Landing in Portland, Oregon, to pick up a 2021 Mercedes-AMG GT Stealth Edition, I knew my life was about to change for the better, and not just because I had a week in a supercar to look forward to.
Put simply, I was there to find answers to questions that’d been driving me crazy for 33 months. That was how long it had been since my trip to Amsterdam, and the encounter with a stranger that upended my life. She was… more like another me than anyone else I’ve ever known. But somehow better. Uncanny parallels between us presented themselves at every turn; I felt a deep resonance and an inexplicable feeling that this meeting was somehow supposed to happen. Maybe it was the psilocybin, maybe it wasn’t.
But the experience was followed by a reckoning. By the realization that I was not who I wanted to be for the kind of implausibly romantic encounter I’d just had. Independent, mature, self-assured, and of course, hot with my shirt off: I decided I’d become these things before our planned rendezvous next spring in Oregon. Ultimately, the reunion didn’t wind up happening, as cataclysms from COVID to a last-minute house fire repeatedly pushed our meeting back. And therefore, closure—on what had happened between us, whether my call to her home in the northwest was supernatural, and whether after all this time and change we’d still get along—still eluded me.
So, when we finally firmed up plans after kicking them out for years, I knew it was time to celebrate the only way a professional car dork knows how: By arranging to make this journey in a supercar—the first, and so far only, one I have driven.
But it wasn’t just a means of getting around. The AMG GT confronted me with how far I’d come over the last few years and helped me realize I deserved my own respect. Better still, I found that neither the car nor its glorious twin-turbo V8 were even its greatest powers. No, that’d be the chance it gives you to make passers-bys’ days that little bit better.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GT Stealth Edition Review Specs
- Base price (as tested): $119,650 ($137,050)
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 | 7-speed dual-clutch | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 523 @ 5,750 rpm
- Torque: 494 lb-ft @ 2,100 rpm
- Seating capacity: 2
- Cargo space: 10.1 cubic feet
- EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city | 20 highway | 17 combined (15 achieved in testing)
- Quick take: This snarling, matte-black super-tourer is an amiable companion that’ll ask you who you really are, and why you aren’t at peace with that.
- Score: 8.5/10
My main companion for this story is the car on which AMG emerged as its own standalone make in 2014. That makes the AMG GT a little old at this point, but it’s not like the formula for a Mercedes grand-tourer has changed much in the last… Ever. Its wind tunnel-sculpted body has room for two occupants, their stuff, and a long hood to contain all the engine AMG can pack in it. Age has never been harsh to this bloodline, and the AMG GT is no different. The meanest thing I can say about it is that its front end reminds me of a monkfish. But that expansive hood and the sweeping roofline punctuated by a pop-up rear wing are timeless, and they add up to a look that made one Portlander exclaim, “Now that is a fuckin’ Mercedes!”
The example I drove was the Stealth Edition, which anywhere other than Dubai is anything but under-the-radar. It’d please the Stones, as it blacks out the brake calipers, wheels, parts of the headlights, darkens the grille, and refinished the roof in carbon fiber. The tester included optional Designo Graphite Grey Magno paint; a lustrous matte black that gives a sense of occasion like a tuxedo and is accordingly hard to keep clean.
Its interior’s a trap for grubbiness, too, with smudge-revealing piano black trim, a Dinamica microfiber wheel, and door sills so high they made dragging my oft-muddy boots across them unavoidable. I’m used to getting into low, tight cars, but this is something else, in part because of the GT’s deep, AMG Performance bucket seats in quilted, black Nappa leather. They’re snug in the right places and adjustable in more ways than I can fathom needing.
I required their lowest setting, however, to have any hope of seeing traffic lights, as visibility isn’t the GT’s strongest suit. Its side mirrors are far to your peripheries, the rear view is small, and it’s tightened further by the wing extending at highway speeds. Combined with a tech package that’s sparse by 2022 standards (no blind spot watch), it’ll keep your head on a swivel. Its lengthy, sloping hood made its front wheels hard to place at times, too. My boss Kristen Lee has called this car phallic, and now that I think about it, the side profile with the roofline kinda makes it look like a— [Ed. note: No, James, not even the medical term belongs in a car review – KL]
Weak visibility was a major reason why the AMG GT wasn’t the ideal car for exploring Portland. Despite an excellent turning circle, its long snout meant it was tricky to park, and I scraped its chin twice despite dailying a low car myself. The ride wasn’t quite as smooth as I expected of a six-figure Mercedes, owing to thin sidewalls that put me on red alert for potholes. Any time I wasn’t parked, I avoided fiddling with the infotainment because, amazingly, its trackpad managed to be even more distracting than a touchscreen. Apple CarPlay isn’t wireless, nor was it always the most stable, needing the occasional reboot.
At 15 mpg, it was also pricey to run when gas cost $5.50 a gallon—not that gas prices are consequential to those who can afford a car like this. Nor, for that matter, is opening one’s heart (read: wallet) to people on street corners holding cardboard signs. You won’t be able to avoid their gaze, though, as that matte paint made the AMG GT even more conspicuous than its price accords, and not at all in a way I expected.
Everywhere this car went, it drew smartphones, thumbs-ups, and compliments from the public. If you mind the attention, you’re missing the point, because part of the allure of a supercar is the power to make people’s days; to invite them to sit in it, take their photo. It’s all the more enjoyable if you wonder if you’re coming across as a giant douche, and are relieved to learn otherwise. It more than makes up for all the gripes above, which don’t amount to much more than a mild inconvenience anyway.
Lemme Tell You Astoria
So, in the city, the GT is out of its element. It was far happier on the open road, like the forested highways I traversed on the 95-mile drive to Astoria. It was the excuse I’d waited for to stretch the legs of the individualized driving modes, open the exhaust baffles, and hear what AMG’s handbuilt 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 had to say.
