The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S Is the Most Interesting Car This Year
Smaller engine, bigger expectations.
I once had a girlfriend who coined a term for long-hood, short-trunk automobiles. Prewar racers. Indy roadsters. E-Type Jags. She called them all “Penis Cars.” This seemed silly and reductionist at the time, but staring down the new Mercedes-AMG GT S, I’m thinking she might’ve been on to something. What would Freud say about this coupe, I wonder? The GT S is basically the final scene of Boogie Nights on wheels. It’s also the most interesting sports car I’ve driven this year. Damn. Now what would Freud say about me?
Why So Interesting? Part I: It’s an inbred, mutated Dodge. Probably.
That’s not a bad thing. Background: Industry lore suggests Mercedes pinched the Dodge Viper chassis blueprints as a redress of sorts from the failed Daimler-Chrysler merger. The GT S is a pared-down evolution of AMG’s SLS supercar, itself (likely) an evolution of the Viper. This explains why the GT S’s seating position is eerily familiar. Also, perfect. You’re swaddled low down, door panel up to your clavicle, steering wheel shoved in your chest. Here, it says, now go do something cool.
And do cool stuff you will. The GT S effectively retains the SLS front suspension geometry. To this, it adds sophisticated magnetic engine mounts, lighter magnesium components and stupid-sticky Michelin Cup tires. The front axle grip is incredible. Turn-in, changing direction. Everywhere. Go ahead, chuck it around. The GT S feels substantial but never porky. There’s a little yaw under heavy braking (carbon ceramics optional and effective), tons of balance and an easy transition into the dumb, goofy sideways stuff.
Drifting, yadda, yadda, tire smoke, yadda. A Jaguar F-Type can do all that. An F-Type cannot attack corners like this. The GT S is much more sophisticated, much sharper. I just still can’t get over the front-end package. All that tire, the wide track and proper hydraulic steering. Stud.
Why So Interesting? Part II: Between its fenders, the fate of a great company.
AMG’s identity is rooted in a caricaturish lack of restraint; oversized, guttural V8s are a specialty. But emissions restrictions and fuel prices and social acceptability demand adaptation. Whereas the SLS used an uninhibited 6.2-liter tower of power, the GT S debuts a smaller, twin-turbo V8. Displacement is four liters, output 503 horsepower at 6,750 rpm. This is, effectively, AMG’s Engine of the Future. If it’s a turd, the firm—or its ethos, at least—could be gutted by the pursuit of newer, better, more efficient things.
That said, we’ve all been waiting for someone to get a downsized, forward-thinking V8 performance engine right. Sound. Feel. Power. I put 850 miles on this car over three days. I think we’ve found our hero.
The 4-liter is decidedly not a turd. It is rowdy and loud and malleable. Both turbochargers are arranged inside the engine’s vee valley, allowing a super-short intake tract, which effectively staves off turbo lag. Torque is massive, 479 pound-feet, and fully on tap before 1,800rpm. The seven-speed automatic transmission, a stumbling block for the SLS both literally and figuratively, has been ironed out. Upshifts sound like cannon fire and land with similar effect. Does this powertrain have all the visceral appeal of an old-school, big-block V8? No. But it’s a sign that the future isn’t all heart disease and Hezbollah. Maybe everything will be OK after all.
Why So Interesting? Part III: The price, or “The Porsche 911 Part.”
The Mercedes-AMG GT S costs $130k.
The Porsche 911 GTS, in equivalent spec, costs $130k.
Mulling this over, I’m reminded of a recent conversation with a colleague about his preference between two racetracks. Because I was in a hurry, and because texting is a lazy, inherently poor means of communication, I lapsed into some poor wording: “What’s a better drive, Laguna Seca or Road America?”
"You troglodyte," he replied. "There isn’t better or worse. Just different. You should know that."
I did. I do. And besides being kind of a jerk, he’s right. Some things are indisputably good; among them, there are only diverging philosophies, in approach and execution. This is not sabermetrics. Nuance is everything.
Like Laguna Seca and Road America, the GT S and 911 are both things of indisputable goodness. Both are fast, engaging, rear-drive German sports cars. And both are answers to an increasingly problematic question: Which aspects of a traditional sports car should weather the roiling tide of progress?
In the Porsche, you get a stick and reasonable curb weight; in the AMG, hydraulic steering and a raucous V8. This is an indication of where each brand’s priorities lie, and what we can expect to see in the future. Which aligns better with your ideologies is purely a personal calculation. But we’re living in an age bereft of manual Ferraris, when a BMW M3 weighs 3,600 pounds and the Ford GT has a V6, and good steering is a luxury. Evolution killed Indy roadsters and the E-Type. I’m just glad the Penis Car is alive and kicking.
PRICE (BASE): $130,825
POWERTAIN: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8; 503 hp, 479 lb-ft torque; RWD; 7-speed dual-clutch auto
WEIGHT: 3,627 lbs
0-60 MPH: 3.7 seconds
TOP SPEED: 193 mph
ON SALE: Now