THE D_TRB REVIEW: Mercedes-AMG GT R
A near-7min lap of the Nordschleife, and yet no Black Series badge. Is the new 577bhp AMG Gt R properly hardcore, or actually HALF-ARSED?
The knurled yellow knob in the centre of the AMG GT R's dashboard controlling the new hyper-sophisticated traction control system has only nine positions. Funny, because when I cranked it full left it felt like it'd gone straight to eleven.
The R is the car you always wanted the AMG GT to be. It's fast, loud and lairy, but that doesn't make it a crude hot rod. Because when you want it to be it's also a proper focused track weapon with handling as accurate and predictable as a Dubai weather forecast. You might not be able to pilot it round the Nordschleife in the 7min 10.9sec recently recorded by a German magazine, but one of its biggest strengths is convincing you that you could.
The R puts far more air between itself and the now mid-level GT S than that car does to the bottom-rung GT, both in terms of spec and ability. The R brings a wider track, wider coilover suspension and an expensive mix of carbonfibre components to further lighten the aluminium-based sub-supercar. The wings, roof skin, underfloor braces and giant torque tube are all formed from the composite, while an active front splitter manages air at the sharp end, leaving a manually adjustable spoiler to deal with the downforce at the back. And unless you're in America, and therefore in the grip of the safety lobby, you'll be in the grip of a proper Recaro bucket mounted right on the floor.
And then there's four-wheel steer. When Ferrari fitted four-wheel steering to its F12 to create the limited edition TDF, the result was blindingly quick, but hard work to master, requiring a different style of driving to get the best out of. There's no relearning needed here, it's as natural as a near-600bhp Nordschleife record holder can get. You climb in wondering about that rear-wheel steering, but it's the front steering that dominates the initial conversation. There's a stack more grip from the Michelin Cup 2 tyres, and a whole load more steering feel. With that much focus at the front end it should feel more nervous than an agoraphobic lost in Mojave, but the rear-steering system calms any nerves, turning the rear wheels the same way as the fronts above 62mph.
One long press on the ESP button switches out the stability, and selects a mid-level traction control threshold. From there you can twiddle the yellow dial left or right, feeling the different effects on slip at each of the nine levels. Full right, it's as stifling as a movie contract from the 1950s. Technically, it's impressive, but it's a joyless experience. Full left, and it's amusingly sideways, but you're on your own and probably not lapping as quickly as you could (even that 'Ring run was done with a couple of clicks of TC). In a Goldilocks style that ought to make the default middle position the best of the lot, but it's still too nannying. A couple of clicks left of centre and it's about perfect.
The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 gains 74bhp for a 577bhp total, the seven-speed 'box is now faster acting, and the exhaust like a Swiss horn straight from hell. It's a great drivetrain but no standard-setter. And 3.6sec to 62mph is nothing special these days, stupid as that sounds. No, the R is about the whole, not about one star player.
It's not entirely without faults. The ergonomics are still a bit of a nightmare – unless you're tall enough to need the seat pushed right back to the bulkhead it's actually easier to reach the gear selector and those other controls way at the back of the centre console with your opposite hand, like you're playing Bohemian Rhapsody on the piano – and it's now noticeably less comfortable on real, non-FIA-sanctioned surfaces.
But this is the best AMG GT yet, and a valid, and far more charismatic alternative to Porsche's mighty 911 Turbo S that the same £145k buys.