2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster Review: Way More Sports Car Than You Need
Which, it turns out, is exactly as much sports car as you want.
Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster.
The 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster, By the Numbers:
Base Price (Price as Tested): $158,995 ($172,375)
Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, 550 horsepower, 502 pound-feet; seven-speed dual-clutch transmission; rear-wheel-drive
EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway
0-60 MPH: 3.3 seconds (Car and Driver testing)
Top Speed: 196 mph
Quick Take: Packing some of AMG's sharpest performance tech and one of its hottest V8s beneath its elongated hood, Mercedes-Benz's droptop GT C is poised to take the fight to the likes of the Porsche 911, Audi R8, and McLaren 570S.
One Big Question: Is Mercedes-AMG's hottest roadster more super-powered gran turismo or topless track terror?
Much as the purveyors of madcap merchandise from AMG might wish otherwise, when you think of sharp-edged sports cars grown in the greater Stuttgart region, you're way more likely to picture a Porsche than imagine a Mercedes. It's no slight against the Three-Pointed Star; after all, the carmaker has churned out more than its fair share of elegant speed machines, racking up a remarkable list of racing championships, critical accolades, and cultural touchstones along the way. But Mercedes-Benz has spent a century and a quarter building all sorts of vehicles: sedans, vans, trucks, buses, convertibles, coupes, sport-utility vehicles, even the occasional bicycle. Porsche, on the other hand, spent the first seven decades of its 87-year history making nothing but sports cars.
Yet the engineers, designers, and product planners of Affalterbach—their once-independent tuning shop long since integrated into Benz's operations, and now officially its own sub-brand within the company—certainly aren't ones to shy from the challenge of redefining popular perception of Baden-Württemberg's sports cars. After lending their powertrain expertise to the utterly exotic Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren of the early Aughts, the AMG gurus took the work in-house for its successor, mutating and evolving an aluminum chassis from the Mopar side of the Daimler-Chrysler "merger of equals" into the gullwinged SLS AMG. Like its SLR predecessor, that car turned heads from the moment it hit the streets in 2010; but also like it, the technology that made it so potent aged quickly in the modern era, rendering it outdated by mid-decade. So in 2014, AMG revealed its newest sports car creation: the GT, launching in 503-hp GT S form. As is typical of all Stuttgart-area sports cars, a parade of variants followed: the wimpier base GT, the beefier GT C, the track-crushing, Nissan-fanboy-baitingly-named GT R.
The Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster seen here occupies a spot near the top of the roster, though its $159K base price is still some $30,000 cheaper than even the base SLS AMG coupe of eight years back. Packing a 4.0-liter twin turbo V8 grinding two-and-a-quarter horses out of each cubic inch, four-wheel steering, and an adaptive sport suspension, this droptop
Benz Mercedes delivers the specs you'd expect from a car set to set lap times. Yet its power folding top, quilted leather interior, cooled seats, and warm air-blowing headrests all scream "Sunday driver" over "race on Sunday, sell on Monday." So which way does this two-faced Merc look most often? Your humble author fired it north to Vermont to find out. (As well as to see his mother for her birthday, an occasion which family tradition dictates he drive her to dinner in a fast convertible.)
Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster: The Pros
- Don't feel insecure that the GT C isn't the tippy-top of the AMG sports car lineup; the performance is still next-level. The 4.0-liter hot-vee eight-pot spews power like a 93-octane-fueled Krakatoa, from down near idle all the way up to that 7,000-rpm redline. Leave the seven-speed transmission in Race mode, and it'll crack off bump-stock shifts while working to keep the engine in the heart of the powerband—but it's far more fun to seize control for yourself and slap your way through the cogs using the steering wheel-mounted metal paddles.
- This Merc is hardly just a straight-line sorcerer, though. The aforementioned adaptive suspension and rear-wheel-steering, combined with the chassis's inherent bank vault rigidity, delivers handling so competent that it borders on the absurd—at least on public roads, where any attempt to reach the car's limits means pushing into the sort of speeds that get you written up—not just by a cop, but by our news division. Better to appreciate its competency when hauling around at 6/10ths, where you can appreciate the AMG's potential while still keeping the speedo's needle within, say, 10–20 miles per hour of the legal limit.
