Having the Mercedes-AMG GT S on fleet for a few months is a rare opportunity for us car-loving (but economically challenged) writers of words. To experience living with an — otherwise unaffordable — piece of machinery on a day-to-day basis and really get underneath its aluminium, steel, magnesium and carbon fibre skin might be as close to ownership as we ever get. Or at least it would be if we could occasionally pry the keys from our group motoring editor Amit Benjamin who now insists on driving to work in the GT S by a circuitous route every morning.
It is odd though how some prolonged quality time behind the wheel has somewhat changed our initial opinion of this Mercedes-AMG grand tourer. It was the winner of the 2016 wheels GT category in our Car of the Year awards, however, there are aspects of the GT S that we now have a deeper understanding for after a few weeks of custodianship combined with numerous chats standing around the coffee machine swapping thoughts and opinions.
Mercedes has always been adamant that the AMG GT was not and should never be considered as a replacement for the gullwinged SLS AMG. That was a two-seater luxury supercar, the spiritual successor to the 300SL Gullwing and was substantially more expensive and more powerful than the GT. It also had fancy gullwing doors and, according to AMG, had “the world’s most powerful naturally aspirated production series engine” ever produced. Interestingly, the SLS AMG’s M159 was also Mercedes-Benz’s last naturally aspirated engine.
The AMG GT S with its 503bhp, 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 was a purposeful decision by the marque to step down a segment. But that decision put it into direct competition with some of the Porsche 911 models. Uh-oh…
Adversaries know they have to offer a distinct alternative, and the AMG GT S does just that in spades.
Porsche has had the ‘everyday supercar’ market sewn-up for decades with the spectacular and reasonably practical 911 Turbo. Buyers in this segment tend to use their cars on a daily basis but also demand a level of performance untouchable by almost anything else on the road with the exception of truly exotic machinery. Competing head to head with Porsche on their own terms would probably be a disaster, so adversaries know they have to offer a distinct alternative, and the AMG GT S does just that in spades. It arguably has more presence than a 911 and certainly possesses an angrier soundtrack. It’s a big hunk of unashamed Teutonic testosterone and it openly thinks the 911’s curves are a bit effeminate.
So you’re probably wondering why we chose to spend a day driving the AMG GT S back-to-back with an Audi R8 V10 Plus and not a Porsche 911 Turbo? Well, why not?
Secondly, those long chats beside the coffee machine (which we do consider work) yielded up an interesting discussion on how different manufacturers approach this segment. The R8, with its mid-mounted V10 engine, possesses the traditional exotic supercar layout but it’s a truly, everyday usable machine. It tackles the ‘911 problem’ from a completely different angle than the GT S, but both have a common characteristic. Namely, neither are exactly what they claim to be.
The Mercedes-AMG GT S has the traditional grand tourer layout. Its front/mid-engined chassis and rear-wheel drive should be the perfect combination for eating up all the tarmac straight to the horizon and beyond. With a big torquey V8 burbling away while twin-turbochargers suck up and spit out any stray goats that happen upon your path, just pick a destination and roll. Heck, you don’t need any more convincing that it is the perfect ‘grand tourer’ than its name, right? Well, not quite.
The R8, with its mid-mounted V10, possesses the traditional exotic supercar layout but it’s a truly, everyday usable machine.
It’s really an angry Germanic muscle car and we love it for that. Every single time you get into it a voice in your head shouts ‘Achtung!’ and orders you to crank the dial to Sport+ and row your own gears. You will bear the discomfort of the stiff ride. You will not complain. It demands (it would never beg) that you drive it in an almost obnoxious manner. You will let everyone in your vicinity bask in the aural rapture of its barking V8, whether they want to or not. It wants you to drive it. Then it wants you to drive it harder. It’s the devil on your shoulder and it wants your soul. It’s just a badass car with a badass attitude and comes equipped with a factory-fitted, single-fingered salute to lettuce-eating Prius drivers at no additional cost.
The Audi R8 V10 Plus is a different kettle of fish. It may have a naturally aspirated, 5.2-litre 602bhp V10 singing all the way to 8,500rpm sitting right behind your ears but it just feels immensely more refined than the AMG. The cabin feels more luxurious with fields of posh stitched cow. The seats are infinitely more comfortable than the ones in the GT S and driving position is perfect. This is a place you truly could just stay in all day and munch up the miles with no discomfort while listening to the stereo. Wait, which one of these vehicles is the grand tourer?
Mid-engined supercars are traditionally schizophrenic machines that are either the fastest things on the road or they’ve already killed you a few moments ago and you just haven’t realised yet. Not so with the Audi R8, this is ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ in action. It’s not only rapidly quick with a claimed 3.2 seconds to 100kph, but also remarkable planted with quattro all-wheel drive.
Within a few moments of getting into the R8 and finding your bearings you’re filled with confidence, this is a machine you can push hard and trust in. It’s perfectly poised, balanced and forgiving. It’s a technological masterpiece built to perfection and an even sharper tailored suit than its predecessor.
The R8, however, has probably suffered the most backhanded compliments ever awarded in the history of the sportscar. Mainly, that it’s just too good.
The combination of serious speed in a mid-engined weapon while feeling perfectly secure and filled with confidence has an odd effect on the psyche of a petrolhead.
Fantastic build quality, passenger comfort, safety and immense speed are all Audi trademarks, but these come with a diminishment of thrills and drama.
Mid-engined supercars are surely all about emotion with a few spells of soiling yourself occasionally as a reminder of your mortality. I mean, there’s no single logical reason why any of us should hanker for a supercar anyway, what with enforced speed limits and available public transportation and all. Cough…
Mid-engined supercars are surely all about emotion with a few spells of soiling yourself occasionally as a reminder of your mortality.
The R8 V10 Plus is phenomenally fast and flawless. It is also comfortable and genuinely usable on a daily basis and has cornered a niche as the thinking man’s supercar. The AMG GT S however, is the Mr Hyde to Audi’s Dr Jekyll.
The brutal Mercedes-AMG can’t quite compete on performance with the R8, nor can it compete on refinement, despite its grand touring credentials.
What it has in abundance though is the ability to add theatre to every drive.
As alternatives in a segment, you probably couldn’t get two markedly different cars. And the Porsche 911 Turbo? Well, it sits somewhere in between. Ah...