Test Drive: Five minutes with a Mercedes-AMG GT S

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What is it?

Mercedes’ flagship, developed in conjunction with its in-house, high-performance arm from the little south German town of Affalterbach. It is therefore a Mercedes-AMG, meaning there are no ‘Benz’-branded versions of this highly desirable model, called the GT.

It is the second machine developed entirely as an AMG only, following on from the incredible SLS supercar of 2010-2014, and despite the use of letters that mean ‘Gran Turismo’, the GT is supposed to be a rival for one of the most iconic sports cars of all time – Porsche’s 911.

Originally launched as a Coupe only, the GT came with a 4.0-litre biturbo V8 rated at either 476hp for the, umm, ‘standard’ car, or 510hp for the GT S.

Since then, the line-up has expanded, with a Roadster joining its hard-topped sibling, more powerful ‘C’-badged variants slotting into the range… and an incredible, outrageous halo model in the form of a GT R track-focused special completing the collection.

Prices start at as near as makes no difference £100,000, which is for the 476hp GT Coupe, but we’re driving the slightly more potent GT S here, which has the same engine as the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Cabriolet we drove very recently. And, with some choice options, a windscreen sticker of £131,055… yikes!

Why are you driving it?

Can a Porsche 911 really be dethroned? Mercedes-AMG is a company that knows what it is doing on the dynamics front, having turned out some cracking drivers’ cars over the years, but the 911 is another kettle of fish entirely.

Porsche has spent more than half a century honing its rear-engined masterpiece and it has a diehard, staunch following that refuse to believe anything could possibly be better to steer. Truth be told, thunderous fun to drive though it was, the SLS AMG was too much of a blunt instrument – Mjölnir, if you like, compared to the 911’s katana-like precision. Mercedes-AMG claims the GT S is less brutal than the SLS and more than capable of taking the Porsche on. We want to know if that’s genuinely the case.

What do you like about it?

Well, this might reveal our hand a bit early, but… it’s not a 911. You see, while we fully accept the Porsche is a legendary piece of kit and a truly extraordinary thing to be in charge of, its comparatively common status (you see considerably more 911s than any other type of exotic sports car on the roads) means it doesn’t really feel special any more, until you get to the most uncompromising GT3 RS and GT2 models.

No such accusation can be levelled at the AMG GT S. It boasts the sort of road presence that is the preserve of some of the rarest hypercars and collectible classics. Don’t buy one of these if you’re shy and retiring, because almost everyone else who sees it will gawp at it incessantly.

Unfamiliarity is part of the puzzle here; not many people know what an AMG GT is, with some car-knowing folk telling us they weren’t even aware that Mercedes made such a motor.

Nevertheless, if there’s a sense of theatre about the Merc’s magnificent appearance (and it is magnificent; just look at it!), the driving experience manages to trump such a show. It’s a fabulous thing to steer.

Looking out over that enormous prow in front of you presents a vista for the driver that is not often seen in modern motoring; not much else has a bonnet this long. It can make the AMG GT S feel big on narrower roads but actually, get over that sensation and you realise it’s a car you can truly chuck about. A proper sports car, in fact.

The steering is sublime, full of feel, weight and precision, while the optional carbon ceramic brakes (£6,000) are simply monster – the way this car comes to a halt is almost as astonishing as the way it gathers speed. Almost, but not quite.

The GT S, strangely, gives away 50Nm to the exact same engine installed in the C 63 S we mentioned earlier, but it really doesn’t matter. The acceleration is blistering, the Mercedes picking up from any point on the rev counter with total venom. And the noise is utterly, utterly intoxicating. Shorter routing of the exhausts leads to a tune that is subtly different compared to the C 63 S, but those eight cylinders ensure it sounds far better than any 911. The exhaust exit pipes themselves, by the way, are typically AMG tumultuous – cracking and rumbling in the car’s sportier driving modes with extreme malice. It’s epic fun.

And yet, it can play the cosseting GT when you want it to. While the ride is never pillowy soft and its fat rubber at all corners ensures there’s noticeable road roar on rougher surfaces, dial the AMG down to its most docile settings and it turns into a complete pussy cat, in which you’d be more than happy to go cross-continental distances. It’s a fantastic creation, given it is a model in its infancy in terms of its development story.

Any issues?

Lately, we’ve said that Mercedes has idiosyncratic, and not necessarily brilliant, cabin ergonomics. The GT takes such wilfulness to another level. The heated seat buttons and hazard warning lights switches are mounted centrally up in the headlining, ahead of the fixed glass panel in the roof.

Even though you keep telling yourself that’s where they are, you will find yourself groping about looking for the hazards switch if you want to thank another road user for letting you out of a junction ahead of them.

And, like any Mercedes-AMG with a stonking V8, treat the GT S with care. We didn’t drive it in the wet but, given it was breaking traction in even the dry – despite its whopping rear tyres – it will clearly be something of a handful when the roads turn soggy.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

No. No, there aren’t. You will be pounded for company car tax, given its CO2 emissions and colossal P11D value and, also, which companies have this sort of machine on their lists?! We’d love to know, so we can try and get a job there.

Sorry, we’re being facetious. The Mercedes-AMG is a frighteningly punitive car to run. We saw a mere 19mpg out of it while driving it around local roads, with a best of 28mpg on a long dual-carriageway cruise – commendable, for something this powerful, but obviously not a patch on what some of the 911s can return when they’re taking it steady. A 911 Turbo S (991.1) we drove a year or two back was giving back 35mpg and more on a motorway run, which is incredible stuff, really.

Where does it rank in class right now?

Forget all the other cars you could have instead – things like an Audi R8 or a Maserati or so on. What you really need to know here is this: is the AMG GT S better than a Porsche 911?

Definitively, it’s tricky to say. While the Mercedes is dynamically far more polished and capable than its unhinged SLS forebear, the GT S nevertheless still has to cede honours to the Porker here, because the 911 is simply the defter vehicle. Driving purists will therefore discount the Mercedes-AMG before they’ve even tried it.

Their loss. Taken as a whole – and admitting we’re not ‘frothing at the mouth 911 fanboys’ in the first place, perhaps colouring our verdict – we’d have the GT S. It just has a greater sense of occasion than driving the Porsche, it makes a tremendous racket, the performance is more exhilarating, it looks a whole lot better than the ‘highly-evolved Beetle’ shape of the 911… yup, they both have their merits, but of these grandstanding sports cars from Stuttgart, our money would be going into the Mercedes-AMG GT S. As automotive accomplishments go, deposing the king of sports cars is up there as the very best going.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Mercedes-AMG GT S
  • Price: AMG GT range starts from £98,760; GT S from £111,495, car as tested £131,055
  • Drivetrain: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol, seven-speed AMG Speedshift MCT automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • Economy: 30.1mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 219g/km – £1,200 VED first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter; 37% benefit in kind
  • Top speed: 193mph
  • 0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
  • Power: 510hp at 6,250rpm
  • Torque: 650Nm at 1,750- to 4,500rpm