reflectors, while a new C-Shaped light strip which works as a DRL, turn signal, and position light.
Round the flanks, the wheels grab the most amount of attention – matte black spokes with a semi-gloss silver lip (19-inches at the front, 20-inches at the rear) cover massive ceramic two-piece brakes, which are themselves adorned with bright yellow callipers. The whole lot look like they’re straight off an endurance racecar – which for the most part, it is because the GTR actually forms the basis of the GT4-class customer racing vehicles.
Round the back, a carbon fibre wing straddles the top of the boot lid, just below, the updated rear lamps with its LED light strip and sequential turn signals now appears deeper set with darkened “smoke-effect” lenses.
Lower down, the diffuser remains unchanged from the pre-facelift model but still looks menacingly cool and purposeful.
This doesn’t happen to me often, but I actually felt claustrophobic in the first instance I sat in the GTR.
The seats are low slung, your butt is possibly just two inches off the floor, and the seat height is static once bolted into side mount brackets, the dashboard is wide and imposing, and the centre console, is higher than your waist height – it can be a little bit too much to take in all at first without feeling overwhelmed. Add to this, that despite how high you might sit in the car, you can never see the edge of the front bonnet.
However, give it a bit of time, and you’ll soon realise that the cockpit starts to wrap around you, then you start to appreciate the fluency of the controls, the feel of that immaculate microfiber-wrapped steering wheel within your grip. In addition, those full-on racing seats – which are the best in terms of design, comfort and body support, bar none, yours truly has ever experienced.
Besides the gear shifter, which is sat too far back – possibly a packaging side effect of having a transaxle transmission, the rest of the cabin is simple and easy to get used to if you have experienced any other modern Mercedes-Benz. Also, note that the Malaysian-spec GTR is supplied as standard with the rollover-cage and four-point race harness which comes as standard on the AMG GTR Pro model.
The 12.3-inch configurable instrument cluster displays crisp graphics and is a cool step with the times, though it has to be said, once you’ve experienced Merc’s MBUX system – all else starts to feel a tad bit dated. Another lovable aspect of the GTR is that despite what it is, Mercedes-Benz has still managed to fit a compact and powerful Burmester sound system in the cabin, but truth be told, all the entertainment you really need lies in that engine up front, and the bass notes that come out the back.
At the instance of hitting that Start/Stop button, the GTR lights up with a boom. The rush of air and fuel thrusting out the back settles into a rumble after a while. Quick dabs of the throttle sends pulsating barks that can be heard 100 meters away. For sheer occasion, it is hard to beat this.
Arc your arm far back to get the gear into its “D” position, the E-Brake automatically disengages, prod the throttle and ever so gently, the GTR will start to pull away. Despite all that power at the ready, the Speedshift dual-clutch transmission is remarkably easy to get used to, not much different from say a Merc C300.
Quite possibly one of the biggest compliments one could give the GTR is its civility on normal roads. The dynamic suspension feels tight yet composed, allowing adequate bump and rebound over road irregularities, the rear, though more stiff allows for a composed ride at low speeds.
The steering is sublime, at practically any speed, it feels light, connected, and granular – such that every inch of radial movement delivers an output at the front end. However, it does take some getting used to, because it’s so direct, it doesn’t really have a straight-on deadspot– such that it doesn’t self-centre easily like other steering systems – so it almost requires constant input, even on the straights.
Another notable bit of racecar tech is the GTR’s Active Rear Wheel steering, which uses independent actuators at each rear wheel to turn the rear wheel in the opposite direction at speeds up to 100km/h, but in the same direction as the front at speeds above 100km/h.
What this does is give the GTR surreal manoeuvrability at low speeds – so it’s no harder to U-Turn than a midsized SUV – but offers added stability at higher speeds. As you might surmise, the system works so fabulously that it’s almost imperceptible most times.
Get in one of the more aggressive modes –Sports+ or RACE – and find yourself a challenging road; you will soon understand why the GTR is one of the most sublime driving machines in the world.
Literally from any engine speed, 2,000 rpm, 3,000 rpm… squeeze the accelerator and unleash the full (700 Nm) fury that 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 upfront. The rev needle climbs so fast that in the earliest three gears, you really need your wits about you on when to pull that paddle shifter to upshift. I have driven fast cars before but few have left me wanting for air and or blood to my brain like the GTR.
This thing is ferocious in a straight line, the gearchanges are lightning fast, the power delivery sublime yet tractable – and it only gets better in the corners.
Despite its size, get it down a twisty road and you're simply left in awe of its chassis balance, its relative nimbleness during corner transitions, and phenomenal mechanical grip during turn-in and mid-corner. At corner exits, simply unwind the steering while applying throttle and the GTR simply rockets out of corners, flat on its toes, and oozing confidence.
When I had the car Sport+ mode (ESC off), it was sometimes easy to overwhelm the rear tyres coming out of slower corners, but its surprisingly easy to correct the car’s trajectory by applying opposite lock. As opposed to other AMG V8 cars, which will happily cook the rear tyres at the slightest provocation, the GTR simply wants to straighten out and rocket on to the next corner; again, another accolade of the chassis' brilliant stability and communication.
And when you need to calm things down, the massive brakes offer amazing stopping power from literally any speed.
Given that it is designed for continuous hammering on tracks like the Nurburgring, it’s safe to say that no matter how hard you try to push it on Malaysian roads, you're less than likely to even tap 50 percent of its true potential.
Which brings us to its price, RM1,712 million and change – which is a lot of money I know, but it’s also excellent value for money. Yes, you read that right, because, at RM1.7 million, the GTR undercuts its closest rivals, the (RM2.2 million) Porsche GT3 RS and McLaren 570S by a whopping RM450k.
Yes, nearly half a million Ringgit cheaper! That’s almost the price of a Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 – which is quite possibly all the car you’ll ever need for all the other days of the week.
The GTR will offer about the same performance as the Porsche and McLaren; the visual drama of a fighter jet and more adoring (and jealous) eyes than any Ferrari the same amount of money will buy you (the Portofino is in the same ballpark).
I don’t know about you, but that’s a winner in my books!