To call the original Mercedes-AMG GT S a disappointment would be far too strong, but it didn’t quite hit the mark.
It was AMG’s second stab at a standalone sports car after the SLS Gullwing, but though its size, engine and price were all downsized, performance was anything but, its 375kW/650Nm 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 punching it to 100km/h in just 3.8sec. However, this repositioning put it head-to-head with the Porsche 911 and 50 years of finely honed sports car engineering.
Against such a formidable foe any cracks in the armour were going to be ruthlessly exploited and the AMG GT S had two. At PCOTY 2016 it impressed mightily with its ability, but a dislike of mid-corner bumps and light, darty steering were a constant barrier to enjoyment and left Affalterbach’s angriest trailing not only the 911 GT3, but its C63 baby brother.
Amidst the rapid expansion of local GT offerings from one to six (two Roadsters and base GT, up-spec GT C and hardcore GT R coupes) it’s been easy to miss the updates to the GT S, which consist of the ‘Panamericana’ grille from the GT3 race car, active front cooling vents, the option of rear-wheel steering (standard on GT C and GT R) and an extra 9kW/20Nm from the M178 V8, bringing totals to 384kW/670Nm.
To be frank, not even the most finely calibrated bum dyno is going to notice the extra grunt, but then the GT S wasn’t lacking to begin with. A C63 Coupe might have similar outputs, but the GT S’s 155kg weight advantage makes it decisively the more potent machine.
The power is all-consuming and unrelenting, accompanied by an exhaust note that is awesome and terrifying in equal measure, with a deep roar under heavy load followed by seriously antisocial levels of exhaust theatrics on the overrun.
Full throttle on the road is a rare event, with any attempts to stem the accelerative flow by grabbing a higher gear rendered redundant by the enormous torque reserves available from just 1800rpm. The dual-clutch transaxle is a superior performance gearbox to the wet-clutch auto found in other AMG V8s, too; not perfect, but quicker and more decisive in its shifts.
Easily the most apparent difference between the focused GT S and AMG’s more traditional two-doors is road-holding ability. Compared to a C63 Coupe, for instance, the traction and lateral grip the bespoke sports car can generate is stunning.
The early kilometres of our test drive took place on streaming wet roads, yet the GT S scythed through with indecent pace. These first few turns also provided proof of the rumoured chassis improvements. Mercedes is tight-lipped, but word is there has been some fettling of steering and suspension settings, with the former in particular feeling much more resolved.
There’s more weight and the hyperactive off-centre response has been eradicated, the net result of which is a far better sense of connection to the front-end. Traction on dry tarmac is fabulous, but while wet roads offer wheelspin on demand, the progression of the engine and chassis means oversteer is something to be indulged in rather than feared.
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There are still a couple of foibles: Small-amplitude bumps mid-corner still spook the GT S (and the driver) mightily, and the optional carbon-ceramic brakes were a little unresponsive at the top of the pedal (though awesomely powerful), but the GT S contains arguably the most important sports car ingredient – fun. It’s a raw beast.
The ride is firm, road noise substantial and some of the ergonomics, such as the gearshift selector, questionable, but it excites every sense making each drive an event. Objectively, the GT S still probably can’t match a 911, especially when the $298,711 ($326,011 as-tested) price tag is more GT3 than Carrera, but it has its own intoxicating appeal.
What it loses to the Porsche in poise it makes up for in noise. If, like me, you’re a hoon at heart, it could be the sports car that best hits the mark.
4.5 stars out of 5
Likes: Engine; smooth-road dynamics; attitude
Dislikes: Dislikes bumps; road noise
2018 Mercedes AMG GT S Specs:
Engine: 3982cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 384kW @ 6250rpm
Torque: 670Nm @ 1800-5000rpm
0-100km/h: 3.8sec (claimed)