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Mercedes-Benz AMG GT-S 2015 Review

EXPERT RATING
9
Joshua Dowling road tests and reviews the Mercedes AMG-GT at its international launch.

Fireworks, thunder and a dose of Nascar. That's what the new AMG GT-S sounds like when its exhaust snaps, crackles and pops.

It might look like Mercedes-Benz's answer to the Porsche 911 but there is no mistaking what powers this machine, or where the noise is coming from. It gives you goose bumps just starting it.

The long bonnet seems to stretch forever but most of the real estate underneath is taken up by the company's newest engine: a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 that will also power the upcoming AMG C63 sedan.

Conveniently, the driver is sandwiched between two of the most glorious sounds in the automotive business: the roar of the engine and the bark of the exhaust. It's surround sound for car buffs.

Which is why I kept slowing down on the test drive: purely so I could feel the brutal acceleration and hear the wonders of a high-revving high-tech V8 engine. For the tech heads, it completes the 0 to 100km/h dash in just 3.8 seconds. For the non-technically minded, set the timer on your phone and stop it after 3.8 seconds. And that's how quickly you're doing the speed limit.

Switch up to Sport Plus and it's like an attack dog on the end of a short lead.

Which is why I feel more alive than usual. Not just because the AMG GT-S is delighting the senses but because, quite frankly, it's scaring the wits out of me. We're on the twisty and perilous Laguna Seca race track on the California coast, a two hour drive south of San Francisco.

And it's raining. This isn't quite the thunder I was hoping for. I much prefer it when it's coming from the exhaust. We get one clean session before a sprinkling of rain means that you're not exactly sure how much grip will be available on each corner.

A wiggle here and there is enough to raise the heart rate, open the eyes and feel sweat start to drip under your helmet. And then something amazing happens. The Mercedes-Benz AMG GT-S makes you look like a much better driver than you really are.

The stability control (with five settings) is so advanced that, providing you don't attempt to challenge the laws of physics, it will save you time after time, grabbing a touch of brakes on each corner of the car as required. Of course, if you over-indulge you will most certainly crash. But if you're not a complete lunatic you can lap time after time and fool the best of them.

With the adrenalin rush over, it was time to hit the open road. But not just any road: Highway One. Much of California's Pacific Coast Highway and the many arteries that feed it are as smooth as a race track; even some of the corners are banked like a competition circuit.

Of course, we behaved ourselves. The speed rush was taken care of at the race track, now it was time to experience it as most owners would in the real world. At first, the steering feels too sharp, and too responsive. But after about 10 minutes you quickly become accustomed to it.

Want to cruise along more discreetly and with a little more comfort? Simply turn the car's "mood dial" (my name for it, not theirs) to comfort and the throttle is less aggressive, the suspension a little softer and the steering a little gentler.

Switch up to Sport Plus and it's like an attack dog on the end of a short lead. Just tap the accelerator pedal and it feels like it wants to lift the front wheels.

Of course, it's not quite like that. But the suspension is definitely stiffer (to make it corner better) and the throttle is much more sensitive. The F1-style carbon ceramic brakes, meanwhile, will take your breath away if you slam them hard enough.

VALUE

Pricing is yet to be confirmed but it's expected to cost from $270,000 plus on-roads (about $300K drive-away) when it goes on sale in Australia in the middle of 2015. That's $200,000 less than the SLS Gullwing with which it shares its DNA, and puts it smack bang in the middle of Porsche 911 territory ($208,000 to $466,000).

The difference, however, is that the Benz will deliver a much bigger bang for the same bucks. This sort of money buys a Porsche Carrera S, with a bit of change. But the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT-S will have more standard equipment than a 911 (incredibly a rear view camera is still optional on the Porsche) and is faster than the equivalently-priced 911.

TECHNOLOGY

The AMG GT-S may look like the successor to the SLS Gullwing but in reality only about 15 per cent of the car's structure is the same as before. And the doors open the conventional way (not up, like a "gull wing") in case you're wondering. The floor and front and rear firewalls are the same as the SLS, but everything else is new.

Mercedes-Benz has managed to achieve a better weight distribution in its 911 fighter than a Cayman.

More than 90 per cent of the body and core structure is made from lightweight aluminium. Fun fact: the rear hatch is made from steel because it would have been heavier by the time extra strengthening was added to an aluminium one.

The result is a near-perfect weight distribution. Look away now if you're not a tech head, or hold your breath for a moment. The more evenly balanced a car's body is, the more neutral and easier it is to drive.

The Mercedes-Benz AMG GT-S has a weight distribution of 47/53 front to rear (as in, 47 per cent of the car's total weight is biased towards the front and 53 per cent is biased towards the rear) because the transmission is mounted between the rear wheels and the engine is pushed rearwards, as close as possible to the cockpit.

But way of comparison, the tail-heavy Porsche 911 has a 39/61 weight distribution while the highly regarded Porsche Cayman (with a mid-mounted engine) has a 46/54 weight balance.

Yes, you read that right. Mercedes-Benz has managed to achieve a better weight distribution in its 911 fighter than a Cayman. Ouch, that's gotta hurt.

I'd love to hear the pub chat in Stuttgart over that. After all, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are based in the same town. Surely engineers swap gossip -- or sledge each other when they're off the clock.

DESIGN

The appearance of the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT-S is very deliberate. AMG wants to be considered in the same company as Ferrari and Porsche. So it designed the GT to look like the cars it was going after. And then added a bold media statement for good measure.

"We attack in a highly attractive new segment with very top class competitors," says AMG boss Tobias Moers, rather unambiguously. "That's why we want to enter this segment: to prove the capabilities and competencies of our company." In other words "we don't only make fast sedans".

SAFETY

Safety is taken care of with six airbags: two in the front, two in the seats, and two "curtain" airbags in the roof. And one of the smartest stability control systems -- and the biggest set of brakes -- in the business. Don't expect a EuroNCAP rating, though. They can't afford to crash test one.

INTERIOR

The cabin feels like a race car -- with leather seats, air conditioning and a top-end sound system with navigation. The electrically adjustable sports seats enable you to find the perfect position. There is also an optional seat that will squeeze your buttocks on your back so you don't slide around in tight turns.

Visibility all around is surprisingly good, even though the rear window is quite small. But let's be honest: there won't be much in the rear-view mirror of this beast.

Pricing Guides

$193,325
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$173,580
Highest Price
$213,070

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
S 4.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $173,580 – 199,540 2015 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT 2015 S Pricing and Specs
S Edition 1 4.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $185,350 – 213,070 2015 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT 2015 S Edition 1 Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9