Laguna Seca Raceway’s undulating stretches and bends of tarmac sit undisturbed beneath an interminable blanket of gray clouds. The sun’s up there somewhere. Temperatures barely crest 50; even light winds are chilling. It’s the kind of day that normally leads to nonproductiveness, recreational drinking and afternoon naps. But there’s something else in store today.
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We stand in the gravel just off Turn 6, and from the distance comes what sounds like the roaring Merlin engine of a WWII Spitfire. The roar builds quickly, the unseen source making its way up the long rise to the top of the curve. Then the Mercedes-AMG GT S hurtles over the curve, pummeling the apex so hard that it seems to push the track a few inches deeper into the earth. Its power is intoxicating: on a hillside at the edge of the track, twenty feet above the asphalt, a fan camped out in a tent whoops and hollers like a concert-goer begging for an encore.
What we’ve just witnessed is the culmination of years of AMG HQ’s most intense R&D since the spectacular gull-winged SLS. That AMG could build such a spectacular supercar as the SLS, one that could both perform on the track and wow on the boulevard, meant something significant. The SLS AMG Black Series, shockingly, was even better, bringing a bespoke scalpel to the track in stupefying fashion. The SLS’s followup had to be something earth-shattering. Through sheer dedication, AMG has built a scintillating track weapon with the AMG GT S, only the second car AMG has completely built in house.
Then the Mercedes-AMG GT S hurtles over the curve, pummeling the apex so hard that it seems to push the track a few inches deeper into the earth.
Seeing is believing with Affalterbach’s new baby. The grille is large with twin crossbars, flanked by feline headlamps; all of this is accentuated with a grand touring-length creased hood. The greenhouse ends in a lean and near-perfectly executed tail with slender LED taillights and a simple retractable spoiler resting flush with the back end. According to Robert Lesnick, Director of Exterior Design at AMG, this was AMG’s (vastly successful) attempt at “a true sports car, not a supercar” like the SLS. Lesnick is emphatic that it’s a two-seater because a 2+2 would compromise its true intentions: sporting, not cruising. It needed the right proportions and the right size, hence the shorter wheelbase and shorter overall length as compared to its bigger brother. It also weighs 175 pounds less. All of this shows strongly in the GT S’s handling.
The interior is like an expertly tailored gun safe. Everything feels solid and rich; the flat-bottom, four-spoke steering wheel sports Alcantra in all the right places, and the firm seats are perfectly stitched and bolstered. Visibility over the beefy hood could be better, but it won’t impede a driver with simple point-and-shoot intentions. The sloping center console, especially in brushed aluminum, is a work of art with big, illuminated and angled controls — but the U.S. desired but not required cupholders unfortunately shove the gear selector too far back. For once, it’s a good thing the car isn’t a manual transmission — and the 7-speed dual clutch transmission rapid fires when it needs to, lending more focus to track driving than roping through the gears yourself.
That roaring motor under the hood is a 503-horsepower twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8. It benefits from “hot inside V”, which means the turbos aren’t mounted outside the cylinder banks but within the engine’s V-configuration. The engine is thereby smaller and set lower in the engine compartment; it also benefits from dry sump lubrication. The resulting lower center of gravity and improved weight distribution are a boon to the AMG GT S’s handling, making for some truly heroic turns on the track.
The only rivals to that V8’s ground-shaking roar would be the Jaguar F-Type R, the Ferrari V12 and the Challenger SRT Hellcat. (And none of that sound is synthetic; take note, Porsche.) The bite matches the bark. Steering is superbly responsive, and turn-in is right quick and accurate. Shifting modes from Sport+ to Race kicks out the back end enough to shift a layer or two of the Earth’s crust, yet the GT S offers complete control of this power; from the side window, it was clear that the GT S could follow each of Laguna Seca’s 11 turns brilliantly, hitting apexes near-perfectly, all while that animal in the engine compartment kept howling. AMG says the car will do 0-60 in 3.7 seconds and top out at 183 mph; it’s safe to say that this estimate is Tea Party conservative.
AMG says the car will do 0-60 in 3.7 seconds and top out at 183 mph; this estimate is Tea Party conservative.
So, what about the other 90 percent of the time when you’re not driving like a bat out of hell? Well, lazily steering the AMG GT S around San Francisco proper and Monterey yielded zero disappointment. There was absolutely nothing jarring or upsetting; rather, the GT S was downright cosseting, especially in Comfort mode, in which throttle response and steering were still excellent but not rapier-like as in Sport+ and Race. For those who seek only sport-luxury, the GT S delivers, though its track teeth have a clear desire to shine through the elegance of city and country driving. It pleases both the high browed and the high revving.
AMG hasn’t offered up any pricing on the AMG GT S, but its sticker will likely be around two-thirds the cost of the SLS, putting it in the mid $100k range — right around Porsche 911 Turbo territory. Target locked. That 911 shape is respected but ubiquitous, so the AMG GT S sets itself apart with a bold new silhouette in the pricey sports car segment. It also makes a name for itself when the pace picks up and the turns beckon. An apples-to-apples comparison between front- and rear-engined sports cars would be tough, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the AMG GT S certainly has no shortage of power and handling prowess. While the Porsche 911 is legendary, the AMG GT S has the building blocks to great, and the upcoming Black Series just might make good on that promise.
Price: $150,000 (estimated)
Engine: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 7-Speed Dual Clutch Automatic
Torque: 479 lb-ft
0-60: 3.7 seconds
Top Speed: 193 mph
Fuel Economy: 16 City / 22 Highway
Curb Weight: 3,600 lbs (estimated)
Affalterbach’s new baby has rejuvenated the SLS’s legacy. It’s rare to walk away so impressed by a newborn sports car both on and off the track, and the sound and fury of driving the GT S alone is beyond expectation for a high-end sports car. Get behind the wheel and you’ll take as many laps as you can, hit as many streets as time allows; every time you have to step away, you won’t be able to keep from looking back over your shoulder to witness beauty on four wheels.