For most of us living on this side of the world, the three letters G, T, and R can only be worn by one car. A car whose name must be mentioned in hallowed a manner – the Nissan GT-R. So when the V8 specialists at Affalterbach, Germany decided to christen their most extreme Mercedes-AMG GT variant as the GT R, minus a dash to avoid legal issues with Nissan, we looked at it with snide.
Our early experience of the car in mid-range GT S form didn’t convince us that the AMG GT is a better car than the Porsche 911. The driver sits too far behind the front axle, exaggerating hysteresis in steering response while the rear hops about way too much over our rough Malaysian roads. Out here in real world conditions, the GT S is quite taxing to drive while a 911, despite its rear-engine widow-maker image, feels more planted, especially on the straights.
So when Mercedes-Benz gave us the opportunity to drive the GT R on the tight and highly technical Bilster Berg Drive Resort circuit in Paderborn, Germany, my mind was conditioned to be prepared to rein in a very fidgety, time attack track car.
But prior to driving the GT R, we eased ourselves into the task by driving the milder GT C Edition 50 model to the circuit.
To recap, the Mercedes-AMG GT model family now spans 4 variants, all powered by a 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 in various states of tune, and paired to a transaxle 7-speed AMG Speedshift transmission driving the rear wheels. Only the GT and GT C variants are available as soft top convertible roadster body type option, the rest can only be had as a coupe.
The Mercedes-AMG GT family:
Out of the four, only the GT S (RM1.125 million) and GT R (approximately RM1.7 million) are available in Malaysia.
Apart from these, there’s also the AMG GT3 and GT4 but these are not road legal cars and are sold via AMG’s customer racing channels. The race-ready variants packs up to 510 hp and 600 Nm, sequential 6-speed paddle shift transmission, FIA-approved carbon fibre safety cell and fire extinguishing system.
Compared to the GT S, the higher range GT C Edition 50 that we drove has a wider rear - 68 mm wider to accommodate broader 305/30 R 20 tyres versus the GT S’ 295/30 R 20.
Combine this the standard fitted active rear-axle steering, most of the criticisms levelled against the GT S don’t apply on the GT C anymore.
The changes are immediately obvious when we hustle the GT C along tight countryside roads, something which would be rather intimidating on a GT S.
Depending on the vehicle’s speed, the GT C’s rear-axle now turns either in the same or opposite direction from the front axle. The active rear-axle steering feature has the same effect is making this 4.55 metre long car feeling a lot more agile than its dimensions would suggest. At autobahn speeds, the car’s steering felt a lot calmer than the GT S, which required frequent corrections even on smooth German autobahns.
Upon arrival at the Bilster Berg, the serenity of the countryside was broken by a pair of screaming V8s and popping exhaust notes from two GT Rs piloted by ex-DTM champion Bernd Schneider and current Mercedes-AMG DTM driver Maro Engel. The duo would serve as our lead drivers for the day.
What’s the fuss about?
If the Mercedes-AMG GT is aimed at a Porsche 911, then the GT R is AMG’s equivalent to the 911 GT3.
There is however one small difference. The 911 GT3 (also approximately RM1.7 million) serves as the base car for the track-only 911 GT3 Cup customer racing programme, but in the case of the AMG GT R, it's the reverse. Mercedes-AMG prefers to describe the GT R as a car that is derived from the track-only AMG GT3 rather than the other way around.
In short, the GT R is a road legal track car, minus a roll cage.
Painted in the GT R-only Green Hell Magno colour (other colours from the AMG GT family are also available), the most obvious differentiator for a GT R over its lesser siblings are the side blades adorning the front fenders. Sculpted like the hilt of a katana, except that this is German, it adorns the GT R like a pair of combat knuckles. The rear wing is also fixed (blades have adjustable ‘attack angle’). The roof is also made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic.
Hidden from sight is a carbon fibre front apron that pops out from under the front bumper at 120 km/h or faster (in Comfort Mode, 80 km/h in Race Mode).
Inside, the cabin’s centre console panel’s black fascia is interrupted by a yellow knob that says TC, for Traction Control. Similar to serious race cars, the GT R features a nine-step selectable programming for the traction control. The TC control knob operates independent of the ESP, so you can vary the amount of wheel slip, even with ESP switched off (but why would you want to do that?)
The propeller shaft, which AMG refers to as the torque tube, is made from carbon fibre, and is exclusive to the GT R. It is claimed to be 40 kg lighter than the aluminum tube used by lesser variants.
Overall, the GT R is 15 kg lighter than the slimmer body GT S and 70 kg lighter than the similar bodied GT C.
Specifications for Mercedes-AMG GT R
Is this GT R faster than the GT-R?