- It is an AMG, of course, so the music flowing from the trapezoidal tailpipes is intoxicating. The dual-mode performance exhaust produces two variations on AMG's M178 concerto: loud, and AC-130-firing-at-will-loud. Some people will find the latter alluring; others will find it revolting. I highly suggest trying to figure out which way your passenger leans before turning on the sport exhaust and revving the engine.
- While the convertible version loses the sweeping fastback roofline of the coupe, the car still looks downright exotic. Mercedes's super sports may have been getting cheaper and cheaper over the last 14 years, but they look better and better with each generation. (Sorry, SLR, but you know you look like a refugee from Pan's Labyrinth.) The giant hood may be unnecessary long—with the engine sitting behind the front axle, the car could probably be six inches shorter without sacrificing any performance—but like the first single from Live's second album, it's selling the drama. There are visually pleasing angles everywhere: the front fascia is arguably the best-looking face of an modern Mercedes, a mug full of Churchillian obstinacy and bulldog caricature; the rear is as taut and sculpted as J.Lo's; and the side view has the cab-backwards proportions of a '50s Formula 1 car.
Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster: The Cons
- Gorgeous as the interior is, it's simply lacking in space. Even for this class of sports car, the GT C's cabin is cramped; the car may be only an inch and a half shorter than a new Honda CR-V, but the interior feels comparable to the diminutive Mazda MX-5 Miata. Surprisingly, the comfy-looking Nappa leather-trimmed comfort seats don't help matters; without enough space to stretch your legs out straight, you're forced to go a bit bow-legged, forcing the firm bolsters of the bottom cushion straight into the leg's IT band. (This isn't just a problem for people with yard-long inseams like yours truly, by the way; my five-foot-nine-inch mom also complained about the seats mashing her legs in the passenger seat.) The setup is fine for an hour or two of driving, but any longer than that, and you're likely to exit the car with a John Wayne swagger brought on by a double-limp.
- As in many AMG models, the steering wheel always leaves the driver a little unsure about where to place his or her fingers. Wrap your thumbs around the front at 9 and 3 and let the rest of the digits curl naturally, and they'll fall over the sensitive metallic shift paddles, ready to trigger an unwanted gear change at an inopportune moment; snake them in front of the paddles, though, and they feel uncomfortable, cramped up and forced to reside atop the awkward confluence of stitching back there.
- The existence of the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, which has a starting price almost equal to the as-tested cost of my tester. Not only does it carve up corners at least as well as the GT C, but with all-wheel-drive and two tiny rear seats, it's twice as usable.
Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster: Value
Certain members of the AMG GT lineup are, arguably, a decent value. The GT R that stands as one of the fastest front-engined production car at the Nurburgring Nordschleife is arguably one of the better sports car steals of 2018, delivering Benz build quality and legit supercar performance for the price of a loaded 7 Series; on the other end of the family, the base AMG GT coupe delivers all the glamour and most of the speed of its pricier siblings at two-thirds the as-tested price of my droptop GT C. But this roadster's indecisive personality and high price (for its family) means it's hard to describe it as a real value, per se. Not that people looking to buy a two-seat Mercedes convertible that does nearly 200 mph are really looking for "value," mind you, but still.
Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster: The Bottom Line
The Mercedes-AMG S65 Cabriolet is inarguably a better car for a long road trip, but it'll leave you longing for something more agile when the road turns winding. The AMG GT R is far better for attacking tracks, but on the drive to and from there, you'll be wishing for an escape from the spider-hole of an interior. The GT C Roadster splits the difference between them, a jack-of-both-trades that masters neither but still delivers more than enough road-trip pleasure and corner-carving excellence to exceed the expectations of mortal men and women. It may not fit the traditional version of the term, but its capabilities make it—even with all of its compromises and flaws—a super car.
Part of the joy of modern day supercars is the forbidden nature of their talents. Not just in terms of their lofty prices that put them out of reach for most of us, but the way that you can only take advantage of their full power for a few moments at a time. There's a reason the 'Ring dominates discussion about the performance of these cars: it's the closest thing to a real road where they can cut loose. There's no stretch of public highway that can handle these level of power and grip for long. The GT C may not be a traditional supercar, but when it comes to having its potential hemmed in by public roads, it ranks up there with the likes of McLarens and Lamborghinis. Now, if only it had a few more inches of room inside...