It mostly communicated in gutturals that announced the arrival of a tide of torque across the rev range, irrespective of whether the turbos were spun up. When they are, the rear axle quats as 523 horsepower try to squirm out of the grasp of the electronic locking differential and massive, 295-section Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. They nevertheless held their quarry, achieving a Mercedes-claimed zero-to-60 in 3.7 seconds, and a top speed of 194 mph.
Shifts of the seven-speed dual-clutch en route were nearly instant, but not jarring, and despite the relatively small number of gears for a modern automatic, it didn’t feel shortchanged. Its thunderous, unrelenting acceleration dispatched an onramp quickly enough to be intercepted by two strangers in a Ferrari California and McLaren 720S Spider, a convoy in which the Mercedes, while easily the cheapest of the three, was easily the best-sounding. The miles we three spent snaking along the Willamette River came closer to living out an episode of Top Gear than I ever imagined I’d experience.
But strangers who meet by the water must eventually part, for my path was a westward one that gave the chassis the chance to take center stage—and distract me from the previously superb stereo’s impotence against the Michelins’ tire roar. That may just be the price you pay for this combination of comfort and composure, of heated and ventilated seats; a ride for devouring miles without being numb to them, and the kind of grip I didn’t dare explore the limits of on the public road.
What I can say of the AMG GT’s handling is that sailing over unsighted rises and dips through corners never made it feel any more challenged than it did while prowling for parking. It never hunted or darted for camber, eliminating any need to fiddle with its old-school hydraulic steering: progressive and precise, weighty but not burdensome. It was no more upset by a sudden jam on its brakes, with huge 14.2-inch drilled rotors front and rear, at the sight of a deer down the road. One does not take chances with a supercar that doesn’t belong to them. That’s also why, despite the pedals’ delicate, intuitive response, I only took the AMG GT far enough onto the sand to get a picture when I reached the Pacific coast.
Crossing a Threshold
Sitting on a bluff above the beach, I contemplated the fictive-seeming sequence of events that brought me there. The unusual events that led to a life-changing encounter with a stranger in a faraway land. My difficulty understanding the feeling of kismet, and certainty that I’d find an answer here in Oregon. The fear that my interest in someone I barely knew was proof, not of growth, but of regression to an unhealthy style of attachment I thought I’d overcome a decade ago.
I also wasn’t sure I was going to make the best impression, showing up in the AMG GT. Contrary to popular bro-lief, flashy cars don’t impress women, and can instead signal that the driver is using it to prop up their ego. We are not our cars, but they can tell the world things about us, and I ran the risk of conveying pretentiousness—or worse.
But the foot that likes making second-gear pulls and revving at Dodge Challengers as a way of peacocking is the only one I had to put forward. Over the last 33 months, I had done everything within my power to become who I want to be. With my utmost effort behind me and inevitability ahead, I came to accept that I simply was who I was at this point in time. Myself, warts and all, was all I could be for this reunion I’d waited so long for. The outcome, I couldn’t predict, but my future I could—I decided that day I am a future PNWer, and I baptized myself as such with a dunk in the Pacific under a cloudy sunset.
And so, as we had before, she and I met by the waterside to break bread. Her smile was as I remembered: a bubbling-over of delight that lifts her face in the same way the feeling does mine. Among the rhododendrons and musk of magnolia, I laid bare shames and insecurities I can barely acknowledge to my therapist, only to find they made the candle of our amity burn brighter. I observed that it’d been 999 days exactly since that strange night in Amsterdam, and neither of us could resist looking for significance in that. The congruities kept deepening—ADHD, a fondness for wordplay, even emotional scars along similar lines. We spoke about the kinds of things you never tell most people, let alone after a scant few hours’ company. Sometimes, when we made eye contact, we’d break out in identical, uncontrollable smiles.
This chapter of the story ended with a passing, positive remark on the Mercedes; a wistful, mutual wish for more time; and gratitude for that what we had, which was meaningful. And long, tight hugs where neither of us wanted to be the first to let go.
I hit the road for Portland International Airport in the morning, almost as sleep-deprived as I was (bomb)shellshocked that the last 48 hours had unfolded as they had. I had lived out a more absurdly romantic story than I could make up, finding a shred of self-respect along the way, all against a backdrop stolen from an episode of Top Gear. Things I never thought possible were happening, and I didn’t know how to make heads or tails of it. All I knew was I felt a triumph best expressed by turning on The Dandy Warhols’ “Bohemian Like You,” uncorking the exhaust, and matting the throttle.
Reflecting from my home in Colorado, the events of that week feel like they belong to another life, another person entirely. The only proof it doesn’t is our selfie under the streetlamp, a hard drive full of supercar photos, and the paint slowly chipping from my fingernails, black to match the Mercedes. I still lack clarity on what I feel, or where any of this is going, but I’m thankful for what has happened, and the company of the AMG GT at its dramatic height.
It’s a colossal bear to keep clean, get into and out of, and visibility isn’t great, so it’s not especially livable even by my low standards. Its aging tech suite runs the gamut of acceptable to annoying, too. But it’s a real supercar (and at a relatively modest price), and therefore bestows on its driver the power to make people smile. I miss that even more than I do its apex predator of a V8 and unflappable road manners, which re-contextualize every car I have ever driven to this point.
Because such contrasts are how humans differentiate like from dislike. Their combined presence tends to underpin the most meaningful memories of our lives. The Mercedes-AMG GT Stealth Edition—and the days I spent with it—are only memorable because they were imperfect. I’d have it no other way because they taught me a thing or two about accepting imperfection, which is a prerequisite for love. I’m not yet comfortable proclaiming such for either of my companions in this story, but it’s hard to look back on my time by the water with them and feel anything else.
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