Markus Hofbauer, Mercedes-AMG’s chassis team leader -who used to work at Porsche – says he prefers a 911 Turbo to a 911GT3, which tells you more than a little about the Mercedes-AMG GT range. It’s in the way the 911 Turbo goes about things, see; and Hofbauer knows, because he helped engineer 911 dynamics before he moved to AMG. You don’t have to be absolutely ‘on it’ all the time to make decent progress in a Turbo. It’s fast, but secure and unflappable.
Which brings us to the car Hofbauer is here to talk about today: the Mercedes-AMG GT, which has, conveniently for the purposes of this article, become available in C specification as a coupe, almost completing the two-door GT range. A quick recap. The GT is the second 100% AMG sports car, following on from the SLS. It’s a two-seat coupe and roadster, with an engine in the front and drive to the back, where sits a seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle. You can have a GT as a coupe and roadster in base form, in which case it has 496bhp; or you can have it in S form, which adds an electronically controlled limited-slip differential in place of a purely mechanical one and has 515bhp – although that comes as a coupe only.
Then there’s the G, which we’ve tried in roadster form before but has now arrived as a coupe, too – initially in 500 examples of ‘Edition 50’ trim only, priced at £137,140. However, once those have run out, it’ll be £12k cheaper for no great loss. It has 550bhp. Finally, there’s the R, AMG’s answer to a 911GT3 (or Turbo), if you like, only not limited in production, making 576bhp and available as a coupe only. AMG could make a roadster but probably won’t. At least, Hofbauer would prefer they didn’t but knows that, given the GT C has the same chassis settings in coupe and roadster form, they wouldn’t have to ask for his help to tune an R roadster anyway. Which just leaves the S model looking oddly unfinished, because it’s the only standard variant unavailable as a roadster. Will one arrive? Perhaps. I think AMG looks at the gradual roll-out of Porsche models, and the publicity that comes with them, a little enviously. So there might be a few more words on it here in a few months.
But back to that 911 comparison. The AMG GT range, across these six models, is now, like 911s, meant to offer something broadly rather appealing: a base roadster for boulevardiers, up to an R for track enthusiasts, albeit all off of fundamentally the same 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 and gearbox. There are some alterations inside as you move up the GT range. The R will offer you harnesses, for example, while the base models get the softer furnishings, but fundamentally there’s not so much between them. Just a cabin that looks and feels well finished, with the full gamut of Mercedes’ entertainment and info systems, laid out pleasingly.
There are perhaps a few too many buttons on that big transmission tunnel, which, combined with the letterbox view out over a long bonnet, makes the GT feel quite the muscle car, in its way: you sit near the back, overlooking the lengthy nose. It’s a welcoming, soothing, evocative interior, albeit one that’ll be cramped for taller drivers; mysteriously, because this is a big car. I suppose it’s because it’s mostly aluminium. The Jaguar F-Type, similar in layout, isn’t immune from the same thing.
The G sits closer to the top than the bottom of the GT range. It gets wide bodywork like the R, essential for enclosing the wider rear track, which comes from wider wheels rather than any fundamental suspension alterations. And like the R, there is active rear steering (see separate story, top right) and a great deal of, for want of a better word, ‘stonk’.
Once, that was the most part of what AMGs had. Lots of shove in a straight line, and only a little finesse in corners. AMG was a maker of German hot rods. Today, that’s less the case, thankfully. Oh, there is still plenty of straight-line speed, you understand, and noise and grunt. Don’t think there isn’t. AMG’s move to turbocharged engines hasn’t come at the expense of sound. Prod and poke at the buttons above the propshaft until you hit on the ones that put the engine into its most responsive mode and the exhaust its most laissez-faire one, and it’ll growl like good ol’American iron under acceleration and bang like a firework display’s finale on the overrun.
And that would be very amusing even if it were all the GT C had to offer, which it isn’t. But it does give you a sense of where this car comes from. Sitting closer to the rear than the front axle, as you do, you place the distant, slightly remote front end carefully, and only then, as a corner finishes and straightens, do you prod the throttle onwards; rather than lobbing the front end at a corner and worrying about the rest later. From that perspective, the C feels more like a big Aston Martin than a 911; more grand tourer than sports car. Which isn’t a criticism. It’s why, presumably, they called it what they did.
When the GT was first launched, its light but quick steering and lengthy front end were combined with rear suspension that gave no reassurance that it would follow where you’d just advised the front to go. People who understand these terms better than I said it lacked roll stiffness so felt like the rear would fail to support its cornering stance. It felt limp, and nervous, at the rear. Anyway, rolling changes to all GTs earlier this year dropped the roll centre at the back to alleviate the problem, and a quick go in a base GT alongside this new C shows they’ve sorted it.
The steering is still light, but there’s some road feel there if you look for it. The ratio remains a bit fast, but that’s a way to make a long, relatively heavy car feel agile, so fair enough. Now, though, you can corner with much more confidence. I reckon the dampers are best in their softer mode to avoid too much brittleness, and this is always a wide car, but it’s now a planted and confidence-inspiring one. And the extra tyre width on the C, the electronically controlled diff and, crucially, that rear steer make the GT C even more willing to turn, and grip, and entertain.
It has, then, finally come of age, if you like. No, it doesn’t do what a 911 does, especially the versions that come out of Weissach, but it isn’t meant to. It has its own character, its own showy but relaxed way of doing things. With a few tweaks along the way, it has matured into a very likeable thing.