The TL;DR version of why the Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro won Performance Car of the Year 2021? It aced the judging criteria. It set a lap record for a production car around Winton. It was the most involving car of the bunch. It rode better on road than any AMG GT model before. It was just more. More exciting, more effective, more charismatic than any of us expected.
In many regards, the GT R Pro was the yang to the yin of the Porsche 911 Turbo S, the car that so many expected to dominate this year’s PCOTY. Where the Porsche was blisteringly rapid in a straight line, it never came close to the AMG’s depth of engineering on track. The 911 flagship has also matured into a car that’s so subtly low-key that there’s an argument to be made that last year’s PCOTY champ, the 911 Carrera S, offers a more tactile and compelling proposition for far less.
Yes, the 911 would be easier to live with on a daily basis than the blood and thunder GT R Pro, but the clever damping of the AMG product means that it can be set to a road going mode that’s probably even more cossetting than the Porsche and then clicked into maximum angry for those occasions when you’re going to leap some kerbs on a track day. And you’d only buy the GT R Pro if you were intent on doing this. Buying one and not taking it out on a circuit would be like buying a Toyota Camry Hybrid and not considering a career in the ride-hailing economy.
We’re not ducking the issue that with just 15 cars coming to Australia, the GT R Pro is exceptionally rare. Still, Mercedes-AMG registered 59 AMG GTs last year, so if the Pro can register a quarter of all AMG GT sales, that’s not an insignificant proportion. Performance Car of the Year has never been judged on sales figures. We prefer to let the car stand on its own merits.
The GT R Pro does that in spades. At Winton it was a more serious proposition than any other vehicle and by quite a margin. The dampers, supplied by KW and fettled by AMG, allow you to tune both primary and secondary ride, while there’s a decent degree of anti-dive built into the suspension geometry without going so far as to create a bump-steering mess. The roll centre of the AMG GT models has been lowered compared to the previous SLS AMG, but this low roll centre and low roll moment is compensated for by quick steering to prevent the normally dull-feeling front end of such a setup.
And it feels fantastic, on both road and track. Prior iterations of AMG GTs have been there or thereabouts, but the Pro is the secret sauce, finally unlocking the potential we knew was lurking within. The ballistic 430kW hot-in-vee V8, the barrel-chested cross-plane acoustics, the phenomenal body control, the fiendishly clever drive assist electronics and the aero that works harder as you do all combine to devastating effect. Compared to the AMG, the 911 Turbo felt soft, compromised and, dare we say, a little mainstream, phenomenal pace notwithstanding. In terms of charisma and theatre there was little comparison.
PCOTY was never just a two-horse race though. The AMG A45 S came top of at least one judge’s scorecard, and if you have a $100k budget and need something with an element of practicality, you’ll struggle to buy better. Likewise the Ford Fiesta ST won the hearts of everybody who drove it and scored solidly.
The Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro nailed each of the criteria it was judged against. Performance and Dynamics speak for themselves. On the Accessibility score – namely reward versus effort – it also scored highly. Liveability was also more than acceptable given its focus, interior quality and ride refinement. It had X-Factor in spades and in terms of its Value score it’s in much the same price bracket as a McLaren 600LT or a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, exemplars of excellence that we can’t take issue with in terms of market positioning. Yes, it is an expensive car, but expensive cars have won PCOTY before and will do so again.
Above all else, the Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro is an excellent performance car. It’s one that ought to appeal to those who truly love the science of performance and yet for all its objective excellence, it’s also deeply imbued with soul. Looking down that long bonnet, hearing that keening twin-turbo V8 and feeling the steering shuck off its caster as it smears into another long slide are moments I know I’ll remember for a very long time. Performance Car of the Year celebrates special cars and in 2021, at the 25th running of the event, we found one to treasure. Chapeau, AMG.