If you have to know, the answer is no. The AMG GT R is no match for the Nissan GT-R Nismo. Brand snobs will not give it due credit, but since performance brands like to boast about Nurburgring lap times, it is worth noting that the ten year-old Japanese GT-R with a dash, in Nismo form, is still faster (7:08.68) than this 2017 all-new German GT R without a dash (7:10.92) on the green hell. Of course, it was also revealed later that Nissan took a bit of liberty in interpreting the definitions of a standard production car but as they say, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. This GT-R is a ten year-old car that is still keeping pace with a new car that's marketed as a beast from the green hell.
Of course, the Nissan has the advantage of all-wheel drive but when you decide to name a car’s colour scheme as Green Hell Magno, it better own the Green Hell’s records.
So while the GT R might have a chance at hunting 911s, this German Jäger needs to be careful about harpooning Godzillas.
How much faster over the ‘normal’ AMG GT models?
Compared to the AMG GT S that is currently on sale in Malaysia, the GT R slashes its 0-100 km/h sprint by 0.2 seconds, to 3.6 seconds. Maximum velocity tops out at 318 km/h versus 310 km/h - all purely academic numbers that serves little purpose other than bragging rights.
How does it drive?
With Bernd Schneider leading our pack, we gradually built our pace as we snake through Bilster Berg’s hilly terrain. The forest lined circuit dips and climbs so much that some call it a mini Nurburgring. There’s even a long sweeping downhill corner that looks like a scaled down version of the famous cockscrew corner at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca circuit in California.
I wisely kept the Drive mode in S+. For the braver ones, there is the maximum attack Race mode. As it is, S+ is up to the task for me and the rear is already sliding out far enough for my limited skills on such a highly technical circuit.
The high mix of inclines and technical corners give the GT R’s AMG Ride Control sports suspension’s adaptive dampers a very intense workout. Tuning a chassis to work well on a smooth, flat circuit is one thing but making it work on a place with a lot of gradients is what separates the best cars from the good ones. This is why circuits like Nurburgring Nordschleife is so important for vehicle dynamics engineers.
For a car that rides so close to the ground you would naturally expect the GT R’s suspension to hit the bump stops when the car hits the lowest dips on this hilly circuit at speeds, but it didn’t!
The GT R’s character was brutish but the ride was pliant enough that I could push the car without having to worry too much about the car being thrown out of balance from the dampers crashing into the bump stops or scrapping the very expensive carbon fibre front spoiler.
Of course, the highlight of the experience is the sound of the V8. Bellowing and farting with every upshift, crackling at downshifts, the GT R places just as much importance on drama as it does on lap times.
When you reach the long straights and floor the throttle, one would normally expect a rear-wheel drive car with this much power to twitch its rear a little (as experienced in the BMW M6) but it remained planted, launching the car so fast that the G-force push your testicles up to your bowels.
Not helping the cause of keeping your bowels in place is the fast approaching bend. This GT R might have number plates on it but keeping pace with the GT R’s responses require you to rewire your perception of space and time. Driving the GT R hard is as much a mental workout as it is a physical one.
Braking late and hard, the carbon ceramics discs clamp the car down so strongly that it felt as if someone had thrown out an anchor out the window. Without the benefit of four-point seat belts, the G-force is so strong that my small frame move about too much under hard braking and corners.
Typical of such drives, our allotted two-lap drive was over as soon I am just beginning to get comfortable with the car enough to increase my pace.
The last of the true AMGs?
The GT R might have genuine motorsports capability underneath that pretty looking amalgamation of metal and carbon fibre but if a time attack machine is what you are after, the aforementioned Nissan GT-R Nismo is both cheaper and faster. Meanwhile, Porsche 911s are preferred by endurance GT racers for their durability and ease of repairs on the rear-engine layout.
But nevermind about racing. Instead, we like to think of the AMG GT R as a rare work of art, fit for the most discerning connoisseurs.
Why? We have good reason to believe that this AMG GT R is likely to be the first and the last of its kind. Considering the current direction of the auto industry, it’s hard to see how a thumping V8 can survive the next decade in its current unadulterated form.
While Mercedes-AMG did not explicitly say it, it’s not difficult to conclude that the next generation of AMG’s flagship cars will be plug-in hybrids – the AMG Project One and AMG GT Concept are very clear indicators of that. The V8 will still exist, but it will be electrified.
30 years from now, archivists will talk about this epochal moment in time. The year when the world’s oldest car maker (putting aside brands that made bicycles or pepper grinders before cars – i.e. Peugeot) said to hell with this gentlemen’s agreement among German carmakers to not challenge the icon of Germany - the Porsche 911.
They not only made a louder and a more brutal car than the 911, but also openly challenged Porsche in their Youtube commercial (below), an unprecedented move that only a brand that invented the automobile can have the moral authority to do so.
In a future when everything runs quietly on electric power, the hand-assembled thumping AMG V8, each carrying a name plaque of the craftsmen and craftswomen who built them, will be cherished for its unashamedly impolite brutish character, and this AMG GT R will be rarest of the lot. Just look at how much more sought after the SLS AMG is compared to an equivalent 911 and you will get picture.